It is staggering just how quickly connected internet of things (IoT) devices are growing in the workplace. In 2021, IoT spending for enterprises grew by 24%, IoT enterprise spending is expected to grow at 26.7% in the coming years, creating a market worth more than $400 billion by 2025.
From improved data gathering to actionable business insights, the case for connected devices is increasingly clear to company managers. What’s not so clear, however, is exactly how these devices will integrate with existing technology. Let’s take a look at the five steps that IT managers should follow to get legacy systems online with IoT.
#1) Analyze legacy infrastructure
For the first step, managers meshing IoT with legacy infrastructure should take a look at their current system and take note of its purpose, the type of data that it collects, and the way it communicates. This allows managers to plan out IoT integration more efficiently. When analyzing current systems, make sure you focus on these key aspects and ask the following questions:
- Automation – how is automation currently accomplished and what other aspects should be automated?
- Efficiency – which aspects are routinely tedious or slow and could become more efficient?
- Data – how is it collected, stored, and processed, and how could it be better used?
- Budget – analyze how much some processes cost, to help determine what aspects could be done cheaper with IoT?
- Computing – how is data processed, whether it is cloud, edge, or hybrid?
#2) Plan the IoT integration
To integrate IoT into legacy systems requires strong planning, design, and implementation phases.
The first part of this is to decide what IoT hardware is going to be needed, and then set a budget taking software, hardware, and maintenance into account. Next, decide on a communication protocol and develop software tools for interacting with the system. Finally, decide on a security strategy and ensure the system is cybersafe.
Also, at this point, it is important to decide which type of IoT solution best fits your needs. Common types include IoT data central or IoT autonomous. Centralized IoT data solutions require the collection of device data into central databases, with examples including AWS or Azure IoT. On the other hand, autonomous IoT solutions (where data is collected and stored on the device itself) normally require a remote access platform for clients to connect and visualize data and control configurations.
While this can be a daunting process if you don’t know how IoT works, tutorials can help guide you to develop with the right tools to make the IoT project easily realizable.
#3) Implement IoT sensors into existing hardware
The benefit of IoT is that it can automate, control, and make systems more efficient. Interconnecting legacy systems to allow for communication is a great idea, but there is a high probability that legacy systems may not be able to currently sense or communicate data. However, adding IoT sensors can grant these capabilities.
IoT sensors are small devices that can detect when something changes. They capture and send information to a main computer over the internet to be processed or execute commands. These could measure things like temperature, humidity, pressure, gyroscope, and accelerometers.
These sensors are cheap and easy to install, therefore, adding them to any existing legacy systems can be the simplest and quickest way to get to communicate over the internet. Set up which inputs the sensor should respond to and under what conditions, and what it should do with the collected data.
#4) Connect existing PLCs to the internet
Devices already share data if you have an automated system managed by a PLC (programmable logic controller). If that is the case, the next step is to get them online. By making them access the internet, these systems can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world. Data can be accessed, modified, and analyzed more easily. In addition, updates can be pushed globally at any time.
Some PLCs utilize proprietary protocols and have a weird way of making devices communicate with each other. To address this, an IoT gateway is the best way to take the PLC to the internet. An IoT gateway is a device that acts as a bridge between IoT devices and the cloud and allows for communication between them. This enables implementation of IoT onto a PLC without having to restructure it or change it too much.
#5) Connect using an existing IO port
Legacy systems often have some kind of interface for data input/output. This may have been implemented for debugging when the product was originally developed, or to make it possible for service organizations to be able to interface with products in the field and to help customers with setup and/or debug problems.
These data interface/debug ports are normally similar to serial ports such as an RS-485, and RS-232, or they can be more raw interfaces like UART, SPI, or I2C. The majority of the time the protocol on top of the serial connection is proprietary.
This kind of interface is useful, allowing a “black box” to be created via a physical interface matching the legacy system and firmware. This can translate “internet” requests to the proprietary protocol of the legacy system. In addition, this new system can be used as a design for newer internet-accessible versions of the system simply by adopting the black box onto the internal legacy design.
Bridging the gap between old and new
Overall, getting legacy systems to work in an IoT connected network is not as much of a challenge as IT managers might initially think. As outlined above, following some fairly simple strategies enables relatively quick setup. It’s important though not to forget the planning phase for your IoT strategy, in order to decide how it’s going to be implemented in your legacy system. This enables streamlining of the process to really enable you to take full advantage of the benefits that IoT can bring to your project.
Carsten Rhod Gregersen, CEO and Founder of Nabto, a P2P IoT connectivity provider that enables remote control of devices with secure end-to-end encryption.
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