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Why IoT desperately needs open standards

April 27, 2023
Proprietary IoT systems can stifle integration of smart building tools. Open standards can help extend their value—here’s how.

While IoT technologies have been proven to be viable and useful systems within smart buildings and campus environments, the siloed, proprietary nature of the various platforms limits the true power of what’s possible. Many IT and OT vendors continue to build patented systems that use their own protocols and functions that stifle integration into other smart building tools that could provide further value from a management, monitoring, and operational perspective. Here are some of the existing deficiencies of proprietary IoT systems and how technologies that use open standards can extend the value of the technologies.

Challenges of working with proprietary IoT solutions

Because we now live and work in a software- and data-driven world, information pulled from various IoT systems can be used in interesting and useful ways that lead to the following benefits:

• Simplified end-to-end visibility.

• Increased cross-solution functionality.

• Improved security monitoring and control.

• Opportunities for advanced automation.

All these benefits, however, are quickly stifled if IoT systems and associated IT/OT management platforms do not play nice with each other. In many cases, this is due to vendors using exclusive or semi-proprietary communications and data-sharing protocols that are often a nightmare to work with as they are inoperable by default.

Unlike other business technologies, such as unified communications tools, email, and file sharing, that have been built from the ground up to interoperate with external tools that achieve the benefits listed above, IoT vendors are lagging when it comes to the full support of open standards protocols that make it easy to extract data in real-time for analysis by other systems for the purpose of monitoring, management, and analysis.

Many smart building IoT manufacturers have not come around to this need, especially as it relates to operational technologies like HVAC systems, building automation tools, and door access control systems that building owners and operators rely on to efficiently run a building . The result is that smart systems that rely on proprietary protocols become isolated from others that have the potential to unlock the insights and visibility that building management teams now seek.

How to assess IoT systems in today’s market

For owners and operators currently evaluating IoT systems to integrate into their existing building infrastructures, the process becomes overly complex. They often must make sacrifices to functionality, replace perfectly functioning management and automation systems, or figure out ways to translate proprietary protocols into standards-based protocols that third-party systems recognize. In any case, it can lead to added and unnecessary complexity and cost.

Careful consideration should be given when vetting various IoT and smart building systems to avoid proprietary lock-in and undue cost and complexity. In many cases, this requires reaching out to third-party integrators that can quickly inventory and evaluate existing solutions in place and deliver a cost/benefit analysis of each IoT system in consideration. While this process leads to added costs upfront, the process will help better ensure the future success of an integration.

Achieving complete interoperability

Beyond these owner precautions, IoT vendors themselves need to step up and start making a concerted effort to scrap their proprietary protocols in favor of open-standards alternatives. As these challenges continue to grow, it’s only a matter of time before building owners and operators begin gravitating toward vendor solutions that require little upfront consideration when it comes to interoperability. This not only includes the communications protocols that an IoT system uses but also simplified data sharing methods, such as open application programming interfaces (APIs), that allow data to be extracted for ease of external analysis and insights. Only then will we begin to see the true power of IoT that can better enhance building sustainability, lower operational costs, and improve occupant experiences.

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About the Author

Andrew Froehlich | Contributor

As a highly regarded network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, Andrew Froehlich counts over two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Andrew is the founder and president of Colorado-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build-outs. He’s also the founder of an enterprise IT research and analysis firm, InfraMomentum. As the author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT-related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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