Standards: The Connective Tissue Behind the Internet of Things

Think of what the world would be like without the World Wide Web, WIFI, HTTPS or email.

We wouldn’t be the people we are today. We would have no Grumpy Cat, no reason to sit at Starbucks for hours on end, and would have to pick up the phone instead of shyly sending messages through Outlook (gulp).

Well the world we live in today would definitely not exist the same way if it weren’t for one thing we often take for granted and usually don’t ever think about—standards.

The fact is that most people don’t realize that standards impact our everyday lives. Every time you plug something into the wall, scan a barcode at the grocery store or use your cellphone to call someone you are benefiting from an adopted standard. And when these processes and tasks work without a hitch, it means the standard is working the way it was designed, thus causing us to pay no heed to the fact that there was one in the first place.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Karen Bartleson, President of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association (phew), more commonly known as IEEE-SA (or I triple E). My time with her was both eye opening and educational and anything but dry despite what you may immediately think of when someone starts conversing on this topic.

Karen views standards like “connective tissue” for innovation and technology. She stressed that they are necessary for widespread adoption of ideas and concepts to thrive and grow globally. At their core, standards are 100% necessary to build a common platform from which all providers can innovate and create upon.

With WIFI and other well-known standards under their belt, the IEEE-SA is now putting their attention on the Internet of Things (IoT) to ensure that the dream of everything connected can come to fruition. Karen noted that there isn’t one big thing the IEEE-SA is working on for IoT but a variety of standards necessary to ensure the interoperability IoT requires if it is going to survive. Some of the major initiatives underway are standards for:

  • Sensors
  • Connected Medical Devices
  • Smart Home / Smart Grid
  • Smart highways
  • Self driving vehicles

Like most of the Internet it helped create, the IEEE-SA employs an open paradigm for building standards which they recently formalized a name for: Open Stand. This paradigm affords the IEEE-SA with the ability to adopt market driven standards that can keep up with the fast pace of innovation rather than be forced to use a more national model which requires government involvement which often slows things down. This market driven model is based on a super majority (75%) of their 420,000 members who all have an equal voice before a standard can be considered adopted.

As we continue to see a roll out of connected products like Google Glasses, the iWatch, smart TVs, smart fridges and other “smart” items in our home, we’ll know things are working as expected at IEEE-SA when these devices easily play nice with each other right out of the box.

So the next time you are watching a cat video instead of working, messaging your Grandma on Facebook, or braving the self check-out line at the store, say a silent thank you to the hundreds of thousands of people who helped pass the standard necessary for it all to work.