For decades, hardware has been a “boxed commodity,” differentiated only by model numbers. But recent technological advancements are transforming products or “Things” (devices, equipment, assets) into intelligent devices. With IoT, Things will function in some of the same ways as PCs and mobile devices – which means they’ll need to be updated, patched and secured. This transformation will impact Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) across all verticals including automotive, industrial manufacturing, medical devices and consumer goods, to name a few.
Driven by IoT’s irresistible benefits, OEMs are making products software-driven and creating processes to align these changes. But while this transformation promises a wealth of possibilities, it also brings enormous challenges. To make Things intelligent, the processes and systems distributing software and content are crucial. In this context, content distribution also refers to “Thing-specific” file distribution – for example, distribution of chemistry libraries to medical diagnostic equipment.
Based on our experience with multiple global OEMs, we’ve seen increasing focus on making content distribution to Things real. The challenge is that there is a surplus of possible shortcuts, all leading to a siloed approach which can seriously reduce potentials.
In this blog series, we’lll describe a holistic view encompassing key concepts, challenges, benefits and approaches that can maximize the potential on offer.
There are many important and beneficial reasons for OEMs to invest in software and content distribution:
- New revenue opportunities: Licensing and entitlement management will create opportunities for monetizing software and content updates. OEMs can profit from usage-based business models (pay per use, pay-for-overage), features on demand, and other offerings.
- Improved IP protection: By integrating licensing and entitlement management, manufacturers can enforce rigorous entitlement controls, improving protection and reducing fragmentation.
- Product Differentiation: Flexible and controllable software and content distribution creates new, differentiating value propositions.
- Reduced cost to serve: Service and fulfillment costs are greatly reduced. Distribution platforms can enable seamless integration, DevOps and quality processes that significantly reduce the time-to-market for new products and features, as well as deliver important patches available to customers quickly.
- Compliance adherence: Automating distribution better supports complex compliance and regulation in software export, privacy and domain specific compliance. With digital records created at every stage of the delivery cycle, regulatory compliance becomes easier. This is especially useful for medical device manufacturers. Additionally, these types of systems allow flexibility for hosting centralized distribution in tax-advantaged locations.
- Customer satisfaction: Intelligent devices reduce churn, improve customer loyalty and facilitate faster and easier update of processes and quicker availability of new features. They also reduce downtime and help OEMs realize the benefits of newer business models like pay-per-use. Manufacturers also benefit from continuous customer engagement and fine-grained insights based on usage data.
To realize all the benefits envisaged, manufacturers should ensure that the following capabilities are addressed by their content distribution system:
- Comprehensive visibility of install base: A single source of information of the installed base is the foremost capability of a content distribution system. The installed base information includes “Thing-to-customer” associations, service history, and contract details. Often, this information is either not available or spread across multiple systems that are manually maintained or stale. To fill the gaps, content distribution systems should integrate with existing systems and align with Thing and customer onboarding processes.
- Ecosystem modeling capability: A Thing software and content distribution system must not just address Things, but the needs of associated users – for example, sales and service channels, and organizational structures. The solution should be able to model this complexity and adapt to dynamic changes in organizational policies and structures.
- Device Variety and Variability: Unlike the mobile domain, where fragmentation is mainly due to operating systems, the level of fragmentation here is much higher. For example, Things such as construction tools (wall cutting saws, measuring systems, drilling machines etc.) are used in a variety of settings such as mines where there is no network connectivity, urban construction sites where there might be full connectivity, or in defense, where connectivity is regulated. This complexity leads to fragmentation across multiple aspects, which can span customer segments (consumer, enterprise, industrial, defense) and connectivity models (directly, intermittently, indirectly). Moreover, the hardware refresh periods in these ecosystems require support of legacy Things as well. The ability to model this level of fragmentation is a critical capability.
Figure 1: Connectivity fragmentation example
- Licensing and Entitlements: A future-proof distribution system should accommodate various licensing and entitlement models. Device manufacturers’ capability and maturity levels vary, with some having multiple licensing systems and others, little or none. The distribution system should be able to evolve as the organization introduces new monetization models.
- Flawless Last Mile Experience: Unlike mobile or PCs, upgrading IoT assets can involve health and safety aspects and non-IT personnel. In many scenarios, software upgrades must be fully controlled to avoid unplanned stoppages, interference or degradation of device function, processes and people – for example, patients using medical devices. End user interactions and interfaces should be mistake-proof, quick and designed to limit performance degradation. Simple is better. If possible, a single touch update is ideal.
- Ability to support global install base: Often for a global OEM, things are distributed across continents. This presents challenges:
- Managing software, content download time and user experience: When software and content is distributed by a centralized platform, it’s important to maintain a consistent user experience in terms of lead time required for downloads across client locations.
- Complying with local regulations: Country-specific regulations on hosting, and delivery of software and content must be addressed and followed.
- Complex software export regulations
- Ability to handle growing install base: The scalability needs of a device software and content distribution system depends on the type and volume of devices employed by the organization. While the type determines the size of software and content updates, the volume determines the number of download requests. Both the size and number of requests will increase manifold when the software and content distribution system is leveraged for additional value generation use cases. Content distribution systems must be equipped to accommodate both the current size and scale, and support future growth.
Additionally, the software and content distribution lifecycle entails various steps differing across products, regions and business units. Solutions typically address only a portion of these, which leads to broken processes, higher costs and lower quality. The ability to orchestrate various functions in the lifecycle is fundamental.
In the next blog post, we’ll discuss the software lifecycle process and various realization models for software and content distribution.