By Erin Bournival
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a rapidly expanding world of connected objects. As IIoT systems proliferate, large amounts of data are consumed by machine learning algorithms and shared between partners, customers, and others. IIoT is a technology environment in which integration and interoperability are critical capabilities, and the complexity of this environment makes this difficult to achieve.
Standards play a critical role in IIoT for five main reasons:
- Users and vendors cannot engineer a custom interface every time components or systems need to interact. Standards can make this explosion of interfaces manageable; they are the lingua franca for interoperability. This eliminates needless costs related to common capabilities instead of focusing on innovations that add value for suppliers.
- Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) need to work together to achieve digital transformation of the enterprise, and this implies that OT can no longer deploy isolated islands of automation, often comprising equipment from a few vendors, that do not conform to the protocols or data formats used elsewhere. To achieve the benefits of IIoT, those environments are now connected to enterprise systems and each other through the internet. They must therefore adhere to IT communication, security, and data norms.
- End customers require standards compliance to avoid vendor lock-in. This creates a competitive environment where failure to support standards—international, regional, industry-specific, or function-specific—becomes a competitive disadvantage. Conversely, active involvement projects a supplier’s thought leadership and increases customer confidence.
- Regulatory agencies respond to the need for safety, security, and reporting by requiring adherence to standards to make their monitoring and auditing work feasible.
- Standards make employee skills portable across divisions and companies, which benefits both the workforce and the companies that employ them by flattening the learning curve.
Organizations (such as the Industrial Internet Consortium and its members) must respond to these imperatives by defining a standards strategy and taking certain actions to execute it. The strategy could be to adopt and implement standards as they emerge, but this limited engagement exposes the organization to surprises.
Participating in standards development organizations (SDOs) provides greater control and allows an organization to anticipate the emergence of new standards. This requires a commitment at all levels and affects the organization, its processes, product design, and budget.
A new IIC white paper examines this commitment in detail and enumerates categories of standards and the organizations that produce them. It establishes a vision and strategy to drive and leverage standards. Also, it provides concrete guidance to the industry on execution and governance.
The white paper fulfills the IIC’s goals of recommending classes of standards to the members, influencing standards development in the interest of our community, and demonstrating the value of standards by deploying them in our testbeds. The authors demonstrate the business case and established strategies for adopting existing standards and participating in standards development.
In particular, the authors encourage IIC members to apply this guidance in the development, adoption, and use of IIoT standards, enabling interoperability and system compatibility across the whole IIoT ecosystem. Recommendations include:
- Review the use of standards in your own organization (and discuss with leadership the adoption of strategies recommended in the white paper),
- Provide feedback on your own initiatives and experiences in the use and development of standards to the IIC Standards Task Group,
- Volunteer as a Liaison Officer between standards development organizations you engage with and the IIC,
- Suggest new liaison opportunities to the Standards Task Group with the standards development organizations you participate in, and
- Participate in the evolution of the white paper itself.