I’ve been attending a lot of Smart Energy meetings recently and listening to industry experts talking about the need for interoperability in the connections between smart meters and appliances around the home. I’ve also been hearing a number of standards organisations trying to promote the message that the concepts of interoperability and a standard are synonymous. That’s a very dangerous message, because the two are only very loosely related. Just because you have a standard, it does not mean that products which use it are, or will become interoperable.
To understand why equating a standard with interoperability is a fallacy, let’s start with an analogy. In many ways, a standard is like a language. So we could define English, or French or Russian as standards. The standards bodies would then claim that everyone who speaks the same language is interoperable. I’d disagree. The language defines the grammar and the vocabulary, but you only have to listen to a Democrat and Republican senator debating health reforms to understand that speaking the same language does nothing to promote interoperability. If anything, a standard provides the tools to ensure that conflict is more, rather than less likely to occur.
Interoperability is about working together seamlessly. To achieve that requires more than just a standard. It needs a set of interoperability tests and the testing tools to confirm compliance with those tests. These don’t generally come with a standard – they need to be put in place to support it. That entails time and money, which means most standards can’t support them until they’re already fairly well established. Industries like Smart Energy demand interoperability, as they want the meters they install today to work with devices that customers may install in ten or twenty years’ time. But if they want to achieve it, they, need to understand how this process works.