Web applications can simplify the management of IoT devices and the ability of organizations to derive value from their IoT deployment.
A web app is a software application that uses web browsers and web technology and performs specific functions or tasks over the internet. An IoT web app means that an IoT device uses the front end and back end of the web application to gather data, analyze that data and then display the results.
IoT web apps provide users with intuitive GUIs to help them do their tasks more effectively or gain new insights, said Bernd Gross, CTO at Software AG.
The typical IoT web app use cases connect and manage devices to gain insights into IoT data, for example, through dashboards and analytics to automate workflows and trigger actions.
IoT web apps help people collaborate with each other, machines and facilities, said Paul Venditti, principal industry consultant for the IoT division at SAS. The web app can move beyond a simple information display for one person to foster collaboration between a person in the field and the person at a remote location.
Connected and smart assets and processes can communicate with people who are not data scientists with concepts such as explainable AI and composite AI. Explainable AI lets people understand and communicate how an AI system makes decisions, and composite AI combines multiple AI techniques to help businesses solve complex problems. Organizations and organizational cultures must evolve to understand the language of AI-driven insights and how to interpret the results for decision support.
Organizations can use IoT web apps to take advantage of advancements in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The "gamer" generation is driving this trend, which will likely continue to grow, Venditti said. Drones already capture images of infrastructure, including bridges and highways. VR and AR in the application drives significant value during the inspection process.
Various tech professionals use different IoT web apps. For example, in the case of an equipment manufacturer, users could include the operations expert, the equipment user, the plant manager and the tool administrator. Each user has a different need. The operations expert, for example, needs an easy way to monitor, remotely update and troubleshoot the equipment and connectivity using IoT web apps. In comparison, the plant manager must integrate key performance indicator information associated with equipment into the existing systems to view the overall plant effectiveness.
Why use an IoT web app vs. an IoT mobile app
IoT web apps run on various machines, including PCs, mobile phones and tablets, but there are different types of apps, including those designed for desktop use, for mobile devices and responsive apps designed to work on large and small screens, Gross said.
IoT mobile apps must be specially created and tuned for app stores and mobile phones, such as Android or Apple, Venditti said. Mobile apps are most appropriate when designed for a specific use and purpose. For example, a mobile app in a closed loop with a medical device attached to a person for blood sugar monitoring and insulin delivery must perform reliably without depending on networks or being subjected to security breaches.
Paul VendittiPrincipal industry consultant, SAS
IoT web apps usually require internet connectivity, while mobile apps can be designed to work without an internet connection.
An IoT web app can be flexible for applications that need to be updated regularly and are contextually enriched by enterprise data, Venditti said. An IoT web app can also have business process advantages for the numerous tech professionals who interact with it to drive value. For example, consider the cold chain logistics involved with food or biologics in the low temperature-controlled supply chain. Many different people are involved in that process, including a trucker, planner, dispatcher and business manager. They all gain insights and act based on IoT data. Each of these actions can require an interface with back-end enterprise applications.
This "control tower" approach best fits a web application construct from a cost and security perspective. IoT data, which tracks, traces and builds real-time situational awareness, helps people make better decisions for in-transit shipments, Venditti said. Organizations can then analyze granular IoT data to plan future trips better.
Considerations and features organizations need for IoT web apps
The most important considerations for an organization adopting or creating an IoT web app include flexible dashboarding and configurations and control options that enable users to tailor IoT web apps to target different users, Gross said. Other features include monitoring and alarm notifications, and the underlying web app framework must be open and extensible.
Organizations must also consider the following:
- Security. Organizations must plan for device protection, IoT data stream integrity and lifecycle management.
- Flexibility of front-end development. Front-end development must derive context from IoT data and analytics. New functionality ideally can be added without managing lots of custom code. IoT technology rapidly creates new features, and development must keep pace.
- App lifecycle management. This feature gives the ability to easily update the IoT web app logic as new versions get created and released. App lifecycle management can be challenging when many IoT web apps rely on libraries and codebases that change and sometimes require security patches.
- Connectivity and bandwidth for users. Higher bandwidth and reliable connectivity will ensure IoT web apps can transfer data faster with lower latency.
- Decision-making. Organizations must set their decision-making process for the application and how it provides value.
- Measuring outcomes. Currently, there's too much emphasis on measuring IoT architecture characteristics, such as throughput of data and API calls, rather than measuring outcomes, such as reducing worker safety incidents.
Additionally, the IoT web app should be scalable and capable of handling and processing a large amount of data. The back end must handle large data requests and respond to them in real time.
Developers must build dynamic user interfaces because internal sensors collect data from IoT devices in real time. For example, the user interface must handle frequent changes because a heartbeat monitor system must render the user's heartbeat every second.
What are the challenges of creating a web app for IoT?
One of the biggest challenges of developing a web app for IoT is security because interconnected devices create numerous entry points. Threat actors can exploit these entry points to access the transmitted data, the user's location and other valuable data. Organizations must also consider data privacy and encrypt data that's stored, processed and transmitted by IoT devices to protect from data leaks.
Developers also must ensure that their IoT web apps are resilient, scalable enough to handle many requests and compatible with various browsers, Gross said.
Another challenge is customizing IoT web apps based on the user, such as data scientist, business analyst, field engineer, business manager or IT administrator, Venditti said.