Which words spring to mind when you think about the Internet of Things (IoT)? For many individuals, the answer will be ‘connectivity’. After all, at its core, the IoT is focused on connecting previously standalone devices to public or private networks. From there, they can share data which previously had to be collected manually, if at all – and they can receive data back along those networks too. The Internet of Things, like the broader internet itself, is a networked thing.
But creating that connectivity is not always as simple as ensuring that a device or ‘thing’ is internet-enabled, particularly in manufacturing and industrial settings. The typical corporate IoT environment consists of a wide range of different operating systems, communications and connectivity protocols and of course, device types which are not integrated and may not even be interoperable.
This is why convergence and interoperability are vital pieces of the IoT picture – up there with security in terms of their importance, and yet not yet discussed with nearly as much vigour.
What do we mean by convergence and interoperability?
Very simply, convergence is the process of interconnecting different things so that they can speak to each other, whilst interoperability means introducing standard technologies and protocols between them so that they can speak the same language. The first step provides the linking up; the second step ensures that the linking up is actually productive. Both are essential to build a working and productive IoT ecosystem.
The trouble is, so many different stakeholders are involved in the typical IoT deployment, including multiple device manufacturers, cloud providers, communications vendors and so on, that as yet there is no single universally agreed approach to convergence and interoperability for the IoT. As such, the best approach for the time being is to understand the principles of what they need to achieve, and to build a framework from the ground up that works for your organisation.
Achieving convergence and interoperability
The key thing to remember is that convergence and interoperability work on several distinct levels, and all of them need to be considered in tandem.
At the device level, the particular hardware and software features of all of the disparate ‘things’ in your ecosystem need to be made interconnectable and interoperable. This typically requires a machine to machine (M2M) communication protocol. Then, at the protocol level, you need to think about different communications technologies, including Ethernet and wireless technologies. This requires protocol conversion functions. Finally, at the data level, you need to think about the format that information from multiple different devices can be converted into. This requires data processing functions.
Only with all of these levels working together can you create a truly comprehensive and effective interoperability framework, which will deliver useful data analytics from your IoT ecosystem from day one, and be able to effective stretch and scale into the future.