Smart Systems/Internet of Things

Key challenges and initial discussion questions

Smart systems are emerging in multiple sectors driven by intensifying global competition and accompanying cost pressures, volatility in customer demand, concern for energy usage, and increased technology options. They, along with the potential for an even more broadly interconnected “Internet of Things”, are also enabled by dramatic growth in information and sensor technologies. Smart Systems include the most discussed (and interrelated) cloud computing, smart manufacturing and smart grid, as well as healthcare, transportation (autonomous vehicles and smart highways), and emergency response.

In each case, the promise is:

  • reduced costly down time enabled by systems that are self-diagnosing and self-correcting that offer predictive maintenance and redundancy switching before problems result in down time. Thus, smart grid addresses the need for energy cost reduction but also enhanced grid reliability;
  • better informed planning with real-time modelling feedback along with qualification of materials, products and actions;
  • increased flexibility and shortened system-wide response time to changing conditions; Potentially, support for modularity even in large, complex and traditionally customized units.

The systems should facilitate use of competing vendors and globally distributed production while ensuring consistent knowledge, data gathering and understanding across value chains. 

The “Internet of Things” adds functionality to everyday objects. Refrigerators could monitor food condition and usage. Devices could coordinate energy usage and signal overloads. Industrial products could store information about their origin, destination (in transit), components, condition and use at varying stages of their lifecycle.

Challenges arise in transitioning from legacy processes, choosing migration paths from potential approaches (with more options emerging), and reconciling the needs and positions of diverse stakeholders. In many cases, there are significant initial costs which must be balanced with long term savings. The conversion to a national smart grid could cost trillions of dollars. System design can be difficult as IT developers and manufacturers, for example, operate in very different cultures and structures. Optimization across companies or even industries may force behavior changes and even reduce efficiency and performance for some users (e.g., optimal grid usage might push manufacturers to alter work schedules; and enabled pricing models and individual user informed control could challenge traditional power utility practices.)

Evolving standards will be essential in providing:

  • common data formats and performance measures across devices, sensors and organizations;
  • the basis for system designs supporting interoperability and modularity;
  • potential consensus selection of development paths and transitions;
  • vehicles for companies to balance their strategic and operational requirements with broader system demands;
  • enhanced confidence in investment decisions.

Initial discussion questions:

  • What are strategic implications for participation in standards development?
  • With systems crossing traditional boundaries and impacting a broad spectrum of society, who should be represented at the standards development table and how can they overcome variance in practice, needs, orientation/agendas and understanding of emerging enabling technologies?
  • How does this topic and standards influence product and service design?
  • How could standards impact on smart systems that vary based on sector, product life cycle stage and other factors? What are illustrative cases?

Linked papers

Review our Smart Systems Papers page for links to papers that are specific to smart systems and the internet of things.