As organizations have sought to simplify unruly and disjointed IT infrastructures over the years, one of their most fundamental and effective strategies has been to adopt industry standards throughout the infrastructure stack. Building solutions on broadly accepted standards – whether de facto or de jure – has eased integration and operational challenges, and helped companies avoid proprietary and isolated IT islands.
But what happens when technological advances outpace the standards-setting process? That’s more than a theoretical question—especially for the thousands of companies now exploring or already exploiting the Internet of Things (IoT).
Much has been written about the billions of intelligent and connected “things” heading our way. That coverage has detailed the many business benefits that companies can realize by tapping into the data IoT ecosystems will generate or by better controlling the devices (cars, HVAC systems, traffic lights, refrigerators, etc.) within them.
But hundreds of IoT-related standards are still very much “works in progress.” More than a dozen major standards bodies and consortia are hashing out machine-to-machine communications protocols, device ID verification, security specifications and many other standards relevant to IoT deployments. At the same time, individual companies are also promoting adoption of their own protocols in IoT niches ranging from home automation to automobile infotainment systems.
“With the Internet of Things, the standards challenge is much greater because you’re not just connecting computers, you’re connecting devices, actuators and other things,” says Francesco Mari, vice president, business innovation, IoT at SAP. “It’s far more diverse than anything we’ve seen in the past.”
Faced with an unsettled and complex standards landscape, companies pushing into the IoT realm should take certain steps to reduce their risks. For starters, they need to clearly map out a planned IoT solution, starting from the IoT endpoints, moving through device interfaces and communications networks and finishing with the applications, databases, analytics and other data center elements that the solution will encompass. With such a detailed architecture in hand, IT professionals can then identify where established standards exist – or where hard choices may need to be made – at every layer of the IoT solution’s stack.
In instances where immature or competing standards exist, organizations can look for guidance from established standards setting organizations such as the IEEE, the ITU-T (a U.N. standards body) and the Telecommunications Industry Association. There is also a collection of industry consortia entirely, or heavily, focused on developing IoT-related standards. Among them: Allseen Alliance, oneM2M, Open Internet Consortium and Industrial Internet Consortium.
To help sort through their IoT standards options, companies can also turn to associations specific to their industry sectors, not to mention trusted IT vendors. Well-established vendors that have proven track records of adopting and promoting industry standards can alleviate fears of being led down proprietary IoT-specification paths.
The worst thing companies can do is to sit out the IoT revolution simply because IoT standards are still in a state of flux. “Every time you step into a territory where standards are not defined, you run certain risks,” acknowledges SAP’s Mari. “At the same time, most of the interesting opportunities we’re seeing in IoT are so huge that waiting for the perfect set of standards to emerge isn’t a sensible option.”
For more insight on how hyperconnectivity and advanced technology is impacting businesses in all industries, see What Is The Internet Of Things?