Click here to close now.




















Welcome!

Industrial IoT Authors: Pat Romanski, Eric Aarrestad, Elizabeth White, Carmen Gonzalez, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: Industrial IoT

Industrial IoT: Article

Soft Issues Surrounding Industry Standard Schemas

Soft Issues Surrounding Industry Standard Schemas

It sounds so easy. First, get a bunch of people together who share a common need to interchange some type of data - say, invoices. Explain XML to them. Explain the significant technical benefits of having an industry standard schema for invoices.

Get technically minded individuals into a room with plenty of whiteboards and caffeine. Sometime later they'll emerge with a consensus model of what it is to be an "invoice" enshrined in some schema language (UML/XML Schema/DTD/RelaxNG/whatever).

Thereafter, all interested parties use the schema for data interchange and all is sweetness and light.

This makes 100% technical sense but it often doesn't work in the real world. The reasons it doesn't work have nothing to do with flavors of schema language or indeed flavors of markup language. It often doesn't work because of soft issues concerning people.

Let's start with Zipf's law and the Principle of Least Effort (http://cogsci.umn.edu/millennium/1109153206.html). Simply put, humans strive to do as little as possible to communicate. The language this article is written in, English, is literally riddled with structures that break the rules of English grammar - the schema - in the interests of quick and easy communication.

All human languages exhibit this phenomenon. Successful languages adapt to allow humans to cut corners in the interest of quicker communications. XML tag languages that don't offer similar functionality are asking for trouble. That trouble can manifest itself in a number of possible ways.

First, users may engage in "tag abuse" - using tags for purposes they weren't intended for because it makes their life easier.

Second, users may create point-to-point side agreements between themselves for simpler communications and convert their simple communications to the official schema only when forced to.

Third, users may lobby for "flexibility" that allows them to make local modifications to the industry standard schema, thus creating an entire family of mutually incompatible but similar languages that start as patois and grow into full-blown, mutually incompatible dialects.

Fourth, users may bring the standard initiative down. If this happens, everything from the coffee to the schema language can be blamed. Everything, that is, except noncompliance with Zipf's Principle of Least Effort.

Then there's the matter of organic schema growth and what I call the "tag bag syndrome."

Successful languages, and XML-based tag languages are no exception, need to exhibit the ability to change and evolve over time. Otherwise they atrophy and eventually die. With human languages we just change their grammatical structures and idioms without worrying about historical material fitting the new forms. In other words, we aren't worried about backward compatibility.

With XML tag languages we're typically very worried about backward compatibility. When we need to modify a schema to cater to a new phenomenon, we cannot allow previously valid documents to become invalid. As a result, we loosen the constraints in the schema. Over time, the gradual loosening of constraints erodes the tight control over structure the schema designers put there in the first place. The result is a bag of tags - structures of the form "X can consist of any number of A or B or C or...." In DTD terminology these are known as repeating OR groups.

This leads us nicely to the next soft issue: George Miller's law concerning the cognitive limits of human beings. If you present humans with a list of more than seven options to choose from at any one time, they'll start to feel overloaded and uncomfortable. When it comes to creating XML conforming to a "bag of tags schema," there can be an overwhelming feeling of drowning in a sea of options.

In the back office the software developer is similarly overwhelmed because the large number of choices at each point in the schema translates into a programmer's worst nightmare. known as an exploding state space.

Schema creators ignore Miller's rule at their peril. User and software developers alike can and will subvert the technically elegant designs in order to work within comfortable cognitive limits.

It's important to remember that the "group of people getting together to agree on a data interchange standard" phenomenon is not a new one. Stepping back just one generation, this went on wholesale in the SGML world - without much success. It wouldn't be good soft-issue tactics for me to mention any failed standards initiatives by name. You'll find plenty of evidence if you read through some history of the SGML years, especially the early-to-mid-'90s.

My contention is that the failed industry-standard schema initiatives of the past did not fail for technical reasons; they failed for human reasons. There is a rich lore of experience here that the new wave of XML schema designers could do worse than mine for valuable insights. Those that don't learn from the mistakes of the past truly are doomed to repeat them.

Apart from paying due regard to history, I think XML schema design needs to take a leaf out of the extreme programming book. Start with the customer (human), do the smallest thing than can possibly work, and start using it. Never lose sight of the human creating the XML content or the human writing software to process the content. Remember Miller's law. Remember Zipf's law. Allow the schema to grow/evolve organically over time. It will anyway, whether the schema designer likes it or not.

The only industry standard schemas still standing at the end of this decade will be the ones that address the soft issues.

More Stories By Sean McGrath

Sean McGrath is founder and CTO of Propylon, one of Ireland's fastest growing software companies. Headquartered in Dublin, with development centers in Sligo, Ireland and Mumbai, India, Propylon delivers what it terms "industrial strength XML" and XML consultancy services to its service and product partners in Europe and the United States.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
For IoT to grow as quickly as analyst firms’ project, a lot is going to fall on developers to quickly bring applications to market. But the lack of a standard development platform threatens to slow growth and make application development more time consuming and costly, much like we’ve seen in the mobile space. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Weiner, Product Manager of the Omega DevCloud with KORE Telematics Inc., discussed the evolving requirements for developers as IoT matures and conducted a live demonstration of how quickly application development can happen when the need to comply wit...
The Internet of Everything (IoE) brings together people, process, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before – transforming information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. IoE creates new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented opportunities to improve business and government operations, decision making and mission support capabilities.
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems, described how to revolutionize your archit...
MuleSoft has announced the findings of its 2015 Connectivity Benchmark Report on the adoption and business impact of APIs. The findings suggest traditional businesses are quickly evolving into "composable enterprises" built out of hundreds of connected software services, applications and devices. Most are embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) and microservices technologies like Docker. A majority are integrating wearables, like smart watches, and more than half plan to generate revenue with APIs within the next year.
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Opening Keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, d...
In his keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Rodney Rogers, CEO of Virtustream, discussed the evolution of the company from inception to its recent acquisition by EMC – including personal insights, lessons learned (and some WTF moments) along the way. Learn how Virtustream’s unique approach of combining the economics and elasticity of the consumer cloud model with proper performance, application automation and security into a platform became a breakout success with enterprise customers and a natural fit for the EMC Federation.
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
Discussions about cloud computing are evolving into discussions about enterprise IT in general. As enterprises increasingly migrate toward their own unique clouds, new issues such as the use of containers and microservices emerge to keep things interesting. In this Power Panel at 16th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the state of cloud computing today, and what enterprise IT professionals need to know about how the latest topics and trends affect their organization.
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society-changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jason Mondanaro, Director, Product Management at Metanga, discussed how you can plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change the world and it starts with business models and monetization strategies.
Converging digital disruptions is creating a major sea change - Cisco calls this the Internet of Everything (IoE). IoE is the network connection of People, Process, Data and Things, fueled by Cloud, Mobile, Social, Analytics and Security, and it represents a $19Trillion value-at-stake over the next 10 years. In her keynote at @ThingsExpo, Manjula Talreja, VP of Cisco Consulting Services, discussed IoE and the enormous opportunities it provides to public and private firms alike. She will share what businesses must do to thrive in the IoE economy, citing examples from several industry sectors.
There will be 150 billion connected devices by 2020. New digital businesses have already disrupted value chains across every industry. APIs are at the center of the digital business. You need to understand what assets you have that can be exposed digitally, what their digital value chain is, and how to create an effective business model around that value chain to compete in this economy. No enterprise can be complacent and not engage in the digital economy. Learn how to be the disruptor and not the disruptee.
Akana has released Envision, an enhanced API analytics platform that helps enterprises mine critical insights across their digital eco-systems, understand their customers and partners and offer value-added personalized services. “In today’s digital economy, data-driven insights are proving to be a key differentiator for businesses. Understanding the data that is being tunneled through their APIs and how it can be used to optimize their business and operations is of paramount importance,” said Alistair Farquharson, CTO of Akana.
Business as usual for IT is evolving into a "Make or Buy" decision on a service-by-service conversation with input from the LOBs. How does your organization move forward with cloud? In his general session at 16th Cloud Expo, Paul Maravei, Regional Sales Manager, Hybrid Cloud and Managed Services at Cisco, discusses how Cisco and its partners offer a market-leading portfolio and ecosystem of cloud infrastructure and application services that allow you to uniquely and securely combine cloud business applications and services across multiple cloud delivery models.
The enterprise market will drive IoT device adoption over the next five years. In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Greenough, an analyst at BI Intelligence, division of Business Insider, analyzed how companies will adopt IoT products and the associated cost of adopting those products. John Greenough is the lead analyst covering the Internet of Things for BI Intelligence- Business Insider’s paid research service. Numerous IoT companies have cited his analysis of the IoT. Prior to joining BI Intelligence, he worked analyzing bank technology for Corporate Insight and The Clearing House Payment...
"Optimal Design is a technology integration and product development firm that specializes in connecting devices to the cloud," stated Joe Wascow, Co-Founder & CMO of Optimal Design, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CommVault has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. A singular vision – a belief in a better way to address current and future data management needs – guides CommVault in the development of Singular Information Management® solutions for high-performance data protection, universal availability and simplified management of data on complex storage networks. CommVault's exclusive single-platform architecture gives companies unp...
Electric Cloud and Arynga have announced a product integration partnership that will bring Continuous Delivery solutions to the automotive Internet-of-Things (IoT) market. The joint solution will help automotive manufacturers, OEMs and system integrators adopt DevOps automation and Continuous Delivery practices that reduce software build and release cycle times within the complex and specific parameters of embedded and IoT software systems.
"ciqada is a combined platform of hardware modules and server products that lets people take their existing devices or new devices and lets them be accessible over the Internet for their users," noted Geoff Engelstein of ciqada, a division of Mars International, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Internet of Things is moving from being a hype to a reality. Experts estimate that internet connected cars will grow to 152 million, while over 100 million internet connected wireless light bulbs and lamps will be operational by 2020. These and many other intriguing statistics highlight the importance of Internet powered devices and how market penetration is going to multiply many times over in the next few years.