“Interoperability bridges borders between IoT domains and the variety of vendor specific IoT solutions"


Joachim Koss is the founder of JK Consulting and Projects, a consulting firm that supports companies in the area of Machine-to-machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies.

In this interview, he discusses the topic of IoT interoperability and his involvement with oneM2M.

Q: Would you begin with some introductory information about yourself and your business?

JK: I look back to more than 36 years of professional experience from telecommunications business units in several companies, including Siemens, Gemalto and others, where I held various management positions. Since 2006 I have been working in standardisation, participating in the work of the international SDOs ETSI, oneM2M, ITU, the national SDO DKE (German Commission for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies), initiatives of the European Commission and several fora and industry alliances such as the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), and the German Association for the Automotive Industry (VDA).

Over the years, I have become convinced about the importance of M2M communications, the IoT and Interoperability. As a result, I got involved in the foundation of the ETSI SmartM2M Technical Committee and the oneM2M partnership project. I held the role of Vice Chairman of SmartM2M for four years and was a Vice Chairman of oneM2M’s Technical Plenary for two years. I also led two ETSI Specialist Task Forces on IoT standards, contributing to several ETSI Technical Reports.

Among my current activities, I am an expert for Stand-ICT.eu and contribute to oneM2M with a focus on semantic interoperability.

Q: Please explain a bit more about the STAND-ICT and oneM2M relationship.

JK: Stand-ICT.eu is part of the Europe’s Horizon2020 framework. It is a new initiative funded by the European Commission with a focus on supporting the participation and contribution of EU Specialists to Standards Development Organizations (SDO) and Standards Setting Organizations (SSO). The scope of activities covers the five essential building blocks of the Digital Single Market, namely: 5G, Cloud Computing, Cybersecurity, Big Data and IoT.

Through a series of eight ‘Open Calls’ and a continuous cascading grants process, beginning in March 2018, StandICT.eu provides support for European experts to contribute to ongoing standards development activities and to attend SDO and SSO meetings.

I have been nominated by Stand-ICT.eu as an expert to contribute the new concept of Advanced Semantic Discovery (ASD) to oneM2M. The ASD concept was developed under my leadership by the ETSI Specialist Taskforce STF589 on Semantic Discovery and Query in oneM2M. ASD is a sort of extension to the semantic discovery and semantic interoperability that oneM2M already supports.

Let me explain why an extension is needed. oneM2M’s current native discovery capabilities work properly only if the discovery is well scoped and designed (e.g., the lights in a house) or is a search is related to specific known sources of information (e.g., searching for the values of a known set of containers). When oneM2M is used to discover wide sets of data or unknown sets of data, the functionality is typically integrated by ad hoc applications to expand the oneM2M functionality. It is not optimal for interworking and interoperability if this core function is implemented with different flavours. Our project goal is to enable an easy and efficient discovery of information and a proper interworking with external sources and consumers of information (e.g., a distributed data base in a smart city or in a firm), or to directly search information in the oneM2M system for big data purposes.

I am currently preparing a set of change requests to oneM2M Technical Specifications with the aim of introducing new functionalities in Release 5 of the oneM2M standard. These change requests will touch on oneM2M technical specification documents TS-0001 (Functional Architecture), TS-0002 (Service Layer Core Protocol) and TS-0034 (Semantics Support).

Q: What makes interoperability such an important topic for the IoT industry?

JK: In the context of IoT systems, interoperability makes it possible to build applications that work across domains and across components that are supplied by different vendors. This will become increasingly important as greater quantities of data are generated and shared across the IoT. It opens new market opportunities in different domains, such as healthcare, smart grid, smart metering, intelligent transport systems, industrial automation systems, and smart cities, all of which depend on collecting and processing data.

One of the difficulties that arises is that IoT systems face complex and demanding requirements that tend to drastically increase their complexity. These include the number of components, the volumes of data, latency, reliability, security, and privacy among other factors. Innovative approaches, such as layered architectures, new interoperability frameworks, marketplaces, semantic interoperability, virtualization, are emerging and are being validated. They are likely to reduce systems complexity, to provide more flexible applications development, and to open the development of systems to a larger number of stakeholders with new value propositions.

In terms of standardization, the initial focus on interoperability dealt with technical challenges relating to basic connectivity and network interoperability. The next stage dealt with syntactic interoperability, using common information models with static information based on a pre-defined syntax.

Once requirements about information exchanges becomes more complex (e.g., systems from different domains), static information is no longer sufficient. Now, there is a need to base the exchange of information on its meaning, independent of underlying protocols. This is the role of semantic interoperability: making sure that the meaning of semantics can be understandable and processed by machines. The most common way to achieve this is by using an ontology which is an explicit specification of a (shared) conceptualization.

Q: How much work has been done on the topic of interoperability and where is the industry heading in terms of standards-based solutions?

JK: In the last few years, many smart objects found in the physical world are interconnected and communicate through the existing internet infrastructure. Each solution provides its own IoT infrastructure, devices, application programming interfaces (APIs), and data formats leading to interoperability issues. This is because it is not straightforward or always feasible to mix and match components from different vendors or solution providers.

IoT interoperability can be seen from different perspectives such as device interoperability, networking interoperability, syntactic interoperability, semantic interoperability, and platform interoperability. Several efforts have emerged to establish standards for providing interoperability between IoT devices, networks, services, data formats owned by different providers. The European Union has also funded several research projects under the H2020 program focusing on the federation of IoT platforms. Under the IoT-EPI (H2020 IoT European Platform Initiative), projects such as SymbIoTe, Agile IoT, Inter IoT, Vicinity and BIG-IoT address interoperability challenges in different layers of the IoT stack.

In order to better achieve interoperability, elements such as vocabularies, definitions and models have to be defined, agreed, and shared by IoT stakeholders. This can ensure a common understanding across them of the concepts used for the IoT system definition. They also are a preamble to standardization. Moreover, the need to be able to deal with a great variety of IoT systems architectures, means that it is also necessary to adopt reference architectures, in particular functional architectures acting as a backbone for interoperability.

Q: Where can our readers get more information about IoT interoperability, standardisation and the new developments you described?

JK: There is a lot of published information your readers can access to get an understanding of interoperability. For example, the Alliance for the Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI), an association driven by policymakers, academia, and industry with the aim of advancing IoT deployments across Europe and beyond, has published several Reports and White Papers. These cover topics such as "IoT Large Scale Pilots (LSP) Standards Framework Concepts", "High Level Architecture (HLA)" and "Semantic Interoperability".

Another set of publications deals with work that has already been done on standardization relating to IoT interoperability. Almost each major SDO and SSO, such as CEN/CENELEC, ETSI, IEC, ITU, oneM2M and W3C, has published reports, specifications, and standards on this field. Some examples are as follows:

In the context of all of this information, it is important to note that the main expectation of semantic interoperability is to provide a shared unambiguous meaning of what the "things" that two or more platforms may agree upon. This is a way of bridging the potential semantic gap arising from different descriptions and implementations of the "thing" under concern. In general, semantic interoperability is a cross-platform challenge, though it can also be present when two components on the same platform use different ontologies and therefore cannot communicate with each other.

Q: Finally, do you have any advice for IoT equipment providers or developers using IoT data as it relates to semantic interoperability?

JK: A good place to start is the Smart Applications REFerence (SAREF) ontology standardized by ETSI. SAREF is a shared model of consensus that facilitates the matching of existing assets in the smart applications domain. The SAREF ontology is intended to enable interoperability between solutions from different providers and within various activity sectors in the IoT. Its growing body of ontologies covers Smart Meters, Smart Appliances, Smart Energy Grids and Smart Applications.

For those who are interested in simulation of IoT equipment relating to semantic interoperability the ETSI STF589 on Advanced Semantic Discovery has developed two simulators to demonstrate the ASD concept. The source code and the simulation results are available at the following links:

Finally, if anybody needs more information to build from these resources, please feel free to contact me.