Innovation Trends

The Emergence of IIoT Standards


Smart, Internet-connected devices don’t always get the design attention they need. As a result, they may be difficult to use and lack security, and it will be hard to get different manufacturers’ devices to work together. When industry uses these devices, the problems turn into unnecessary costs and lower productivity. Leading thinkers are looking at ways to set design standards for the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). The aim is better and more interoperable products. 

A model-based approach

In an EE Times article, “The Problem with IIoT Design,” Rich Quinnell argues that “IoT designs are all too often piecemeal and rushed to market.” He supports an approach based on “a model-based system of systems.” A single device is just one part of the system, and the overall system is often too complex to grasp directly in full.

Model-based systems engineering provides a method of abstraction which rigorously defines how the pieces fit together. Designers can consider the model separately from the implementation. Each device will comply with the abstract design, so other devices can interact with it in a standardized way. The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIT) is working toward an interoperable IIoT architecture.

Bringing industrial groups together

Three industrial groups, OPC Foundation, OMAC, and PLCopen, have begun working together to reconcile the standards they’ve developed and allow greater interoperability. They plan to fit their efforts together with the IIC’s planned architecture. The OPC UA (unified architecture) is a protocol designed for cross-platform communication based on a service-oriented architecture. It includes both binary and web service protocol definitions. APIs are available in several programming languages.

Standardization promotes innovation

In “The Road to IIoT: What Can We Learn from Other Industries?” John Fryer calls for a standards-based approach. He argues that proprietary standards drive up costs and limit businesses to a single vendor. Using a standards-based infrastructure encourages innovation and makes upgrades easier.

Businesses often equate connectivity with risk, and certainly opening more connections opens more avenues of attack. The IIoT is all about connectivity, though. It’s necessary to work with it and make connections both easy and secure. Fryer advocates “distributed intelligence,” combining all available information gathered from the devices to optimize production and detect potential and actual failures.

Loss of data can be expensive. Fryer stresses fault tolerance, so that a failure at any point doesn’t cascade into a serious break in gathering information. A distributed architecture, rather than dependence on a single server, increases fault tolerance.

Security standards

Security has been an ongoing and embarrassing problem for the IoT. The IIT has published an Industrial Internet Security Framework report. It observes that the design of many industrial devices dates from the days when connectivity was very limited. These designs, brought over into large computer networks, carry risks that the designers never anticipated. Because the devices carry out physical tasks, a data breach could have serious physical consequences. A misbehaving device could trigger a serious industrial accident.

The report states that IIoT security needs to consider both information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Safety, in the physical sense, isn’t a major concern in IT, but it’s vital in OT. The framework described doesn’t call for specific technologies but defines a set of layers for building security. The emphasis is on endpoint protection, including physical security, identity, integrity, access control, data protection, and secure configuration and management.

Final thoughts

The development of standards is often a difficult process, as stakeholders each defend their own preferred approaches. It falls upon the product management function to facilitate the dynamic connection between information needed by system engineers using MBSE, evolving standards, and security risk coverage. These three areas can pull a PM in multiple directions and requires careful management. Over time, though, we can expect a consensus to develop, simply because it’s inefficient for each manufacturer’s products to work differently and not talk to the others. With growing adoption of standards, we should see more interoperability, lower costs, better security, and greater productivity.

As a provider of a modern, connected Product Management platform , we at Jama are actively developing technologies and best practices to meet this challenge. Successfully keeping engineering teams on track and tuned into the latest information related to IIoT standards will drive efficiency and cut down risk of defects dramatically.