Why Interoperability is critical to making the Internet of Things work ..

Interoperability is one of the key barriers which prevent IOT from unleashing its true economic potential.

In simple terms, Interoperability is the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together (inter-operate).

From an IT perspective, Interoperability is a property of a product or system, whose interfaces are completely understood, to work with other products or systems, present or future, without any restricted access or implementation.(Wikipedia).

This definition places two requirements on systems

a) All interfaces must be disclosed and

b) There should be no restrictions placed on implementing these interfaces (for ex IPR, branding, licences etc).

However, for complex systems like IOT, Interoperability must extend all across the stack.

Specifically, Interoperability must extend to the service/information level where two systems must have the ability to exchange information seamlessly.

Interoperability is critical for IOT for the following reason. 

Today’s  Internet  is  primarily  characterized  by applications with a human in the loop.  This makes Interoperability a  bit  easier,  as  the  humans  are responsible for processing the “semantic” part of the communications (i.e. the meaning). But when we have pure machine to machine communication(with no human presence), semantics become critical. Hence, Interoperability is fundamental to the success of IOT. See this excellent paper Building the Internet of Things – Jari Arkko, Ericsson Research.

Much of the current focus in the Internet of Things is also on the lower parts of the stack: designing the (ex IPv6). However, this is only the first step for true IOT interoperability if we are to achieve the vision listed above. For  instance,  it  would  not  be enough for a light switch from one vendor to control lights from another. For true interoperability we need semantic interoperability, the ability of the devices to understand  what  the  data  they  communicate  means. Standardization is the best way to achieve this level of semantic interoperability

Many organizations are involved in standardization in this space. For instance, W3C is involved in the standardization efforts on IoT beyond the Web itself for example – Device coordination for binding devices and services as part of distributed applications, Dynamic adaptation to user preferences etc).

However, to truly standardize at a data/semantic level for IOT, we have to undertake two steps

a) We have to first achieve success in a specific vertical (ex Transportation)  and

b) We have to then work with other demonstrators to share and adopt common meaning for achieving interoperability at all levels of the stack.

Why is it essential? To recap

Today’s  Internet  is  primarily  characterized  by applications with a human in the loop.  This makes Interoperability a  bit  easier,  as  the  humans  are responsible for processing the “semantic” part of the communications (i.e. the meaning). But when we have pure machine to machine communication(with no human presence), semantics become critical. Hence, Interoperability is fundamental to the success of IOT.

Image source: http://data.gov.md/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/interoperability.jpg