How IoT services raise unprecedented challenges for software quality — and big risks for brands

The Internet of Things promises many new opportunities for major brands to differentiate themselves and offer new services. It will also bring with it new complexities that pose unprecedented challenges for those responsible for protecting those major brands with quality software.

Companies that fail to meet these challenges with new software and service could easily do more harm than good. That’s why leading enterprises are turning to a new era of IoT middleware to help bridge this gap, says Mike Harris, CEO of Zonoff, an IoT middleware vendor at the GigaOM Structure Connect Conference in San Francisco.

Harris said the hype around the IoT has picked up significantly over the last year, and consumers are starting to buy into new product categories that no one has paid attention to before. For example, Staples has launched a major in-store display across 550 stores nationwide. This shows the market is moving from early adopters to mainstream users.

Engineering for use cases

Despite the opportunities, major brands are concerned about trust and reliability. Harris says that if new IoT applications don’t work, the brand gets a big black eye. For big companies, this sort of problem can make the Wall Street Journal. Big companies with a focus on consumer awareness need to think about addressing the quality of the software that drives these services as a forethought rather than a very costly afterthought.

The software testing framework required to ensure this reliability will have to work across Internet services, physical hardware, IoT gateways, and other middleware platforms that consumers will likely use to manage their IoT experiences. Tools such as service virtualization have been optimized for existing Internet services, but they will need to evolve to manage the complexity of assuring better software across these more complex use cases.

Harris expects that more users will buy into specific use cases. Few consumers are going into retailers asking for smart homes, he says. In the near future, peace-of-mind applications (think home security and “smart” thermostats) will prove the most successful. Once adaptation reaches critical mass, new services for convenience will start to pick up traction.

There is a sort of chicken-and-egg phenomena underlying the widespread rollout of IoT devices and associated services. Few companies are big enough to develop the underlying protocols, services, and applications to meet these use cases. As such, a large number of standards are emerging to help bridge the gap between physical products, networking infrastructure, gateways, and cloud services for the IoT.

Uncertainty Requires Agile

But Harris believes that it is still too early to bet the farm on any one standard. “If you don’t like a standard today,  tomorrow there will be a different one.” There a number of standards out there, and more are coming. Part of the underlying challenge are the different agendas driving competing standards. These uncertainties will require brands to think about picking IoT glues and creating agile development processes that can shift to meet the most popular standards and use cases as they emerge.

It’s not entirely clear whether consumers will prefer in-home hubs or cloud-based management services, either. Hubs are now important for bridging the number of disparate networking services running over wireless and power line infrastructure. There also needs to be a layer of intelligence for coordinating the action of devices between in-home devices, smart phones, and other management interfaces. Down the road, Harris expects to see more intelligence embedded into set top boxes and commodity routers.