Identifying exceptional user experience (UX) in IoT platforms

Examples of excellent IoT platform UX from the perspectives of 5 typical IoT platform personas.

Industry 4.0 / Industrial IoT / Smart Factory
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Enterprises are inundated with information about IoT platforms’ features and capabilities. But to find a long-lived IoT platform that minimizes ongoing development costs, enterprises must focus on exceptional user experience (UX) for 5 types of IoT platform users.

Marketing and sales literature from IoT platform vendors is filled with information about IoT platform features. And no doubt, enterprises choosing to buy IoT platform services need to understand the actual capabilities of IoT platforms – preferably by testing a variety of IoT platforms – before making a purchase decision.

However, it is a lot harder to gauge the quality of an IoT platform UX than itemizing an IoT platform’s features. Having excellent UX leads to lower platform deployment and management costs and higher customer satisfaction and retention. So enterprises should make UX one of their top criteria when selecting an IoT platform.

One of the ways to determine excellent IoT platform UX is to simulate the tasks conducted by typical IoT platform users. By completing these tasks, it becomes readily apparent when an IoT platform is exceptional or annoyingly bad.

In this blog, I describe excellent IoT platform UX from the perspectives of five typical IoT platform users or personas.

Persona 1: platform administrator

A platform administrator’s primary role is to configure, monitor, and maintain the functionality of an IoT platform. A platform administrator is typically an IT employee responsible for maintaining and configuring the various data management, device management, access control, external integration, and monitoring services that comprise an IoT platform.

Typical platform administrator tasks include

  • configuration of the on-platform data visualization and data aggregation tools
  • configuration of available device management functionality or execution of in-bulk device management tasks
  • configuration and creation of on-platform complex event processing (CEP) workflows
  • management and configuration of platform service orchestration

Enterprises should pick IoT platforms with superlative access to on-platform configuration functionality with an emphasis on declarative interfaces for configuration management. Although many platform administrators are capable of working with RESTful API endpoints, good UX design should not require that platform administrators use third-party tools to automate basic functionality or execute bulk tasks. Some programmatic interfaces, such as SQL syntax for limiting monitoring views or dashboards for setting event processing trigger criteria, are acceptable and expected, although a fully declarative solution that maintains similar functionality is preferred.

Persona 2: platform operator

A platform operator’s primary role is to leverage an IoT platform to execute common day-to-day business-centric operations and services. While the responsibilities of a platform operator will vary based on enterprise vertical and use case, all platform operators conduct business rather than IoT domain tasks.

Typical platform operator tasks include

  • visualizing and aggregating on-platform data to view key business KPIs
  • using device management functionality on a per-device basis
  • creating, managing, and monitoring per-device and per-location event processing rules
  • executing self-service administrative tasks, such as enrolling downstream operators

Enterprises should pick IoT platforms centered on excellent ease-of-use for a business user. In general, the UX should be focused on providing information immediately required for the execution of day-to-day operational tasks while removing more complex functionality. These platforms should have easy access to well-defined and well-constrained operational functions or data visualization. An effective UX should enable easy creation and modification of data views, graphs, dashboards, and other visualizations by allowing operators to select devices using a declarative rather than SQL or other programmatic interfaces.

Persona 3: hardware and systems developer

A hardware and systems developer’s primary role is the integration and configuration of IoT assets into an IoT platform. The hardware and systems developer possesses very specific, detailed knowledge about IoT hardware (e.g., specific multipoint control units, embedded platforms, or PLC/SCADA control systems), and leverages this knowledge to enable protocol and asset compatibility with northbound platform services.

Typical hardware and systems developer tasks include

  • designing and implementing firmware for IoT assets based on either standardized IoT SDKs or platform-specific SDKs
  • updating firmware or software packages over deployment lifecycles
  • integrating manufacturer-specific protocols adapters into either IoT assets or the northbound platform

Enterprises should pick IoT platforms that allow hardware and systems developers to most efficiently design and implement low-level device and protocol functionality. An effective developer experience provides well-documented and fully-featured SDKs supporting a variety of languages and device architectures to enable integration with various types of IoT hardware.

Persona 4: platform and backend developer

A platform and backend developer’s primary role is to execute customer-specific application logic and integrations within an IoT deployment. Customer-specific logic may include on-platform or on-edge custom applications, such as those used for analytics, data aggregation and normalization, or any type of event processing workflow. In addition, a platform and backend developer is responsible for integrating the IoT platform with external databases, analytic solutions, or business systems such as MES, ERP, or CRM applications.

Typical platform and backend developer tasks include

  • integrating streaming data from the IoT platform into external systems and applications
  • configuring inbound and outbound platform actions and interactions with external systems
  • configuring complex code-based event processing capabilities beyond the scope of a platform administrator’s knowledge or ability
  • debugging low-level platform functionalities that require coding to detect or resolve

Enterprises should pick excellent IoT platforms that provide access to well-documented and well-featured platform-level SDKs for application or service development. A best-in-class platform UX should provide real-time logging tools, debugging tools, and indexed and searchable access to all platform logs. Finally, a platform and backend developer is particularly dependent upon high-quality, platform-level documentation, especially for platform APIs.

Persona 5: user interface and experience (UI/UX) developer

A UI/UX developer’s primary role is to design the various operator interfaces and monitoring views for an IoT platform. In more complex IoT deployments, various operator audiences will need to be addressed, including solution domain experts such as a factory manager; role-specific experts such as an equipment operator or factory technician; and business experts such as a supply-chain analyst or company executive.

Typical UI/UX developer tasks include

  • building and maintaining customer-specific dashboards and monitoring views on either the IoT platform or edge devices
  • designing, implementing, and maintaining various operator consoles for a variety of operator audiences and customer-specific use cases
  • ensuring good user experience for customers over the lifetime of an IoT implementation

Enterprises should pick IoT platforms that provide an exceptional variety and quality of UI/UX tools, such as dashboarding frameworks for on-platform monitoring solutions that are declaratively or programmatically customizable, as well as various widget and display blocks to help the developer rapidly implement customer-specific views. An IoT platform must also provide a UI/UX developer with appropriate debugging and logging tools for monitoring and operator console frameworks and platform APIs. Finally, a best-in-class platform should provide a sample dashboard, operator console, and on-edge monitoring implementation in order to enable the UI/UX developer to quickly become accustomed with platform paradigms and best practices.

Enterprises should make UX one of their top criteria when selecting an IoT platform. Having excellent UX allows enterprises to minimize platform deployment and management costs. At the same time, excellent UX allows enterprises to more readily launch new solutions to the market thereby increasing customer satisfaction and retention.

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