Communication is Key to Success
Mark Knight is Chief Engineer in the Electricity Infrastructure group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He is responsible for providing technical thought leadership and project/program management for the laboratory's research portfolio in distribution analysis and automation, demand response, and distributed energy technologies.
Communication is Key to Success
Do you remember the Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft, which suffered a navigation mishap in 1999? It was pushed dangerously close to the planet's atmosphere, where it burned up and broke into pieces.
The accident occurred because one engineering team used metric units for a key spacecraft operation, while another used English units.
That was a one hundred twenty-five-million-dollar interoperability failure, plus years of work to get to that point.
The people who were recently stranded for twenty-four hours without food or water in the Australian desert can probably relate to that mistake.
They used Apple Maps to find the city of Mildura. Apple showed it at the end of a dirt road in the Australian bush, forty-four miles from its actual position.
Exchanging and using information effectively is what interoperability is all about.
Interoperability is defined as the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged.
We often say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the same is true of the interoperability value chain. If we can't exchange information, we don't have interoperability. If we can't use the information, we don't have interoperability.
If the people benefitting from interoperation across an interface don't understand the information, they can still benefit from the use of the information. But that involves something else understanding it for them.
Actually, it involves multiple somethings, since communication is an integral piece of interoperability. Both the sending and receiving entities need to have a common understanding of the information and what it means.
This is where convergence of technical and cognitive interoperability is happening. The rate at which new devices appear on the market or evolve from existing systems of devices seems to be growing exponentially. By devices, I mean smart devices: smart phones, smart watches, smart buildings, smart grids, microgrids, nano grids, smart cars with hundreds or thousands of processors, smart control systems, drones, and smart TVs.
There is seemingly no end to places where our imagination can put some so-called smarts and create new ways to provide value. By value, I mean value delivered by services based on information provided by smart devices. Some of these are individual devices and some are systems, but being smart on its own is only one part of how to create value.
The other part is connectivity, in other words, information exchange. Connectivity allows devices to interact and transfer information by way of providing services to us. It is what we do with the information that creates value.
If I use my smartphone as a navigation aid, I need to understand the directions that it gives to me. That is a valuable service. Arriving at my selected destination is my ultimate goal. If