The Silo Challenge With The Internet Of Things (IoT)

An endless stream of new smart and connected things hit the market every day and a big challenge becomes more and more obvious: silos are forming where things should in fact be connected.

Take a smart home: Nest of Lyric thermostat. Smart CO2 and smoke detectors (maybe from Nest too), smart locks from lockitron, smart fridge from Samsung, smart lights from SmartThings, a scale from Withings, smart TV, and on and on.. not including your fitbit, your smart watch, your phones and tablets, your Sonos. They all talk to some server on the Internet. They are all part of the Internet of Things (or at least the premises of it) but talk about connectivity: They can’t even talk to each other!

What if you smart window shades could close when the thermostat says it’s too hot in the house? what if the fridge could tell you a little reminder to not snack when your scale is a bit high (arrg.. I shouldn’t have taken that extra cheese)? What if all locks or even doors could open when a high level of CO2 is detected to ventilate? What if your Sonos could sound an alarm when a fire is detected?

From a user experience, you shouldn’t have to open 15 differents apps to access your information, you should be able to have a view of your home, a view of your health, composed of every elements and piece of data from all the devices you have or interact with.

Silos are the doom of IoT. If they don’t come down, the dream will not be fulfilled.

This is exactly what the AllSeen alliance is trying to solve and I believe it is one of the most interesting challenge in IoT today. We could break it down into a few pieces:

Device discovery standards: Enable devices to be discovered, broadcast their capabilities and interact with other in standard ways. Obviously taking into account all the security and privacy concerns that go along with those scenarios. In this world, a device could say I have an On/Off status, I have a temperature, I have an alarm with 10 levels of importance, and other parameters. It wouldn’t matter what the device is, those could apply to hundreds of different devices.

Protocol translation: I don’t believe we will have 1 protocol to rule them all. You will have devices speaking MQTT, some XMPP, some CoAP, some DDS, some proprietary protocols. Inside those the data format may even be different. Translating those protocol to something standard either through JSON, XML or RESTFul APIs is going to be key.

Thing beyond the devices: Not only devices will need to talk to each other but applications as well. Getting the weather, talking to my bank, looking at my Strava bike rides, getting my medical information from my doctor. The source of data is not only devices but everything you interact with.


I feel that the data silo challenge is fascinating but has the most fantastic outcome you can imagine: Personalization to the individual level. When systems will be able to make sense of all that data, when system will start to correlate the data using machine learning models in order to find patterns or find similar people, when you can start to predict. That’s when IoT will have a true meaning in our lives.


3 thoughts on “The Silo Challenge With The Internet Of Things (IoT)

  1. Great post Anthony. I would like to point out one thing in the protocol translation section. You are absolutely correct that there will not be one protocol as many companies would like the market to believe, each has its specific strengths and weaknesses. With that said, XMPP is considered by many to be the one proper protocol for the data to traverse the internet. XMPP was designed for privacy, security, federation and interoperability between disparate systems no matter what protocol is used in the LAN or closed system. DoD, UPnP, IEEE, ISO, IEC, Allseen and many other enterprise and standards bodies have recognized this and either already adopted or in process of adopting as part of their standard.

    In 2010 Gartner published- Take Four Steps to Prepare for XMPP Becoming a Universal Standard, “Gartner believes that, by 2015, these needs will drive the adoption of XMPP as the universal standard for near/real-time communication — much as SMTP is the standard for e-mail. IT leaders in charge of collaboration and social software initiatives should learn what XMPP does, what the current state of adoption is and how to prepare for XMPP becoming the standard for interoperability and federation.” With the proliferation of the IoT and need to federate so many silo’d systems, devices, applications and humans this is becoming more necessary.

    I look forward to your future posts.

  2. Thank you for the interesting post!

    FYI. There is OIC (Open Interconnect Consortium) to create standards to achieve interoperability of devices across multiple OSs and platforms to enable IoT.

    • yes, I will add them. They were not really there at the time of the post if I’m not mistaken, but they are now a very important consortium. What kills me is that now you have AllSeen, OIC, Weave, HomeKit, Whisper-net, uPnP.. Everyone trying to standardize and it’s even more a mess..

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