Selecting an IoT Retrofit for the Future
February 17, 2022
The specifics of any IoT solution are determined by the nature of the application. In one scenario, you may need to monitor vibration; in another, you’ll need to track temperature or fluid level inside machinery. Similarly, you are likely to need alerts, alarms, and active fault response, as well as the ability to define the sensor thresholds at which these events occur.
The right IoT solution will be highly adaptive to your needs, so when you’re looking at potential retrofit options, the attributes you should consider aren’t in the sensors and actions themselves, but in the IoT system as a whole.
By selecting the best IoT retrofit for your legacy embedded system, you’re preparing your assets and operations for the future. The challenge here in the present is finding the right solution that will aid you for years to come as technologies evolve.
Over-the-Air (OTA) Updates
When selecting a retrofit solution, it’s important to consider the longevity of the electronics. You want to find a solution that will be around for quite some time, but while it’s toiling away managing your assets, software continues to evolve, new security risks emerge, and updates are required. The ability for the retrofit to accept OTA updates will allow the manufacturer to deploy bug fixes, feature enhancements and security patches without user intervention. So long as the device has an active Internet connection, it can be remotely updated. Vendors with the appropriate cloud infrastructure will also be able to recognize which devices are powered off and will deploy OTA updates to those devices the next time they are online.
Flexibility With Third Party Devices and Data
When retrofitting a legacy system, the number of systems you deploy is likely to grow over time as you expand your operation. If you find yourself working on a network that is unable to easily scale up the number of devices without redesigning the whole system, you’ll find yourself running into difficulties later on when you want to expand your capabilities. Scalability is key.
Likewise, if the vendor you choose locks you into a cloud service that isn’t compatible with third-party platforms, it will be painful interweaving data from other services, and you may encounter challenges sharing data with your stakeholders. By opting for a platform that supports webhooks or has its own API, you’ll be able to adapt to new monitoring scenarios in the future, and similarly, will have more flexibility in how you work with industry partners.
Regarding the hardware you install, forward thinking IoT hardware should include expansion connectors to support an array of sensor protocols, allowing you to snap in expansion modules at a later date while preserving the infrastructure of your distributed network of devices.
After selecting a vendor for your IoT retrofit, take time to consider their commissioning process, which is the method you will use to associate each device to your network. The more configuration required during the commissioning process, the more likely an installer will leave a security hole open. A simplified device commissioning process, on the other hand, can help ensure user error is not adversely impacting the security of your network and will reduce the attack surface for bad actors.
Clarity in Service and Maintenance Fees
With each vendor you work with, it’s important to understand what kind of scheduled services and maintenance will be included with the service fees. Service fees are not a bad thing in and of themselves. Typically, they exist because the vendor has agreed to be responsible for certain tasks such as OTA updates, which are likely to include security patches and feature enhancements. Service fees may also cover cellular transmission, data retention, and customer support. You simply want to make sure you understand the continuing costs associated with managing your IoT retrofit, so you aren’t blindsided by these fees down the road.
Modern Communication Protocols
The objective of retrofitting an embedded system should not only be to bring it into the present, but prepare it for the future. For example, modern communication protocols are a must for IoT technology. If an IoT system transmits data using a cellular connection, being bound to a single network is one of the easiest ways to cripple your system. As telecommunications technologies advance at a breakneck pace, legacy networks are shut down. If the SIM cards integrated into your IoT systems are fixed to a single network, eventually, they’ll become obsolete. However, if multiple networks can be supported on a single SIM, devices will be able to move from older to newer wireless networks easily without the risk of downtime.
Take a closer look at the devices themselves. Are the Wi-Fi and cellular components modular? If you find that they aren’t, this may lead to complications as networks and protocols change. Without modularity in certain components, a network shutdown could result in the whole device needing to be replaced, a process that will require time, resources, and money. If your vendor designs their IoT devices with modularity in mind, though, then you’ll only need to replace a single module, a process that takes much less time and expertise and is much more cost-effective than replacing an entire system.
Any future-oriented IoT system should be mindful of security. IoT devices are especially vulnerable to attacks—in fact, 2021 saw 1.5 billion attacks on smart devices—making vulnerability reporting programs a basic element of security hygiene for IoT suppliers. Yet, the vast majority of IoT vendors still fail to provide a Vulnerability Disclosure Policy (VDP), a policy outlining how users can report security vulnerabilities to the vendor so issues can be addressed and relayed to the public. If IoT vendors are willing to openly talk about security concerns and how they handle vulnerabilities presented to them, this will reveal a lot about how they’ll communicate with you should you become a customer.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that a good IoT retrofit should make your life easier. It should minimize time spent on-site, be remotely serviceable, adapt to future protocols, expand to support more devices over time, and allow for data to be shared internally or with trusted third parties. If the IoT system you choose can’t meet these criteria, it will only hinder your operations in the future.
At Engineering Design Group (EDG), we’ve worked tirelessly to develop future-oriented IoT solutions. The features listed above are essentially our tenets; if we fail to deliver any of them to a customer, we wouldn’t feel comfortable offering an IoT platform at all. So, if you’re unsure how to find the right system and tools for the job, feel free to take a page out of our book. Retrofitting an embedded system may be a huge undertaking, but once you take a step back and focus on the essentials, it becomes much less overwhelming. Good luck!