Unify or Uniformize your I(o)T?
The need for unity is prevalent in all organizations, whether it be society, family, sports (collective, but not only), business… Unity allows a group to behave coherently, efficiently, and towards a common goal, rather than as a series of individuals. A physicist would say that it makes it possible to decrease (although locally) the entropy of a system.
The temptation of uniformization
To reach unity, it is tempting to approach it from the angle of uniformity. If everything is similar, it will obviously be easier to achieve coherent collective behavior. The same uniform, the same jersey, the same housing, the same readings? Indeed, it works (up to a certain point).
Totalitarian societies have understood this well, imposing strong social rules to control their citizens and avoid the risk of being questioned and challenged. On another level, it is very practical to have common conventions: the same power outlet (with the same voltage and frequency), shared codes (blue = cold, red = hot)(green = pass, red = stop)…
The point is how far it is efficient to standardize. At what level should the rules apply, and what level of flexibility is allowed to individuals? The answer is not obvious and differs according to the context.
If standardization goes too far in detail (over-specification, over-control, over-definition), the result will be a rigid organization, where there is no trust, leaving too little room for innovation and not adapted to changes in its environment.
If it does not go far enough, there will be a risk of misalignment and misunderstanding between the different components of the system.
Unify = communicate
To unify a whole, there must be good communication between each of the parties. In a uniform universe, this communication is implicit: rules are the main elements of communication and are sufficient in practice. But in a more flexible and creative environment, communication takes place at a higher level.
In team management, it is like managing by processes versus managing by objectives. The second situation is more enriching for the participants and generally gives better results, but it requires regular exchanges between team members to ensure cohesion and the achievement of common objectives: “reading the manual” does not solve every situation.
One of Benetton’s famous commercials – United and yet different.
What about I(o)T?
“Unify or uniformize”, that is the question that arises in many IT and IoT projects. Whether it it better to choose a single solution with a broad functional spectrum and from a dominant supplier, even if it means suffering its possible limitations, present and future?
Or, on the contrary, to choose the best of breed for each function, and to take care of the integration of these components to deliver the expected services? Mainframe or distributed workstations? Generalist ERP suite or specialized software? Enterprise’s smartphone and laptop or BYOD?
Let’s not look for a single response: the context – and culture – of each organization dictates the answer that will be provided.
That said, whatever the level of standardization chosen, there are always needs for integration of different products, services, objects.
We see it in particular in two areas:
Applications: it is significant that applications are not standardized. At best, some exchange formats are specified or imposed by a dominant publisher – not without difficulty. The reason is linked to the imagination of designers, increasingly short lifecycles, rapid technological progress, and the need for product differentiation. No application editor likes their product be called a “me too”.
The IoT: the diversity of objects, the numerous network technologies, the multiplication of platforms, the applications with which it is necessary to interact, make it almost impossible – at least unreasonable – to uniformize large projects. Moreover, unlike the world of applications mentioned above, the IoT world does not suffer from a lack of standards, rather from unreasonable abundance. The standardization bodies that are trying to address this problem have merit – and many difficulties.
Symphony Orchestra Rhône-Alpes Auvergne, France
Unity without uniformity requires a common language
APIs are the gateway to the various components of an IT system, allowing the exchange of commands and data. Unifying an I(o)T system around business processes requires that the APIs of its component applications are used in a consistent manner: a real job for a conductor of an orchestra whose instruments are different from one another and do not always share the same basic musical rules (chord, rhythm, tone, etc.).
The task quickly becomes unmanageable as the number of musicians increases and the musical score becomes more complex. To avoid cacophony, at the very least, instrumentalists must share a common language.
Users should not be left out either. We discussed the importance of this topic in a previous post Across the great divide of IoT Users. It turns out that users have two fundamental characteristics :
they are not uniform, don’t have the same goal, mood, knowledge level…;
however they share a common language: our natural language.
So isn’t it tempting to use our natural language as a communication vector to unify objects, applications and connected users, in the service of flexible, unified and not (too) uniform business processes that remain open to innovation?
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