The Remote Product Connection Features Hot List

With the explosive growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data, we are at a unique point in history where we can introduce a vast array of new features in to the products our companies make. Our smart products can now be smart, connected, and integrated.

This article will give you 10 of the top remote connectivity platform features you should seek as you architect and evolve your solutions.

Whether personal wearable devices, manufacturing equipment, household appliances, construction vehicles…or the new backbone of the US military…remote connectivity is the force to be reckoned with.

Many companies are just stepping into remote connectivity solutions, and many other are maturing their platforms.

But with this change comes some very interesting questions:

  • How many resources do I give to the remote connection and capabilities?
  • What are the features that customers will pay for?
  • Which features will differentiate us?
  • What remote connectivity-based features reduce operating and servicing costs?

This article will give you 10 of the top remote connectivity platform features you should seek as you architect and evolve your solutions.

Fundamental Features of Remote Connectivity Solutions

Until now, many remote connectivity platforms have lived in data centers and have had the luxury of having their own server or at least a good chunk of resources at its disposal. That’s RAM, HDD, CPU, networking, cooling, and more.

But as we move remote connectivity out to the field and place devices on all sorts of products, we no longer have this luxury. The options available may likely be very minimal.

How to Make Remote Connectivity Scalable from Day 1

Resource Limitations and IoT Devices

If your product is a construction vehicle, space will be limited, getting a connection will be a challenge, and you’ll need to deal with a rugged, dirty environment. The vehicle probably already has onboard computing for local diagnostics and other functions, but adding a remote connectivity app into the picture may be tough if it needs its own virtual slice, operating system, and dependencies.

Just delivering a basic connection under these circumstances will be tough, but layering in additional functionality will be that much more difficult. With that in mind, developing with hardware resource limitations is the challenge.

Here are some features to have at a minimum:

1. Data collection

This is the ability of the remote connectivity device to gather diagnostic data from the product and pass it along remotely to a central, off-board repository.

2. Outbound connectivity

This allows the device to send information out at pre-specified intervals, include an “I’m alive” notification. You can leave it to the remote side to recognize that the connection has sent an “I’m alive” notification and therefore needs business follow-up.

3. Remote servicing

By sending consistent outbound messages, the device can check for servicing requests on the remote end. This allows the device to operate in a simple outbound mode only, which is firewall and security friendly. See my post Stop Using a VPN to Connect to Your Products for details on this model.

This one seems obvious, but many companies still rely heavily on dispatching and onsite visits to resolve troubles. This is expensive and does not scale. Products of the future require remote servicing to be a fundamental component.

4. Security patching

When it comes to remote connectivity, security is vital. Regardless of the device, bad actors can do bad things with your data and control mechanisms. The thing is security evolves daily. Threats emerge that need to be regularly accounted for. This means the device must be remotely upgrade capable.

Features that Improve Service and Reduce Operating Costs

Ultimately, IoT allows companies to quickly deliver a huge numbers of devices out into the field. But if you’re not built to service with scale, you’re going to have problems and see your margin vanish.

But with the right automation in place from the start, you can maintain a healthy services business with handsome margin, happy customers, and rock-solid products.

Microservices for Enterprises - 2016 Opportunities and Challenges

5. Self-registration and services onboarding

As your products go live in the field, you will want to understand who they belong to and more. Which account, which device, which service contract, etc… This allows you to integrate across your enterprise systems seamlessly, including CRM, logistics, and more.

Chasing down the ability to see which devices belong is simply something you cannot effectively do manually. It needs to be planned for from Day 1. See my post How to Make Remote Connectivity Scalable from Day 1 for details.

6. Alarm, diagnostic, and notification management

Connecting to your smart devices gives you the ability to pass that smart information along. One of the best ways to improve the serviceability of your products is to let them tell you when they’re having trouble.

This is nothing new, but with IoT, remote connections, and Big Data, it can be ramped to a whole new level. Even if you don’t have solid business rules for handling all diagnostic information, send the information back to the remote end for analysis and processing. This can lead to level jumps in your understanding of product usage and keeping them running smoothly.

As product alarms are passed along, they can be categorized, prioritized, and acted on with business rules. In many cases, you can service your products before your customer even knows there is an issue.

7. Integration with Enterprise Diagnostic Tools and Automation

Now that your product is registered to your customer database and is passing diagnostic information to you, it’s time to act in a scalable manner. This is done with remote diagnostic tools and automation.

By collecting the data on issues your products have, you can begin using automated scripts to resolve issues. In fact, your automated tools could resolve over 80% or more of reported issues without engaging a human. And since it’s machine driven, response can be immediate without human delay.

Resolving issues before a customer even realizes there is a problem is an excellent place to be. And it scales your servicing capabilities to boot.

Of course, business rules should be in place to escalate the trouble to a human after certain time frames or situational conditions are met.

8. Onboard self-healing and issue resolution

While your products can connect back to your company for remote servicing, there are times it is advantageous to move those scripts onto the product itself.

Namely, if the product is unable to make a connection due to a fault or environmental issue, certain high-priority or connectivity-oriented troubleshooting scripts can be called into action.

If the product does lose connectivity and the onboard scripts cannot resolve the situation, you will still have the ability to kick off business rules on the remote end thanks to the lack of “I’m Alive” alerts. This can trigger human engagement to either dispatch to the product or contact the owner (thanks to the auto-onboarding feature #5).

9. Networked awareness, diagnosis, and sharing

A good remote connectivity device will deliver these features to your product, but a great device will service the products around it and provide much broader situational awareness.

Sharing data across products and allowing them to provide servicing scripts to one another makes your smart products smarter…much smarter. And it allows them to service one another without having to phone home.

Or what if products could schedule tasks with one another, coordinate actions, and deliver timely information and responses to you and your customers?

A fantastic and highly complex example is the direction the US military is rapidly heading. Airplanes, boats, ground sensors, satellites, and even individuals will network together in a way that provides true sensor fusion and broad situational awareness to everyone. This drastically reduces the fog of war, allowing anyone’s eyes to be everyone’s eyes. This is all thanks to providing a remote connected solution and smartly delivering data in a…you guessed it…secure manner.

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Indeed, the next-generation fighter jet of the US military was designed not to deliver the fastest speed, highest altitude, most missiles, or best maneuverability…rather, it was designed to be a data sensing, data sharing work horse. It’s primary weapon is its ability to maximize remote connectivity.

“The ELINT data F-35s collect could be processed centrally and parts of it made available to certain users, either regionally or nationally. This is adventageous because having an up-to-date electronic order of battle on a wide array of potential threats over vast geographical distances has always been an expensive and challenging task.” –  The Drive – The War Zone – Could the F-35 Become the Biggest Electronic Data Collection System Ever Devised?

In this short video, you’ll see how the web-based interconnected architecture built into the F-35 is a complete game changer when it comes to maintaining the aircraft. It connects multiple systems, including scheduling, parts ordering, and logistics to drastically reduce the cost of maintenance while also improving uptime…not to mention the capabilities it brings to the battlefield.

Or perhaps a simpler example is the household environment. As you pull into the driveway, your home’s lights could turn on, your garage door open, and perhaps your coffee could even brew. Do you think security matters in this situation too?

As you think about this with your products, ask how they could benefit by having situational data from other products–whether yours or otherwise. How could the user experience be improved?

The Big and Final Play

Alright, I’ve given you a lot to think about. But the reality is, this will not be it and you can never plan on everything your product will need or your customers will desire. So with that in mind…

10. 3rd-party integration

You need to plan for 3rd-party integration from the start. This allows your product to easily go in unseen directions, it allows for collaboration, and it enables your customers to integrate and customize into their unique environments.

Rigid, closed platforms just do not work in the modern environment. Enable APIs, be microservice-friendly, and encourage integration and development from the start. That is the closest to future proofing we can get.

Read about Microservices for Enterprises – 2016 Opportunities and Challenges

Conclusion

The best architecture for the solution that will enable your company to remote connect to and service your products is evolving rapidly. Getting everything right is a major challenge. This post should get you thinking about the key ingredients of a mature platform.

What other key components have I missed? What are your must haves? Let me know below!

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