In home automation, we often speak about the interoperability of systems. Indeed, the compatibility of systems and hardware is a key condition for the smart home's potential being fully realised. But what exactly is meant by interoperability and how does it govern home automation interactions?

What is interoperability?

Interoperability is a term used to describe the ability of systems to communicate with each other, i.e. to exchange information.
  • Computer interoperability
In computing, interoperability is the degree to which a system or product can communicate with other systems or products, either by using common standards or through a "translation" intermediary called a broker, which allows transition from one interface to another.
  • The different fields of interoperability
-Technical interoperability: this involves technical matters linked to various protocols, formats and interfaces, and for which interface standards need to be shared to enable interoperability.
-Semantic interoperability: to achieve this, each of the systems needs to interpret the information exchanged in the same way. If not, this is referred to as a semantic conflict, i.e. a misunderstanding between the two systems.
-Syntactic interoperability: this is how data is coded and formatted. To communicate effectively, the two systems should ideally share the same syntax.
-Organisational interoperability: here, the obstacle to interoperability isn't the exchange or understanding of information, rather the differences in how to treat the interactions: conditions governing access to information, confidentiality policy, etc. Interoperability can only exist if both parties reach an agreement.
  • A specific example of interoperability
Computer interoperability is a fundamental data item in numerous fields. Indeed, data processing and exchange are key principles in a variety of sectors such as industry, administration, communications, e-commerce, etc. The health sector is no stranger to this issue. With the digitisation of health data, the amount of computerised data is continually growing. Sharing and processing this health information is essential to the integrity of the healthcare system, including coordinating a patient's care pathway, research work, epidemiology and public health.

In its 2018 annual public report, France's Court of Auditors also found that interoperability is central to the development of digital in the healthcare system and that all of the information systems need to be able to communicate in order to guarantee the efficiency and security of data sharing. Discover all our products

Interoperability: issues and challenges

  • Why is there a hurdle to interoperability?
It's no coincidence that systems have so much trouble communicating with each other. The economic stakes at play in the race to computerisation have driven systems designers to block interoperability. This means that each piece of software and each application or system has its own language, and only the people who developed it know the semantics and syntax. The goal is of course for the various companies to protect their market share, defend their innovations and patents and retain a lead over less technologically advanced rivals.

The only exception is open source software developers, which actually encourage interoperability by circulating systems and sharing the design model and the language to allow others to use and improve them.

To bypass these restrictions, all of the players on the IT market would need to reach an agreement on interoperability and therefore find a common interest in it. Compatibility between systems, formats, software and networks can only come about by adopting standard norms and protocols. However, interoperability is a complex technical challenge and for all products and systems to become interoperable there would need to be strong intent from all market participants: companies, consumers, standardisation bodies, decision-makers in France, Europe and around the world, etc.
  • Why foster interoperability?
Interoperability has benefits not only for the users of software and products but also for the companies that design them. A common interoperable language would foster innovations by making the design of the best solutions accessible. Pooling technical developments and progress would enable everyone's work to be shared and the introduction of single operability standards would facilitate the integration of new systems.

An end to access or implementation restrictions could enable a common standard to emerge. Validated and shared by all, this would guarantee the compatibility of formats and systems, and communication between all technical products.
For consumers, this standardised *interoperability would be a sign of free choice, ridding them of the compatibility issues that force them to buy products from the same company. Thanks to the effect of emulation and competition, the market would see a boom in innovation and the offering, and far from being diminished would in fact be strengthened.

Interoperability and the Internet of Things

The smart home is an excellent example of the benefits that can be gained from interoperability. Indeed, the smart home's potential can only be fully realised if open protocols allow all smart systems and objects to communicate and interact.

This is why some smart product manufacturers have chosen to adopt interoperability. It's hopeful that with a growing number of suppliers on the home automation market, the trend of using compatible protocols and languages will gather pace. For a smart home setup to be truly beneficial, the majority of smart products and services need to be able to integrate into it, otherwise users can only buy from their usual supplier's catalogue, which limits their choice - even though the market for smart solutions is huge.

Although you still need to carefully consider the compatibility of the accessories you're adding to your smart home system, we hope that many manufacturers, like Legrand, which recently opened up its interoperability programme to Google, Apple and Netatmo in particular, will soon understand the issues around interoperability in the smart home and that many more of them will open up their protocols to enable improved interactions between their products and other home automation accessories.

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