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How to launch your fleet of connected products

For industrial companies that make machines of any kind, the Internet of Things (IoT) has become a “not if, but when” proposition. So how do you move from an unconnected state to supporting a connected fleet of IoT products?  

You need to prototype, scale, and then manage your fleet of Internet of Things products. Doing so involves adding technology such as computing and communications hardware, software, a cloud back-end, and analytics. It also may involve adding services.

Add Connectivity: Adding connectivity to products involves hardware, software, and cloud.

From a hardware standpoint, the IoT enabling a product usually means adding microcontrollers and Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity modules from companies like Intel, Qualcomm, STMicroelectronics, and Broadcom.

Many argue that the Internet of Things is more about software than hardware. And building IoT enabled products requires creating and managing firmware libraries and developing code in suitable IDEs.   

Your connected product may be controlled from the web or a mobile device, in which case you need a mobile app SDK.

In order to extend product connectivity beyond the local network where it resides, you need a cloud platform to connect your embedded hardware to the web. 

The platform should be a secure gateway that lets you interact with your connected hardware and provide intelligent web services that support your product. Done well, interacting with hardware feels like interacting with any other web service. Messages should be encrypted, and secure over-the-air firmware updates for fixing bugs or improving functionality should be possible.

Scale-up production: As you move beyond the prototype and pilot phase to thousands of units, it makes sense to switch from boards that are hand-soldered to ones that are assembled by pick-and-place machines. Scaling to the next level may mean eliminating add-on boards and integrating communications modules directly into your circuits. 

Manage the fleet: Now that the products are in the field, managing them becomes critical. Health monitoring is a key capability. You need to track errors, initiate preventative maintenance, inform customer support, and service products. 

Use the data from connected products to improve your next product version. Develop new services or business models for interacting with your customers. Send the data to other web services for storage and analysis.

You can build and scale up these capabilities yourself, or you can work with existing platforms to speed time-to-market and reduce costs. For example, 

Microsoft and Particle recently announced a collaboration focused on enabling customers to rapidly develop connected IoT devices. This collaboration uses Particle’s cloud platform coupled with its hardware prototyping kit to provide the infrastructure to easily connect these devices to Azure. 

Integration with Microsoft Azure IoT services enables device makers to connect with powerful capabilities that scale from 10 devices to millions of devices.

The first phase of integration uses Microsoft Azure IoT services and Particle Webhooks, with the result that events can be streamed seamlessly from Particle Photons to Microsoft Azure Event Hubs and Azure Stream Analytics. 

This fall Microsoft and Particle will reach leading device makers around the world through hackathons and by jointly helping customers build and market their IoT offerings.

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