IIoT Benefits Depend on a Common Language

Feb. 3, 2015

The value of a universal shared language—a lingua franca—would seem obvious. Though there have been plenty of failed attempts to create a lingua franca throughout history, the Industrial Internet must have one if it is to succeed.

The value of a universal shared language—a lingua franca—would seem obvious. And history has seen many people attempt to create one, such as the effort in 1880 by a Bavarian priest who “mixed words from French, German and English and gave his creation the name Volapük, which didn’t do it any favors,” writes linguistics professor John McWhorter in a recent Saturday Essay for the Wall Street Journal. Volapük gave way to Esperanto, which also won few followers. “By the time Esperanto got out of the gate, another language was already emerging as an international medium: English.”

Today, English is spoken “to some degree, by almost two billion people, on its way to being spoken by every third person on the planet,” McWhorter writes. “By 2115, it’s possible that only about 600 languages will be left on the planet as opposed to today’s 6,000…We may regret the eclipse of a world where 6,000 different languages were spoken as opposed to just 600, but there is a silver lining in the fact that ever more people will be able to communicate in one language that they use alongside their native one.”

The path to a common language for industrial communications hasn’t been any smoother. Read any article about connecting hardware or software and you’ll soon be mired in issues about network standards, protocols and interoperability. Putman Media’s Control Magazine, has covered the issue for more than 20 years as we watched analog 4-20 mA migrate to HART, Foundation fieldbus vie with Profibus and proprietary networks, and myriad special-purpose discrete, process, building system, and now industrial wireless protocols muddy the landscape and complicate users’ commitments to using digital communications for their huge and obvious potential to improve operations, increase reliability, prevent incidents and reduce labor.

Today, thanks to Internet protocol, Ethernet, OPC and a massive collection of standards and adaptors, end users can find ways to construct the reliable, deterministic, secure wired and wireless networks they need, but it’s still harder than it should be. And it won’t get easier as we integrate the massive amount of new technologies brought about by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

So, I’m pleased that the Industrial Internet Consortium, a nonprofit aimed at bringing together organizations and technologies necessary to accelerate growth of the Industrial Internet, not only has the goal of helping us efficiently achieve a common language for IIoT—it has rapidly gained a critical mass of member companies and organizations that should be able to pull it off. Hopefully long before 2115.