Amway is the number one direct-selling business in the world, according to the Direct Selling News 2017 Global 100, with more than $8.8 billion in sales revenue. Amway sells a breadth of nutrition, beauty, and home products through a network of millions of independent sales distributors. Despite the company’s huge size and global footprint, however, its initiative to develop Internet-connected products—or Internet of Things (IoT)—began as a grassroots effort within the organization when it was in the process of enhancing its top-of-the-line air-treatment system. “During this process, a cross-functional team identified an opportunity to enhance the user experience by adding Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communication,” says Everett Binger, chief IoT solutions architect at Amway.
The idea quickly became an executive initiative that ultimately transformed how the company executes product development. Since embarking on its IoT journey, Amway has successfully launched its first Internet-connected product—the Atmosphere Sky Air Treatment System—and plans to further explore what benefits IoT can bring to the enterprise.
Amway conducted a four-month evaluation of different IoT platforms, ultimately choosing AWS IoT. AWS’s scalability, global presence, maturity in the IoT space, security, and outstanding professional services were the deciding factors for Amway. “We do business in more than 100 countries and territories, and we had no idea how much data-center capacity we would need from an IoT perspective,” says Mike Gartner, senior IoT platform architect at Amway.
Amway implemented its IoT platform in a serverless architecture using AWS IoT. It used other AWS services—including AWS Lambda, Amazon API Gateway, and Amazon DynamoDB—to implement key features for its connected devices, including:
- Command and control—the ability to send commands to devices anywhere in the world and get a response.
- Firmware updating—the ability to automatically update features on its devices.
- Telemetry data capture—the ability to continuously collect data from devices and transform that data for later analysis or use in real time.
- Just-In-Time Registration—the ability to securely onboard a device to the AWS IoT platform.
- Device pairing—the ability to know a device owner is the only one who can control the device.
Security was one of Amway’s biggest concerns in moving into IoT. “Using the AWS IoT platform, we were able to build policies and security throughout the entire architecture,” says Gartner. Several AWS teams worked with Amway and Atmel (now Microchip), to implement Just-in-Time certificate registration for Amway’s connected devices. Just-in-Time Registration is a new AWS IoT process that automatically registers new device certificates as part of the initial communication between the device and AWS IoT, creating a seamless, highly secure user experience. Communication between devices and AWS IoT is protected through the use of X.509 certificates.
With AWS Just-in-Time Registration, users are assured their Amway device will talk only to Amway’s AWS IoT platform—not to a different IoT platform or a hacked version that sits in between. For Amway, Just-in-Time Registration ensures a given device truly is an Amway manufactured device, and not a fake. For Amway’s devices, Just-in-Time Registration is handled by the Atmel microprocessor within each unit. “Valid certificates for our air-treatment systems are actually created before they even leave the factory floor,” says Binger.
When it came to designing the architecture required for its IoT platform, Amway used AWS Professional Services to help it create a continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline to automate delivery of platform software updates. The pipeline picks up source code changes from a repository, builds and packages the application, and then pushes the new update through a series of stages, running integration tests to ensure all features are intact and backward-compatible in each stage.
The CI/CD process has allowed the company to be much more agile and has completely changed how it executes product development. “In the past, it would normally take a week to get a production deployment completed and tested,” says Binger. “Now we are able to do it within minutes to hours.”
By using AWS serverless architecture, Amway has been able to take a very lean, agile approach to its IoT effort. “We didn’t need to invest in IT infrastructure because AWS offered a serverless architecture—that in and of itself is a huge savings,” says Binger. He predicts that a serverless approach will be adopted for many other systems throughout Amway’s enterprise IT architecture.
“Our investment in AWS Professional Services paid off by significantly reducing our learning curve and increasing speed-to-market,” says Binger. “It’s hard to believe we went from initial conception to building a production-ready appliance with IoT capability in a little over a year’s time. That’s extremely fast for Amway—our typical product-development cycle is significantly longer than that.”
Perhaps the most important value realized by Amway through its IoT implementation is the ability to seamlessly gather information about its products. This allows the company to better understand device performance and the needs of the end user, allowing for innovation to take place both for existing and future Amway products.
“Our research and development group is getting information about how our top-of-the-line products are functioning that was impossible to gather before,” says Binger. “We have insights into not only how the product is functioning, but also how people are using the product. For example, we gather statistics about motor speed, errors, voltages, and so on, which tell us how well our air-treatment units are operating in the field,” says Binger. “We also collect information about users’ interactions with our mobile application in order to improve that offering.”
“There’s some very insightful information for us there,” says Binger. “And that is causing conversations to take place within the organization that will change how we think about marketing, product development, and research development activities in the future.”
Learn more about AWS IoT.