As Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology matures, the proliferation and adoption of standards has steadily picked up pace. The process follows a similar pattern in the lifecycle of technologies: First, when technology development is in its early stages, standards are not seen as important, or may even be thought to stymie innovation; Then, during early commercialization, individual suppliers focus on creating and preserving their own proprietary technology to lock customers in; Finally, when technology is substantially matured, customers begin to desire integration and interoperability to migrate from one system to another or engage in best-of-breed procurement. At the same time, suppliers seek to broaden their customer base. Many see automation technology suppliers standing at this late-stage juncture now, and the result has been increasing engagement with standards organizations and initiatives.
To offer guidance on how companies can most effectively participate in standards development, the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) released a 30-page whitepaper aimed at demystifying the terminology surrounding different categories of standards as well as the various types of organizations involved in their development, creation, and dissemination. In addition, the whitepaper offers business cases for different forms of participation with standards development organizations and strategic advice on how to derive maximal benefit from involvement.
The whitepaper notes that companies must devise a plan for balancing the advantages to be gained from influencing standard development with the risks posed with respect to their product roadmaps and intellectual property portfolios. On the one hand, early involvement in standards development activities can allow companies to project themselves as thought leaders while also ensuring that they can prepare for the implementation of future standards early in their product development lifecycles. At the same time, however, many companies with innovative or proprietary technologies may wish to protect their trade secrets by remaining less involved.
IP protection and standards
To resolve these tensions, the whitepaper recommends developing a catalog of the various building blocks comprising a given product’s technology stack, and mapping the relationship of each component to standards currently being developed. From there, companies should identify the commodity components which they are comfortable participating in standards development for, while isolating the more proprietary, value-added technologies they would like to defend. Moreover, if companies choose to participate in standard development for proprietary technologies, the whitepaper offers guidance on designing corporate governance policies and participation agreements to protect intellectual property to the extent possible.
Benefits for end users
While many suggestions in the whitepaper are primarily aimed at automation technology suppliers rather than end-users, several tips are also included that illuminate how end-users can adapt the strategies discussed to exert similar influence on standards development. For instance, end-user companies may be able to encourage the adoption of certain standards through the requirements of their procurement departments.
"Users and vendors cannot engineer a custom interface every time components or systems need to interact," said Erich Clauer, co-chair of the IIC Standards Task Group, and vice president of industry standards and open source at SAP. "Standards are the lingua franca for interoperability and can make the explosion of interfaces manageable. For suppliers, standards can reduce or eliminate costs."
In addition to the strategic advice offered, the whitepaper contains an extensive list of different technologies along with information on past, present, and future standards pertaining to them. An appendix featuring an exhaustive list of standards development organizations, as well as currently active industry consortia and associations, is also included.