Large IoT Deployments Need Rapid Installation Tactics

When you have to install thousands of IoT devices, you need to make device installation impressively fast. Here is how to do it.

Adam Dunkels, Thingsquare CEOBy Adam Dunkels, Thingsquare CEO – November 11, 2020

Every single IoT device out there has been be installed by someone.

Installation is the activity that requires the most attention during that device’s lifetime.

This is particularly true for large scale IoT deployments.

We at Thingsquare have been involved in many IoT products and projects. Many of these have involved large scale IoT deployments with hundreds or thousands of devices per deployment site.

In this article, we look at why installation is so important for large IoT deployments – and a list of 6 installation tactics to make installation impressively fast while being highly useful:

  1. Take photos
  2. Make it easy to identify devices
  3. Record the location of every device
  4. Keep a log of who did what
  5. Develop an installation checklist, and turn it into an app
  6. Measure everything

And these tactics are useful even if you only have a handful of devices per site, but thousands or tens of thousands of devices in total.

Why Installation Tactics are Important in Large IoT Deployments

Installation is a necessary step of an IoT device’s life.

Someone – maybe your customers, your users, or a team of technicians working for you – will be responsible for the installation. The installer turns your device from a piece of hardware into a living thing: a valuable producer of information for your business.

But most of all, installation is an inevitable part of the IoT device life cycle.

The life cycle of an IoT device can be divided into four stages:

  1. Produce the device, at the factory (usually with a device programming tool).
  2. Install the device.
  3. Use the device. This is where the device generates the value that we created it for. The device may then be either re-installed at a new location, or we:
  4. Retire the device.

Two stages in the list contain the installation activity: both Install and Use.

So installation is inevitable – and important. We need to plan to deal with it.

Installation is the Most Time-Consuming Activity

Most devices should spend most of their lifetime in the Use stage of their life cycle.

But a device’s lifetime is different from the attention time that we need to spend on them.

Devices usually don’t need much attention in their Use stage. At this stage, they should mostly be sitting there and generate valuable information.

By contrast, for the people who work with the devices, most of their attention and time will be spent in the Install stage. Since those are people who’s salary you are paying for, you want to be as efficient as possible.

How To Make Installation Impressively Fast - and Useful

At Thingsquare, we have deployed thousands of devices together with our customers, and our customers have deployed many hundreds of thousands of devices with their customers.

These are our top six tactics to make installation fast – and useful:

1. Take Photos

After installation, you will need to maintain and troubleshoot the system. This is a normal part of the Use stage.

Photos are a goldmine of information. Particularly if it is difficult to get to the location afterward.

Make sure you take plenty of photos of each device as they are installed. In fact, you should include multiple photos in your installation checklist – more about this below.

We have been involved in several deployments where we have needed to remotely troubleshoot installations after they were installed. Having a bunch of photos of how and where the devices were installed helps tremendously.

The photos don’t need to be great. Having a low-quality photo beats having no photo, every time.

A photo of an IoT sensor installed in the inside of an oven in a retail store.

2. Make it Easy to Identify Devices

When dealing with hundreds of devices, you need to make sure that you know exactly which you installed, and where.

You therefore need to make it easy to identify each device. Device identification can be made in several ways, and we recommend you to use more than one way to identify the devices. This will reduce the risk of manual errors.

The two ways we typically use are:

  • A printed unique ID number on the device, which you can take a photo of
  • Automatic secure device identification via Bluetooth – this is something the Thingsquare IoT platform supports out of the box

Being certain about where devices were installed will make maintenance and troubleshooting much easier – particularly if it is difficult to visit the installation site.

3. Record the Location of Every Device

When devices are installed, make sure to record their location.

The easiest way to do this is to take the GPS coordinates of the devices as it is being deployed. Preferably with the installation app, which can do this automatically – see below.

For indoor installations, exact GPS locations may be unreliable. But even for those devices, having a coarse-grained GPS location is useful.

The location is useful both when analyzing the data that the devices produce, and when troubleshooting problems in the network.

By recording the location of every installed device, it is possible to use their locations when later remotely troubleshooting problems in the network.

4. Keep a Log of Who Did What

In large deployments, there will be many people involved.

Being able to trace the installation actions, as well as who took what action, is enormously useful. Sometimes just knowing the steps that were taken when installing each device is important. And sometimes you need to talk to the person who did the installation.

5. Develop an Installation Checklist - and Turn it into an App

Determine what steps are needed to install each device, and develop a step-by-step checklist for each step.

Then turn this checklist into an app that installation personnel can run on their own phones.

Each step of each checklist should be really easy understand to avoid mistakes along the way. And it should be easy to go back and forth in the steps, if needed.

Ideally, the app should run on both Android and iOS, because you would like everyone to be able to use it on their own phones.

Here is an example checklist, that we developed for a sensor device in a retail IoT deployment:

  • Check that sensor has battery installed
  • Attach sensor to appliance
  • Make sure that the sensor is online
  • Check that the sensor has a strong signal
  • Check that the GPS location is correct
  • Move hand in front of sensor, to make sure sensor correctly detects movement
  • Be still, to make sure sensor correctly detects no movement
  • Enter description of sensor placement (e.g. “on top of the appliance”)
  • Enter description of appliance
  • Take a photo of the sensor
  • Take a photo of the appliance
  • Take a photo of the appliance and the two beside it
  • Take a photo of the appliance and the four beside it
An installation checklist app in action

6. Measure Everything

Since installation costs money, we want it to be efficient.

And the best way to make a process more efficient is to measure it, and then improve it.

Since we have an installation checklist app, measuring installation time is easy – just build it into the app.

Once we know how much time each step in the installation process needs, we are ready to revise the process and improve it. We should focus on the most time-consuming step first and measure the successive improvements to make sure we get the most bang for the buck.

Conclusions

Every IoT device needs to be installed and making the installation process efficient saves us attention time for everyone involved – and ultimately money.

At Thingsquare, we have deployed thousands of devices together with our customers, and our customers have deployed many hundreds of thousands of devices with their customers.

We use our experience to solve hard problems in the IoT space, such as how to best install large IoT systems – get in touch with us to learn more!

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Adam Dunkels

Adam Dunkels

CEO

Fredrik Rosendal

Fredrik Rosendal

CTO

Marcus Linderoth

Marcus Linderoth

VP Engineering

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