The Internet of Things (IoT) is great—if you want each of your devices to exist in its own connected-but-siloed world.
What do I mean?
Your Nest thermostat is undeniably smart when it comes to heating and cooling your home. And your Amazon Echo conveniently recites the weather report at the moment you need it. But what if you want your Amazon Echo to communicate with your Nest thermostat and let it know there’s a heat wave approaching on Tuesday? Tough luck…today.
The year of the Internet of Things has been discussed and predicted for years, and finally, devices are intelligent enough and the software and network capacity are large enough to handle it. Orchestration is the next big technology challenge.
Right now, there are roadblocks standing in the way of our devices communicating not just with us, but with each other. We need a new approach—one that overcomes challenges with both technology and corporate interest, letting users fully leverage the power of each of their connected devices.
Where the IoT landscape is going
Over the next four or five years, we’ll likely see billions of different connected devices embedded with sensors, from the Apple Watch to the Fitbit to Google Home and beyond. Currently, the way we talk to each of these devices is entirely different, forcing many users to choose their favorite device, and throw the rest into a drawer.
Corporate interest and the current, siloed state of the IoT is preventing our devices from going for gold, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We need to come up with a standardized approach to orchestration in a world where Amazon, Google and others all believe they have the right one.
When we explore the rise of connection points and endpoints, it’s clear that many of these connections aren’t as smart as your phone or server. Managing these endpoints in an ideal way requires coordinating requests between devices, endpoints, servers and systems, which isn’t easy.
In theory, any device with an IP address can communicate with other IP addresses. But first, we need a mechanism to orchestrate notifications, requests for response, and all inputs and outputs.
The do’s and dont’s of standardization
Real progress with standardizing the IoT won’t come easy, but there are several important rules we need to keep in mind as we get closer to a solution that connects all of our devices seamlessly:
- Don’t Focus on Minimum Viable Specifications: When vendors and providers try to form standards in the tech world, they tend to start with the minimum viable specification. In most cases, this is the lowest level, simplest thing they can get other companies to get on board with. Then, everyone builds exceptions on top of that base. The problem is, adding so many different exceptions blows away the original theory of standardization, making it not very “standard” at all.
- Do Include Customer Requirements: When creating any standardization requirements, be sure to incorporate the needs of enterprise customers, not just vendors. In other words, focus on the people who are actually going to use it.
- Don’t Charge for It: Whatever it is, make your orchestration standard freely available. Otherwise you’ll end up with a mess of license negotiations.
- Do Make it Widely Applicable to Multiple Markets: Focus on building a horizontal implementation and let people differentiate based on verticals like retail or healthcare. Let the domain experts decide on the extensions, not the standards.
- Do Build a Reference API Model: You won’t have success increasing adoption if you don’t create something everyone can play with. Make sure your approach to standardization is available freely in Github, ideally open sourced or royalty free.
- Have a Concrete Definition of Success: It’s helpful to measure success as greater than 50 percent of all players in a market. Anything under that amount, and it’s difficult to say that your approach has caught on. Amazon, Google and other big-name companies may think that your standardization approach is good, but if half the market isn’t on board, it’s not going to become a true industry standard.
Overcoming connected permission hurdles
One final note: Even if they follow the do’s and don’ts above, companies must also shift their approach to user permissions.
It’s a practice that’s familiar to anyone who’s downloaded a new app and been prompted to grant it access to their Facebook profile, contacts or location. For the IoT to truly be connected, the identity holder must 1) trust that each device or sensor will not take their personal information for granted and 2) add a federated mechanism to each device that grants permissions across devices, sensors, applications and services. Without this, the barrier to IoT success will be too high.
There’s a huge opportunity for cross-channel experiences that we haven’t tapped into yet. By understanding the do’s and don’ts of standardization, brands can give consumers seamless, intelligent, insightful interactions that benefit all companies (and devices) involved in the transaction.
The author is the Chief Products Officer at Acquia, Inc.