So, your organisation is taking its first steps into the world of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). And, given that you’ve worked an industrial or manufacturing sector for some time now, you’re well aware of the importance of regulatory frameworks and operating standards for maintaining appropriate levels of quality, safety, data protection and so on.
What, then, are the standards you need to work to within IIoT?
Unfortunately, this is where it gets a little complicated. Whilst the principal of connecting and controlling industrial equipment is hardly new, the IoT itself remains a relatively recent and therefore still very movable concept. The IIoT landscape is evolving all the time, which means the standards within it are also.
Additionally, many of the major IoT players are large organisations, competing to maintain intellectual property rights and their own competitive positions. This can make them slower to agree and adopt standards between them. And on top of that, the Industrial Internet of Things by nature combines two different forms of technology: information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), which means that more standards are required than in non-industrial settings. It’s a complex picture.
Why standards matter
Clearly, standards matter in order to ensure that processes are completed and products finished to – well – a suitable standard. But in the world of the Internet of Things, they are also important from a scalability and growth perspective. Ultimately, the IoT is all about connectivity, joining together disparate devices and sensors in order to capture and harness useful information. In the Industrial IoT, that connectivity becomes even more pertinent, because the goal is to join up existing hardware, which may already be controlled and managed by diverse computing systems.
As such, the IIoT will rapidly become unmanageably complex if standards for interoperability and systems integration and convergence are not settled from early on. It is important for you to understand the standards and protocols underpinning your IIoT ecosystem before you start to build it.
Where are we now and what does your organisation need to consider?
The most recent Gartner Hype Cycle for IoT Standards and Protocolslists 30 standards, around ‘connectivity, security, messaging and operating systems for the Internet of Things’. 15 of these are said to deliver ‘high business benefit, and six are predicted to become mainstream over the next five years.
Many of these standards overlap in terms of their functionality or their target markets, and only time will tell as to which become truly dominant. Choosing the best approach for your own organisation requires sensible and strategic of all the standards on offer, as well as your organisation’s goals for the coming months and years.
Additionally, you need to understand the major issues underpinning the evolution of IIoT standards and ensure that you are working with those at the forefront of your mind. For our money, the two key priorities to bear in mind are interoperability and security. Interoperability, as mentioned, is vital in order to ensure sustainable growth amidst a range of IT and OT, hardware and software. Security is vital in order to protect your organisation’s data even as hundreds or thousands of new endpoints are added to your infrastructure and your potential attack surface dramatically increases in scale.
Bear in mind, also, that a wide range of organisations are tackling the challenge of IIoT standards on a truly global scale. These include the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), the Industrial Internet Consortium, IEE and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which runs multiple working groups. Within the UK, many organisations and businesses are helping to influence the development of more general IoT protocols and standards too, many of which include a specialist IIoT angle.
Navigating all this complexity is not easy, but far better to reach out to relevant organisations now, and immerse yourself in the emerging standards landscape, rather than letting it run away from you. By placing interoperability and security at the heart of your IIoT strategy, and where, necessary, seeking advice and guidance from bodies actively involved the development of standards, you will be positioned as strategically as possible for the future.