Interoperability – the keystone of IoT integration
While public bodies law-make, private companies build, and academics research, one thing that could speed up IoT development in the next couple of years is if manufacturers reach a consensus on interoperability. The greatest tech companies and transport manufacturers can pioneer to their heart’s content, but the Internet of Things is a system, multiple systems even, and the individual parts need to play well with the other parts for the most gain.
It’s possible we may have an IoT version of Betamax vs VHS – or for a more modern reference Blu Ray vs HD-DVD (but no doubt more complicated than that) – where several communication standards develop in conjunction with each other. Through a combination of mergers and acquisitions, significant marketing budgets and – most probably – a triumph of good user experience, one protocol could eventually rise to the top. As this report from McKinsey lays out, the economic value of the IoT – a possible $11Tn by 2025 – is reliant on successful interoperability standards by as much as 40%.
Interoperability is not restricted to or created by the Internet of Things – it’s something that is necessary for many existing industries, not least the emergency services. In cases of ensuring public safety in the event of a natural disaster for example, it’s essential that individual public agencies and law enforcement communicate with each other at a regional, state and national level without hindrance.
If the next few years in the Internet of Things pan out to see several tributaries diverge from the main river, it will be interesting to see which companies, brands and manufacturers splinter off together and with whom. Plus, there’s nothing like competition to stoke the fires of innovation. Necessity can provide the spark but ideas are sharpened by a competitive edge. As Oracle state in this whitepaper on interoperability in healthcare, “…an organization’s level of interoperability will become a new competitive benchmark.”
To stay with healthcare, it’s clear that IoT can drive interoperability standards upwards, and before we even tackle the idea that within IoT operating standards there’s competition, so much of the infrastructure of healthcare, in the UK and the US at least, is still fundamentally reliant on paper. While many may regard it as ‘simpler’ to still manage patient records in this fashion, it is neither secure nor efficient to do so.
And so it’s here that we come to the quandary of interoperability: it’s essential that the confluence of tech, systems and processes that drives IoT development drives interoperability to become an inevitability. With survival of the idea at the forefront of developers’ minds it only makes sense for devices and systems to be as open as possible. Secure, of course, but with the most accessibility for all. Be it in the field of digital, biotech, energy or nanotech, interoperability is the less flashy part of the equation that binds it all together to make the IoT progress as smoothly as it can.
The IoT cannot afford to be bound up in IP wranglings if we want this industry to fulfil its potential, yet, like planting your flag in the ground of a just-discovered country, we might well see people lining up to say I did first, or I did it best, and be prepared to litigate to prove that. Put it like this though – if the US government could successfully develop the device-agnostic Secure Communications Interoperability Protocol a full 14 years ago then IoT developers should look to build on that success.
As we look to the Berlin event we see a focus on developing and innovation, both key battlegrounds for functioning interoperability, and by the end of the conference and expo, our delegates and speakers will have progressed the IoT conversation to the degree that there’s a clear road map for success with milestones and manageable phases but also a sense that there’s a groundswell of industry support for progress to be made.
To round things up, here’s that Oracle whitepaper again – it’s an analysis of US healthcare challenges but you could apply this to IoT developments the world over: “An organization’s level of interoperability can largely determine its ability to achieve meaningful use compliance and incentives; a competitive edge and a differentiated offering; higher efficiency in clinical, financial, research, and operational domains; improved profitability; and an enhanced ability to collaborate with business partners—current and new.”
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