Ever since forward-thinking companies started using barcodes to track the movement of assets and inventory back in the 1970’s, the use of Automatic Identification (Auto-ID) technologies has propelled firms in multiple industries to seek automated ways to monitor the status of their items. It was Kevin Ashton, co-founder of MIT’s Auto-ID Center, who first used the term “Internet of Things” in 2002 when describing how RFID and the worldwide web would bring a quantum change in material traceability. In the years since, we have seen a variety of new IoT technologies (BLE, LoRa, Mesh, UWB) emerge and get incorporated into solutions for tracking physical assets.
IoT technologies now enable the monitoring of virtually every type of asset, from large-scale equipment used outdoors to small-scale electronic components in an assembly line. Applications have now extended to wearable sensors worn by employees for safety and security purposes.
The fast-paced development of some of these technologies has put pressure on many software developers to keep up with the latest capabilities the industry has to offer. Surely, the software solutions of even a few years ago could be lacking the needed capabilities to harness the new technologies.
So, what should a savvy IoT software shopper be looking for? Here are some thoughts.
Devices – The ability to support a range of IoT devices
Time was when you needed barcodes you bought a barcoding software solution. If you needed RFID you bought an RFID software solution. Each one a standalone silo. With the influx of new IoT technologies, as well as various sensors that not only tell you where an item is, but how it “feels” (temperature, humidity, shock, etc.), it is imperative that the software support multiple tracing and sensing technologies simultaneously. Components tagged with barcodes are turned into finished products tagged with RFID. These may be loaded on pallets equipped with temperature sensors and loaded on a truck equipped with GPS. Instead of requiring four separate systems to track these different segments of the supply chain, one master system should be able to monitor them all, seamlessly.
This multiplexing of different sensor types means that the software must be able to properly interface with each hardware system, regardless of the manufacturer, and efficiently integrate the data from them all. The software must also provide the display capabilities best suited for each sensor type and use case. Defining a geo-fence. Displaying movement histories with a popcorn trail. Locating an item’s X-Y location on a floor plan or map – all may be required at some point or another and the software must be able to provide the optimal view for the business requirements. Software should also accommodate business rules to identify compliance and/or exceptions. These rules may relate to time, location, status, affiliation, or any other critical criteria required to successfully implement a use case.
Device Management Software
The inclusion of different technologies in one solution clearly makes these systems larger and more complex. Users with sensors in multiple locations need a way to monitor the health of all the various components from a centralized location. Are all sensors online? Are they actively reporting? Is there a connection issue? The system cannot perform properly if all of the devices are not operational. The ability to reset and control devices remotely is a key capability, especially in industrial settings where physical access to devices may be limited. Along with monitoring capabilities, the system should provide the ability to proactively track sensor warranty, RMA and maintenance expiration dates and schedule reports and alerts for managers to act upon.
Communications – The ability to integrate with existing corporate systems
While the need to interface the item tracking system with an existing ERP, WMS or CMDB system is not new, the use of multiple IoT technologies amplifies the need to have a single, sustainable, two-way data flow between the existing database and the various tracking systems. Whether this be through an API, shared tables, web services, or even a .CSV file, building one interface for all of the IoT data transactions provides for a clean, hassle-free portal to sync up all asset information.
Seamless Cloud Connectivity – Several cloud-hosting leaders are investing in IoT capabilities to make a more seamless connection between edge devices and the cloud. Application software providers should leverage this transport mechanism to make data collection and aggregation simple and secure. As IoT applications scale, the demands for data storage, bandwidth, and firmware upgrade management increase.
Cloud Application – Dashboards & Reports
Today’s software must provide efficient and interactive ways to turn IoT data into actionable information. Gone are the spreadsheet-like reports that listed every transaction in page after page of detail. Instead, modern applications are including the following features:
- Dashboards populated with key metrics, graphical displays, and cross-linked to online, configurable reports, with search and drill-down capabilities.
- Maps or floor plans that allow for visualization of asset locations and movements. Asset movement trails on a map make it easier to analyze and display how an overall process is performing and where potential bottlenecks are developing.
- Export features such as links to export graphs and reports and send them to various persons in your organization who need to follow what’s going on. It could be as simple as emailing a PDF report or exporting to an Excel or .CSV file direct from the dashboard.
- Alerts and alarms, whether text message, light or siren, to enable immediate response to asset movement exceptions and security violations.
Expect the plethora of device options and demands on software platforms to increase.
If we can be sure of one thing, it’s that the number of IoT technologies that may be useful to your company will only increase. If you are evaluating software solutions today, it’s wise to consider the needs of tomorrow, and make sure your software platform can provide for your needs for years to come.
Future-proof your organization with software that can keep pace with this ever-changing landscape.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free software requirements evaluation or Visi-Trac demo and get started on your journey today.