Device Lifecycle Management Best Practices Series: Onboarding Devices and Users

By Michael Campbell

This article is part of an ongoing series on Device Lifecycle Management Best Practices. Read our first article, the overview, here.

At a new job, have you ever tried to access an integral piece of software or been denied building access due to not having your credentials registered into the various systems? We’ve all been there, but these onboarding failures waste time and resources.

Similarly, not setting up and capturing all the attributes of a product’s capabilities, what users are assigned, how it is connected, and what software is installed will create significant, costly, and ongoing future problems. A complete onboarding process and system is the first and essential step in managing a connected device’s lifecycle.

Know thy Device

Some organizations call this part of the connected product lifecycle “Fleet Management”. Regardless of what you call it, knowing what devices you have deployed with what configurations at what customer locations is absolutely essential. Otherwise it’s a support nightmare and you will never get good product diagnostics to help you plan for the future. For example can you easily answer these questions:

  • What devices are actually deployed - and to what customers?
  • What are their model numbers, capabilities and configurations?
  • What version of OS, firmware and application software is running on the devices?
  • When was the last time they were updated?
  • What partner sold them, and what is the service contract and applicable?

Organizations typically don’t focus on the processes and systems for onboarding users and devices until there is a problem. While a bad practice, it is understandable because organizations focus their limited bandwidth on innovation and strategic issues, not internal, non-revenue producing areas. You can’t cost effectively and properly diagnose and repair a smart product if you don’t understand its baseline network configuration, or what version of OS or firmware is running on a device. Not knowing all the attributes of a product’s configuration and what software is actually managing its operation will create costly, and ongoing downstream problems. You can proactively address and eliminate these problems with proper onboarding practices.

Users Are People Too

There can be dozens of users in the Connected Product Value Chain whose roles and access to the device, networks, software and other systems are critical. Managing these individuals, and their permissions is essential to managing the device-customer relationship and the implicit contract that exists between them.

  • Who is, or are, the master administrators that determine policies and manage permissions for remote devices within your organization?
  • Who manages external/customer users and their permissions outside your organization?
  • Can you manage device access for your distribution channel?
  • Can you provide device management capabilities for support organization?
  • Is there a way to allow your customers to create tiers of user permissions within their organization?

Onboarding Best Practices

Solving big problems - or preventing them - doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Being methodical and throughout this lifecycle stage will not only prevent costly future pain but also delight customers and expand the revenue that flows from them.

1. Capture key details of the devices that you are shipping to customers or otherwise deploying in the field:

  • Model number or product type
  • Each device’s unique ID - establish and consistently enforce globally
  • Essential features, data reporting parameters
  • Network configuration
  • Operating system
  • Firmware version
  • Third party applications or services
  • Integrations - cloud or local - for data collection, CRM, etc.

2. If devices are already deployed and you don’t have the foundational product information, make best efforts to capture and document as much information as possible to establish a new baseline. The information may be contained in:

  • CRM records
  • Manufacturing records
  • Customer agreements
  • Support tickets

3. Consider a system that integrates fleet management with software and configuration management:

  • The simplest way to ensure correct information on software and configuration of deployed devices is to ensure there is a workflow that connects changes in one system with the other.
  • If you have a strong census of devices, initiate updates by selecting devices for updates from that census, or
  • Have a comprehensive management process that allows you to define the update, and then select the target devices for a specific software or configuration update.

4. Prioritize a system for proper user permissions management:

  • Embrace the reality that users are even more dynamic than the smart products you make.
  • Establish categories of users, their roles and their specific permissions.
  • Users extend beyond your organization and your customers’ organizations - they involve channel partners and third-party support providers.
  • Hierarchy should extend beyond simple access management to the overall UX - branding, localization and more.

5. Integrate, Integrate, Integrate

  • If you are not using a single system for your connected product and device management, ensure that there is appropriate integration of workflows, data and users between the different systems.
  • If you are not using a single system for connected product management across the value chain, consider changing your strategy.

By implementing these best practices, you will systematically minimize pain points from the very beginning of your connected devices’ lifecycle.

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