The IIoT Platform market is crowded. 

Trying to figure out which platform is right for you can be maddening. This guide is our attempt to make the buying process as straightforward as possible. 

As much as we have skin in this game, we’ve attempted to be as impartial as possible (easier said than done!). The point is that your needs are your needs and a solution should serve them. 

Here are seven questions we recommend you ask before buying an IIoT Platform.

1.) What are you really trying to do? 

Let’s start at the highest level.

Ask yourself: Why do you want an IIoT Platform in the first place? Why is a platform a better choice than an MES, an off-the-shelf SaaS suite, or any of the countless solutions on the market? 

The first step to selecting an IIoT Platform is refining your goals
The first step to selecting an IIoT Platform is refining your goals

In other words, What are you trying to do, really? 

The only way to answer this question is to create an honest inventory of your goals. So,

  • What data would you like to collect? 
  • What are your current digital capabilities? 
  • Where are there big areas for improvement?
  • Which improvements would make the most difference?  
  • Where are you still using paper? 
  • How soon do you need a solution?
  • Which devices or sensors will you need to connect?
  • People, machines, or both?

This exercise might seem trivial, but it can go a long way toward getting you closer to the right solution.

2.) Will the platform give you the data you need? When you need it? 

We’ve all heard it. Data is king and queen and castle–it’s the foundation of your business and the key to your strategy.

But not all platforms will give you the same data. 

Many manufacturers want to start with the low-hanging fruit. This might be real-time readouts of OEE in a machine shop. Or it could be objective measures of step and cycle time for discrete assemblies. 

Image of data to show how asking what data will make the difference is useful when assessing IIoT Platforms
Data is key, but not all data will move the needle. Make sure your platform will collect the data you need.

Either way, you need to make sure the platforms you consider can actually deliver the data you need most.

Here you can also ask if there are ways to visualize your processes in real time, or if you’re going to need to pull the data and analyze it yourself.

A full picture.

There’s one more thing to consider here. 

If you ask that question again–which data do I need most?–are you accounting for everything? 

Many of the manufacturers we work with are starting to measure OPE, or overall process effectiveness. OPE is a detailed perspective of your whole operations: human performance, machine performance, workcell design, and more. 

So if these are all operational areas that are important to you, make sure that the platforms you consider can rise to your occasion. 

3.) Who Will use it?

Technologies don’t use themselves. That’s why some of the most successful digital manufacturers in the world devote entire business units to worker training and digital culture.

It’s important to ask from the outset: “Who is going to use this platform?” 

Easier asked than answered. Let’s consider some of the reasons why “Who?” is actually a tricky matter. 

People make or break technology project. Make sure you ask who'll be ensured with delivering success.
People make or break technology project. Make sure you ask who’ll be ensured with delivering success.

You can start by considering who the end-users will be. Who’s going to be the person interfacing with the technology on the shop floor? 

Beyond the end user, who else will use the platform? Will your whole operation interact with it?

Operators? Process engineers? Management? IT? C-suite? Some but not all? All of the above? One now, more later? 

For many of the manufacturers we work with, the answer is “All of the above.” Understanding why can go far in explaining the value of platforms. 

Platforms do a lot. That’s what differentiates them from single use-case solutions. So platforms intersect with many different job functions in a business.

A Platform that Works Up the Hierarchy

In our experience, it’s common for operators to use the platform as they go about the hard work of assembly, changeovers, and quality assurance. At the same time, engineers are designing applications and modifying their solutions as part of routine continuous improvement. Then management looks at the data to make strategic business decisions. And executives consider what role the platform will play on a regional level or as part of a comprehensive digital strategy.

So as you’re assessing solutions, try to identify precisely who–or the many whos–who’ll actually use the platform. 

Who Part 2: Permissions

I mentioned that “Who?” was a tricky question. Here’s another place it gets complicated. 

If multiple job functions are going to use your IIoT Platform, how are you going to make sure the solution is consistent and secure. 

So here’s another set of questions you might consider:

  • How are permissions controlled?
  • How often will IT need to get involved? 
  • How onerous will the platform be on admins? 

4.) How hard is it to get started?

Platforms are gaining traction because they’re significantly easier to use than existing MES solutions. 

Still, you need to ask how hard it is to get started.

Some IIoT Platforms are pretty close to plug-and-play. After scoping and designing a solution with the vendor, you can get your platform up and running in less than a week. 

Time is money. Make sure know how long it will take to get value from any IIoT Platform
Time is money. Make sure know how long it will take to get value from any IIoT Platform

For others, this isn’t the case. 

Some platform vendors can require a 6 month design process, another 6 months to build, and another year to prove value. Do you have two year’s time (and two years’ budget) to allocate to a solution?

For some, that answer may be yes, and the results could be worth it.

If agility and time-to-value matter more, make sure your vendor can move at your pace.

5.) How easy is it to update?

Will you wind up with painful yearly updates? Unpredictable updates on the vendor’s schedule?

This speaks to the core value-prop of platforms over existing systems. 

Platforms should be easy to update. Front line engineers and other “citizen developers” should be able to make updates to workflows and applications as necessary. 

6.) Does it do everything you’ll need it to do in 10 years?

This one’s important. 

Manufacturing is changing at an unprecedented rate. You might know exactly how your operations will change in the coming decade. It’s just as likely that there are a few surprises around the corner. 

Make sure you're not just assembly a factory of point solutions. Look for an IIoT Platform that does what you need.
Make sure you’re not just assembly a factory of point solutions. Look for an IIoT Platform that does what you need.

What you want to avoid is a situation in which you need to buy a new platform or solution each year. Your time is too valuable to spend locked in a perpetual buying cycle and then stuck managing a stack.

So it’s important to ask whether a given solution can grow and change with you, not the other way around. 

7.) Will it play nice with your existing systems?

Some platforms have aspirations to be the only system you use. Others are content to deliver a solution to a neatly circumscribed problem. Still other excel by tackling many problems and playing nice with systems that address the ones they don’t. 

ERP? MES? Etc.? Make sure your IIoT Platform enhances the value you derive from your other systems.

For you, that means checking whether or not a platform will integrate with your system. Whether it’s an ERP, PLC, QMS, or MES, platforms that don’t play nice with other systems will only make more trouble for you down the line. 

Conclusions

There have never been more options for IIoT Platforms than now. 

While it can make the buying experience frustrating, it should also be exciting. Because it means that there are more ways for you to increase profits and reduce unnecessary work than ever before. 

If you start by asking the questions outlined here, you’ll be well on your way to choosing a platform that works for you.

Thinking about building your own platform or applications in house? Learn more about the build or buy problem here.