Interoperability is the key to IoT success

Even as Cisco makes big new Internet of Things platform announcements, the real issues are all about everything working together

Interoperability is the key to IoT success
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This week at the Cisco Live conference in Las Vegas, Cisco made a couple of big IoT platform announcements. The networking giant showed off upgrades to its Cisco Jasper platform with Jasper Control Center 7.0, and it introduced Cisco Kinetic (and discussed a partnership with IBM).

+ Also on Network World: Cisco upgrades one IoT platform and announces another +

The new IoT platforms seem great, but do they really address the elephant in the IoT room: interoperability? As far as I can tell, the Cisco platforms offer improved ways to manage IoT devices in a wide variety of use cases. But they don’t deal with what many observers call the biggest challenge facing the Internet of Things. As Altimeter puts it, “IoT requires standards to enable horizontal platforms that are communicable, operable, and programmable across devices, regardless of make, model, manufacturer, or industry.”

What that means, essentially, is that it shouldn’t really matter what devices, applications, operating systems, networks and platforms you use. Unless all of these can communicate with one another seamlessly in an “any-to-any” fashion, the powerful network effects of the billions of IoT devices being installed will not be fully realized. In fact, some estimates claim 60 percent to 70 percent of IoT efforts are currently failing. That’s not good, and lack of interoperability is a prime culprit.

New IoT interoperability incentives needed?

The problem, as many observers have noted, is that vendors are currently incentivized to capture as much of the IoT market as they can in their own proprietary ecosystems, making interoperability something of a red-headed stepchild. While there is plenty of talk about open APIs and open-source solutions, it should be no surprise that these approaches hardly seem to be the top priorities of the top vendors.

That means third-party management approaches will be needed to let different devices and IoT clouds talk to each other, potentially adding expenses, complexity and uncertainty that could make it more difficult to achieve some of the IoT’s promised benefits in many use cases—especially at hyperscale. 

Can cute cut it when it comes to interoperability?

Still, even if the market leaders aren’t focused on IoT interoperability, smaller companies are hoping to step in with innovative approaches. A company called Chirp, for example, is working to use sound—short bursts of encoded audio that sound like encoded birdsong—to connect various devices (as long as they have speakers and microphones, of course).

Cute as it may be, Chirp hardly seems like the large-scale answer to the interoperability issue, but it’s an example of the kind of innovation that could help mitigate the problem until and unless the big IoT vendors decide it’s important enough to tackle head on. Let’s hope that doesn’t take too long.

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