December 2017

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The Internet of Systems

Without IoT standards for communication and interoperability, we end up with confusion or potential customers having to select proprietary devices by a company or consortium.
Jim Sinopoli
Jim Sinopoli PE,

Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

Contributing Editor

“All we know about the new economic world tells us that the nations which train engineers will prevail over those which train lawyers. No nation has ever sued its way to greatness.”
― Richard Lamm

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The basics of the Internet of Things (IoT) is everything will be connected to every other thing using the internet. The “things” that will be connected are embedded computing devices with special purpose programming for a single application (heart monitoring implants, biochip transponders on animals, smart thermostat systems, cars that relay speed and location to lower insurance costs, refrigerators being able to order more milk, connected utility and security services to the home. etc.

The initial estimates of the IoT market were huge. “Cisco described it as a $19 trillion opportunity, with 50 billion internet-connected gadgets working by 2020.” The Gartner company estimated the market worth at $300 billion and services. Connecting all these devices, services and systems will theoretically lead to a level of automation for a variety of fields that’s never been seen; healthcare, education, manufacturing, building operations, energy, security, etc. It was “estimated” that the IoT will add almost two trillion dollars to the USA economy. It’s was hyped as the next “technology revolution.” IoT was going to create new products for existing companies and likely to spawn many new companies, loads of venture capital, skyrocketing stock prices, future profits as opposed to real profits and of course, lots of speculation.

The value of the “thing” is connecting or integrating devices generally which have two benefits or value propositions. One value is integrating two or more systems to provide functionality that none of the systems or devices could provide individually. The other benefit is acquiring data from devices and analyzing or mining the data for developing and gathering information. This is essentially what many astute facility management groups are now doing; integrating building systems to provide more functionality and deploying analytic software applications to improve the performance of building systems.

One of the primary issues for the IoT was creating standards. The IoT obviously needs standards because:

  1. Users need devices to interoperate
  2. Users want the devices to communicate globally
  3. Consumers want standards that could potentially lower costs for IoT deployment through economies of scale, reducing costs for manufacturers, operators, and consumers.
  4. Standards could also be part of generating satisfied customers. In this scenario, potential customers will know that standard’s bodies and major technology companies have made it easy and transparent regarding the deployment and operation of their devices. That kind of confidence would result in increased sales.
  5. Worldwide standards could also mean enabling global markets to help eliminate or reduce trade barriers.

It is difficult to standardize a “thing” or sensor when the data must communicate and be interoperable. In some way, the IoT things are now systems. System manufacturers, include Google Home, Nest, Lutron, Apple Home Kit, Amazon Alexa, Belkin, Wemo, Samsung Smart Things, Wink, Phillips Hue, etc.

Without IoT standards for communication and interoperability, we end up with confusion or potential customers having to select proprietary devices by a company or consortium. If that is the case, the larger market is not the actual IoT devices but rather the market for middleware and gateways, the glue between all the disparate devices.

Given the lofty expectations for the IoT, multiple organizations were creating and proposing standards on how devices connect and communicate. The organizations include standard bodies or associations. Other organizations are alliances or consortiums, created from commercial vendors, some of which might partner, others that may compete. There is a utopian idea that all the devices will be able to as well as communicate despite different manufacturers or operating systems, with all the devices broadcasting to other devices in some common language. That may work if there is one standard. However, when you have multiple guidelines, you don’t have a standard. The potential players involved with the IoT standards include:

All Seen Alliance – This alliance has 70 participants. The largest members of this organization are Microsoft, Panasonic, LG, Haier, Sharp, Sony, Cisco, Bosch, HTC, and Qualcomm. They are proposing the use of AllJoyn, an open source software framework developed by Qualcomm, given to the Alliance for its members to develop IoT applications and devices.

The Industrial Internet Consortium – This organization was founded in early 2014. The founding group includes Cisco, AT&T, IBM, GE, and Intel. Other members include commercial companies, academia, and government. Their goal is to identify the requirements for open interoperability standards.

ISPO Alliance – Founded in 2008, the IPSO Alliance is seeking to establish the Internet Protocol as the basis for the connection of Smart Objects. Members or promoters in ISPO include Bosch, Silicon Labs, Freescale, Ericsson, and ARM. IPSO’s Smart Object Guidelines provide a common design pattern and an object model that can effectively use the protocol to provide high-level interoperability between Smart Object devices and connected software applications on other devices and services.

IEEE Standards Association - Unlike the “alliances or consortiums” IEEE is actually a standard body. IEEE mission is to “foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.” IEEE has a journal called the Internet of Things Journal, IEEE. Recall if you will that something called “Ethernet,” is a key component of many networks is an IEEE standard; so is Wi-Fi via IEEE 802.11. Beyond that are IEEE standards for Local and Metropolitan Area Networks, Information Technology (information exchange between systems), Broadband Wireless Access Systems, Scalable Storage Interfaces, Broadband over Power Line Networks, and probably another 40 or 50 related standards. IEEE most certainly seems to have many of the key standards that eventually IoT or systems will use.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies. It has a membership of 193 countries and over 700 private-sector entities and academic institutions. They’re probably best known for facilitating agreement on global resources like radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbital positions. The ITU launched their Internet of Things Global Standards Initiative (IoT-GSI) back in 2012. 

How Standards Proliferate

Many of the large building automation manufacturers have created their own IOT products. Other automation companies are either not interested or simply want to wait to see how the marketplace develops.

What effect or influence will the IoT really have on building management? Many owners already have some sort of system integration, even if it’s just the fire system, HVAC, access control and conveyance equipment. The IoT could possibly push more integration and sensors in buildings, and maybe more advanced building management systems. In some ways, many building owners that implemented integration, and used analytics software applications have already started down the path of the IoT; its foundations are connectivity, integration, sensors with valuable and granular data, and the creation of detail policy and logic for the building’s operations.

contemporary With the building automation’s long history of a handful of well-known global communication protocols and some excellent gateways and middleware in the market, facility managers have the tools to take their buildings to a higher and more valuable level of building automation, with or without the IoT.

Information from the IOT Institute and a Gartner survey in 2016 indicate who is using the IoT? The greatest areas of growth in IoT today are not visible to end consumers, advancement in IoT can easily go unnoticed. But according to an early-2016 Gartner’s survey of used 465 IT business professionals from 18 business sectors worldwide:

  1. 43% of businesses either were already using IoT or had plans to implement 29% of organizations were already using IoT.
  2. 14% planned to implement IoT in the coming 12 months.
  3. 29% had future to implement IoT.
  4. Only 28% had no plans to implement IoT at all.

Although IoT is growing, its adoption to date has been disproportionately distributed across industries. Some — from the “heavy” industries — have invested billions of dollars, while others — from service-oriented, or “light,” industries — are less sure of how to derive value from IoT or where to begin with, implementation. The industry’s leading the way include manufacturing, utilities, and oil and gas, with 56% already adopting IoT, as opposed to 36% within “light” industries.


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