From consumer devices (like the Philips Hue bulbs I have at home) to arrays of thousands of sensors that monitor, analyse and control some of the most advanced manufacturing processes in the world, IoT comes in many forms – and many things wear an IoT badge when strictly they’re ‘connected’ devices without fully embracing the Internet in IoT.
In early stages of a technology, an industry, a market, it’s reason enough for a small portion of the early adopters to do something ‘because we can’. As with any market before it, early adopters see the potential even if they can’t quite quantify it. They tinker, they learn, they build on it and in it.
When the Internet started to gain mainstream traction and enter the public domain as a thing – a word in the cultural zeitgeist – it was still the wild west. Some standards existed and that’s what allowed the Internet to go mainstream, but much was reinvented for every application or website. To gain share and penetration further standards emerged and empowered greater adoption.
Many of the standards of the early consumer Internet related to the plumbing rather than the higher-level standardisation we enjoy today – consistent metaphors such as carts/baskets, standard patterns for sharing content, authenticating using shared services such as login with Facebook etc. – but there were standards, and they underpinned the explosion of proliferation that’s happened in the last 20 years.
IoT will need the same. There are standards in IoT today, largely at the protocol level. Standard patterns for devices to exchange data and send messages, but the interconnectedness of them is still immature. Devices often use standards – such as the pervasive Internet Protocol (IP) – and that helps engineers build, connect and deploy them, but they’re not necessarily engaging beyond their relatively closed ecosystems, yet.
In my house both my Nest Thermostat and my Philips Hue bulbs are connected, Internet of Things devices as is, indirectly through the App on my phone, my Fitbit. They all use IP for their connectivity to the Internet (as that’s the standard that every home network supports) along with standards like Zigbee and Bluetooth Low Energy ‘locally’ within my house, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that my Hue, my Fitbit and my Nest fully and openly interoperate in a powerful and open way.
Sure, there are some pre-built, hard-wired connectivity patterns such as “when my Nest thinks I’ve gone away, turn all my lights off” and you can link them via external tools like IFTTT.com (If This Then That), but they’re not natively discoverable to each other. There’s no natural way for them to explore the services offered by each other, enumerate them and let me as the consumer choose how I want to join them up to meet whatever objective I want to achieve with them. This situation improves daily, but there’s a key driver missing…Why? Why as a vendor, would I invest in making my devices play well with others?
Today with IoT, much like the Internet in the 90’s, we have a growing set of capabilities. We have a growing number of organisations and individuals able to do things with that capability and early adopters doing it ‘because we can’. We also have some significant value-creation occurring in specialised verticals from connected farming, connected factories and connected devices along with some serious opportunities to improve outcomes – efficiency in factories, yields in farming, safety on the roads – these are great broad vision Whys – but it feels (to me at least) as though the connection between the grand vision Whys and the low level capabilities today has a missing link.
Some of what’s missing is standardisation in patterns & practices in addition to the low-level protocols that will evolve to address real-world problems as we unearth them.
To be able to experience the network effect that’ll catapult IoT to the ubiquity it could potentially achieve we’ll need to help shape the Why’s in the middle – to ensure that developers and vendors of IoT devices and systems have an obvious choice and that being part of and leveraging the tangible power that a joined-up, standards based approach delivers is clearly the best way forward and to empower vendors to not take the shortcuts of building a system that only they can interact with, that needs specialist knowledge or custom integrations to join across device ecosystems. Only then, will IoT start to deliver on its potential and its hype. IMHO.