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Making APIs the bedrock of IoT development

Ian Fairclough Profile picture for user ifairclough December 3, 2018
Put down the foundations for the Internet of Things API by API, says MuleSoft's Ian Fairclough

Ian Fairclough

The Internet of Things (IoT) is set to explode in the months and years ahead. Analyst IHS predicts by 2025 there will be 75.4 billion connected devices in use, while another recent report found over half of IT leaders are investing or planning to invest in the IoT. This rapid growth is partly driven by an endless number of potential IoT use cases, from smart parking sensors that help drivers find space in crowded cities to predictive maintenance that can keep manufacturing production lines from unplanned downtime.

With IoT’s incredible diversity, it’s hard to envision exactly where it will end up. We’re only at the beginning of what the technology is going to do for us and how it will impact our lives. For businesses in particular, the development of the IoT opens up a whole new world of opportunity for transmitting useful data that makes businesses more efficient and helps them to understand their customers better. However, despite the endless possibilities, there are several challenges standing in the way, especially when it comes to making IoT data accessible and actionable.

Identifying the obstacles

Before the IoT can reach its potential, businesses must identify a way to connect a range of devices and sensors with enterprises’ backend systems. With Gartner estimating that half the cost of implementing IoT will be driven by integration, there’s a real need for organisations to plan for how they will overcome this challenge.

For starters, organisations need to ensure IoT data can be transmitted and read in a way that doesn’t disrupt the devices themselves, such as through open interfaces. Organisations also need to connect a range of monolithic legacy systems to the new-age IoT devices. At present, legacy systems communicate in a myriad of ways, making it difficult for organisations to consume the data they create in a standardised fashion. This will lead to limited adoption of the IoT and consumption of its data if it isn’t addressed.

In addition to addressing these integration challenges, organisations must also ensure their deployment model is scalable. The more devices businesses can connect to the IoT, the greater its potential to transmit useful and actionable information. Without effective scaling, the potential of the IoT will go largely unfulfilled, as the costs and practicalities of connecting so many devices in a meaningful way will simply become insurmountable. As more of their physical assets are connected to the internet, businesses must also consider how they will manage access to prevent security breaches or devices being overwhelmed by legitimate users.

Building a bright future for IoT, one API at a time

The most effective way to overcome these challenges is to deploy IoT in a modular fashion, with a flexible integration layer between devices, data and the overall IT ecosystem. This can best be achieved using APIs to build an application network. Underpinned by APIs, application networks enable applications, data and devices to be plugged in and out seamlessly, without negative knock-on effects on other devices or data transmissions. Therefore, when a change is made – something that is inevitable given the speed at which IoT will need to evolve – there aren’t any rigid dependencies that would constrict those changes, or create integration challenges. In much the same way that HTML provided the standardisation that led to the explosion of the internet, APIs are becoming the standard interface enabling organisations to build application networks and paving the way for the rise of the IoT.

Multinational hygiene services company Rentokil, for example, adopted an API strategy to power its IoT initiatives and reduce the cost of pest control. Rentokil created smart connected pest traps that signal when one is triggered, removing the need for its workforce to do manual, visual checks at each location on a regular basis. As a result, the efficiency of its workforce has gone up 70 percent. This has been made possible with an application network, which allows Rentokil to easily consume and act upon the data being transmitted by a vast network of smart traps.

It’s all about standardisation

In addition to the efficiency benefits, organisations can also create new revenue streams by monetising the devices they’ve connected to the IoT. For example, they could allow other organisations and third parties to build their own services and capabilities on top of IoT devices and the data being generated, in a similar way to how open banking is revolutionising financial services. By using APIs to expose IoT devices and data in a standardised way, the opportunities for enterprises to benefit commercially will increase exponentially. APIs also offer a solution to the security dilemma, enabling organisations to build-in security by design by embedding standardised access and authentication controls into the APIs to regulate access to IoT devices and data.

The key point to remember is that standardisation is the crucial ingredient for making the IoT a success. When the devices connected to the internet can easily communicate, the capabilities they enable will become more useful and accessible. This in turn encourages consumption and adoption, driving innovation. APIs are therefore set to become the bedrock of IoT’s future, connecting its various layers and helping to democratise the data being collected from billions of devices and sensors. Ultimately, APIs enable the IoT to become far more consumable, unlocking a whole new future full of untold opportunities that are impossible to envision today.

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