In depth interoperability: when reality has priority over the ICT

written by Paul Valckenaers, UCLL

In smart power applications, the energy and its ironware – transformers, underground cables, batteries, heat pumps, solar panels… – represent more value than the smartness-providing ICT by orders of magnitude. Accordingly, what happens in the real world takes precedence over what happens in the computer network. In-depth interoperability acknowledges the above. It preserves the ability of the ironware to interoperate:

If the ironware can do it, the smartness added to this ironware will allow it as well.

The challenge is to provide useful services without introducing constraints, which may hamper ironware interoperation. These services may assist users of the ironware, reducing their efforts and time needed. These services may nudge users toward safe and proper usage. Preferably, these services make no assumptions beyond the ironware they are smartening. The STORY project will communicate – in easy-digestible posts – how to address this challenge.

Tackling our subject chronologically, the oldest information technology compliant with the above are maps. Maps add smartness to some reality like coastal waters. Such maritime maps enable ships to navigate along short routes without running aground. More advanced, the maritime authorities ensure that these maps of coastal waters are updated regularly (e.g. twice per year) preventing this smartness from becoming invalid. In the energy domain, the technical specifications of devices correspond to such maps.

As regards in-depth interoperability, maps have must-have properties. First, all conflicts with the map have to be addressed by the other parties in the conflict. Indeed, modifying the map will not allow a ship to take a more optimal or desirable route (cf. figure 1). Second, improvements and extensions of a map will not break the users of the current one. Adding more properties (e.g. whether the sea bottom is soft/sandy or hard/rocky) does not interfere with any existing usage. Refining the current maps allows to generate the coarser data for the existing users. Extending a map simply enlarges its coverage of the reality that it smartens.

In-depth interoperability aims at preserving these properties when adding smartness to manmade systems, including but not limited to energy and power installations. However, the reality that needs smartening is more challenging than coastal waters. Among others, it changes more rapidly, sometimes even within fractions of a second. Likewise, installations are extremely diverse and heterogeneous. The answers to these challenges will be addressed in future posts.

By nolativ (flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Fig. 1: In conflicts, in-depth interoperability enjoys the protection of reality. Ignoring is at your own risk.