Advocacy for an interoperable IoT
Fact #1: the Internet of Things is a key element of the digital transformation of every market segment.
Many organizations are already optimizing their operations and offering innovative services to their customers and the general public thanks to it. However, common sense (and analysts) suggests that interoperability between the elements of IoT can multiply the value of IoT projects for businesses and public services. In other words, without general connectivity, IoT projects will remain confined and will not be able to deliver all their potential.
This is hardly a surprise, if we remember the tremendous acceleration and innovations made possible by the replacement of good old private networks (they worked, believe it or not) with a globally interoperable integrated solution: the Internet and the World Wide Web.
Fact #2: the IoT ecosystem is massively fragmented.
Many radio solutions, from long range/low bandwidth Sigfox and Lora LPWAN, to mobile network infrastructure like 2G/3G/4G/upcoming 5G, as well as local radio solutions (WiFi, Zigbee) and more to come (Helium, satellite-based solutions, etc.);
IoT platforms abound (600, may be more than 1,000) with open source solutions allowing even modest organizations to deploy and operate their own one;
Device and platform vendors provide their own API, a machine language interface that gives access to the device data, status, actions;
Dedicated applications to grant access to users, that means as many applications as vendors of devices or/and platforms.
IoT fragmentation makes projects more complicated and expensive than they should
The fragmentation of the IoT ecosystem complicates matters. With a myriad of standards, peer-to-peer agreements, consortia, and more, getting connected devices, applications, web services and users to interact openly is a real challenge.
As there is currently no one-size-fits-all solution, organizations are forced to select which IoT silo they want to live in. Why not, but they must be prepared for significant impacts on the scope of their project, heavy reliance on vendors and significant limitations on the business workflow supported.
Another consequence is the difficulty for users to appropriate solutions that require the deployment of many applications, learning how to use them, upgrades, etc. Of course, this is not impossible, but it will take patience, learning, and effort for a limited reward. People are using more social media and less specialized apps, and a fragmented IoT isn’t helping to move in that direction.
Time flies, technologies change, so do the requirements of projects, devices, applications, processes, users. Projects become more difficult to integrate, companies (consciously or not) develop technical debt making evolution and maintenance more difficult and increasing the total cost of ownership (TCO) over time.
We have an API! So what?
“We have an API!” is the usual response from suppliers to claim interoperability. It’s certainly useful, but so what? What should be done from there?
The only possibilities currently offered concern tailor-made developments (in-house or subcontracted) which will require effort, time, budget, use scarce and overloaded resources, without a clear path to support, maintain and adapt the entire infrastructure. throughout its life.
This type of pre-internet response is no longer acceptable for the digitization of businesses in the 21st century.
A few real-life examples
The Internet is teeming of IoT use cases, so we’ll limit ourselves to a few examples:
Smart City air quality control – Applying Peter Drucker’s famous quote: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” many cities are starting to address their air quality problem by measuring it in different places throughout the day to better understand correlations and causalities with other factors such as weather, road traffic, etc. This seems (and is) a fairly specialized project, the key element of which are air quality sensors. However, it can be seen that this project’s value can extend far beyond its initial technical or scientific scope with extensive connectivity and interoperability:
Combination of air quality data with other information such as weather (wind, rain, temperature…), road traffic (and harbor traffic for seaside cities), etc.
Alert specialized urban organizations that may need information to make operational decisions (hospital, sports clubs, schools);
Specialized information intended for a target audience (people suffering from asthma or other lung disease);
Ease of access to air quality information for the general public (citizens, tourists, etc.) without the deployment of a heavy dedicated application.
Industrial maintenance – An industrial enterprise wishes to modernize its operations, and in particular the maintenance of its production machines, in order to gradually anticipate breakdowns and reduce outage. Some machine are quite old, and the fleet is heterogeneous, but there is no reason (and no budget) to replace them. The IoT project involves connected sensors capable of providing information on the behavior of each machine (temperature, vibrations, duty cycle, etc.) which will permit to know their health status, and hopefully to anticipate breakdowns. In addition, making this project natively interoperable will ensure greater value:
Safeguard the future by decoupling the project (outage reduction) from the ppliers of machines and sensors;
Automatically update registers for machine usage traceability;
Improve communication with operational teams who can be better informed, especially at sensitive times, for example when equipment leaves their normal operating zone;
Facilitate the passage of information between teams, during shift changes.
Unified communication and collaboration extension – UCC solutions are ideal for communication between teams: chat, group discussions, video… In many situations (e.g. hospitality, smart building, industry, cities…) employees must also to communicate with connected devices and applications, and they can only to this by using additional applications, breaking the unification offered by UCC solutions. With general interoperability, users (employees, customers, visitors, etc.) will have much easier access to other people (UCC) and their devices (IoT) through a single interface: their usual UCC application.
So, what should be done?
When do organizations need a general interoperability solution? To make it black and white, let’s say if your project is simple, uniform and short-term (<2 years), you are probably better off picking a single vendor and not worrying about interoperability.
And when projects involve diversity (across devices, networks, third party applications, evolving workflows, etc.) or require a long lifespan (> 5 years), it is essential to involve a general connectivity and interoperability solution. With all the shades of gray between these two extreme situations.
An effective solution to make your IoT truly collaborative and interoperable can unlock tremendous value around your project.
If you liked this article, you might also like to read For an “entente cordiale” between collaborative applications and digital processes.
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