“IoT technologies provide the building blocks to address sustainability goals.”
Sustainability is firmly on government and corporate agendas, almost six years after the United Nations formalized its Sustainable Development Goals.
The U.S. General Services Administration, which manages Federal government buildings, operates with a ‘Strategically Sustainable’ focus. In Europe, there have been calls for more sustainable and durable goods. Meanwhile, China has major plans to “go green.”
Business leaders view sustainability as central to everyday activities and a major driver of organizational change. Against this backdrop, IoT technologies are fundamental building blocks in enabling sustainability. That is because remote connectivity makes it easier to manage widely dispersed assets. Remote connectivity also improves the availability and ease of access to IoT data. Organizations now have the tools to improve their decisions about scarce resources.
The fundamental role of IoT has two important implications. The first deals with maximizing the adoption of IoT systems in sustainability use cases. This requires early adopters to share their deployment experiences and sustainability gains. Others can then learn and add impetus to the adoption trend. The second is about making IoT technologies inherently sustainable.
Design Principles to Make IoT Sustainable
Some IoT use cases involve tailored solutions that will never change. Many others will evolve over time. That might be because of additive requirements, business transformation pressures and technology evolution. Sustainable design needs to be central to this evolution to encourage solution longevity. It should also reduce the risk of early deployments being discarding due to poor design choices in the procurement process. In addition to mastering individual IoT technologies, solution designers therefore need to apply sustainable design principles. These include considerations about interoperability, open standards, modularity, re-use, and scalability.
There are several dimensions to interoperability. The simplest one is to make it straightforward to combine different technologies and to interchange components from different suppliers. A more demanding one involves exchanging data across application and operational silos. This will arise as organizations collaborate across departmental and company boundaries to enable better decision making. These benefits lead to the principle of scalability, to extend the full potential of IoT solutions beyond business-critical and high asset-value use cases.
Modularity in system and software design helps designers to combine sub-systems. This ensures that many established and legacy technologies can be incorporated into larger and more demanding IoT systems. It preserves some of the value of deployed systems without under cutting their useful service lives. Modularity also supports the principle of ‘re-use.’ By creating software libraries and reusable components, other developers can save time and improve their productivity.
Sustainable IoT Technology
In addition to sustainable design principles, another consideration is to make IoT technology components sustainable. This might involve efficient-hardware designs to improve their energy characteristics and to extend the service life of constrained IoT devices. Novel design approaches are needed for several reasons. One is that IoT devices operate differently from smartphones that are charged on an almost daily basis. Another reason is that many IoT devices are expected to survive in remote locations for as many as ten years. The whole approach to power consumption needs to minimize the cost and resources need for all but essential maintenance in the field.
Demand for reliable and timely data will lead to a proliferation of low power, inexpensive and long service-life IoT devices. Their sustainability characteristics depend on intelligent and efficient communications as well as energy-saving modes of operation. One solution is to gather and send data without a device being constantly switched on or continuously polling the network. Dormant and ‘deep-sleep’ operating models are ways to reduce energy consumption. However, their use relies on communications protocols, between device and network, to optimize connectivity and data transmission. To realize these technical benefits at scale and uniformly across the IoT industry requires standardization.
A Standards Based Approach to Sustainability
oneM2M is the international standardization initiative for end-to-end IoT systems. oneM2M’s activities cover requirements gathering, architecture design, API specifications, security solutions and interoperability for Machine-to-Machine and IoT technologies. As such, oneM2M’s technical standard represents a family of common services that apply to all IoT systems. In the spirit of re-using established industry standards, this extends to component IoT technologies such as CoAP, MQTT and LWM2M, among others.
As part of its sustainability commitment, oneM2M launched an initiative to address the different facets of sustainability. This is an industry facing effort, involving participants from technology and policy disciplines.
Scalability, modularity, and re-use are fundamental aspects of the oneM2M standard. oneM2M’s horizontal architecture and framework of technical specifications are designed for re-use across multiple industry verticals. This also means that individual deployments can overcome boundary constraints to enable application, data, technology, and vendor interoperability.
Industrial and academic member organizations developed oneM2M technical specifications in an open and collaborative environment, with a clear governance framework. These factors facilitate trust in oneM2M specifications as well as in cross-vendor interoperability tests and certification efforts. Building on these foundations, oneM2M members are exploring ideas to make IoT technologies sustainable. Promising ideas will be included in oneM2M’s future standardization roadmap. Contributions are welcome from the IoT industry ecosystem. Direct participation in oneM2M activities is open to all.