As we pause to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly Zigbee Alliance), we asked our current Board of Directors Chair, Bruno Vulcano, and our Chair Emeritus, John Osborne, to reflect on the past, check-in on the present and future-gaze into the next twenty years. They portray a vibrant organization with a rich history of success and positive impact on the Internet of Things. They also are clear that the future is bright as the Alliance looks to remove the walled gardens of the IoT and open new areas of opportunity to increase consumer trust, better the environment, and improve how we live.
John let’s start with you. How has the Alliance evolved as the world changed in the past 20 years?
John: My time working with the Alliance goes back to 2008 and the first meeting I attended in Vancouver, Canada. We had attendance from companies in the smart energy, retail, and smart home sectors. In time, the collective consensus was that we don’t need silos of technology, but instead an elegant solution that creates interoperability across uses for consumers. As an organization, we grew up fast and with the release of Zigbee 3.0, members realized they could build new product much faster and less expensively with fewer versions to service and support. We also have more vigorously enforced compliance and certification so that our marks can be trusted by customers and consumers – no more “Zigbee like” or “based on Zigbee” for non-validated, non-member technologies. The tremendous success of Zigbee, now poised for its next release, provided the roadmap we are now on to deliver a broader variety of standards that address the needs of IoT today.
How has the membership changed in the last 20 years?
John: As with many standards bodies, we started with an overreliance on a subset of members companies from North America and Europe. But we have been focused as an organization in bringing nearly everyone to the table whether they are start-ups with a single product or a multi-national conglomerate. We now have more than 500 members with roughly a third in China and Asia, a third in Europe and a third in North America.
Bruno, looking back just over the last year, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen?
Bruno: After nearly two decades operating as the Zigbee Alliance, we realized our organization had outgrown the moniker for a single technology, especially with the rapid development and progress of project CHIP. While it required a lot of energy and lift from the organization to pull off a branding change to the Connectivity Standards Alliance, we now have a brand that can grow with the organization and our message for an open and accessible IoT for everyone has really resonated with the global tech community.
In your view, what are the keys to near-term success for the Alliance and how do you see members playing a role?
Bruno: I don’t think we can underestimate the impact of the change from a single technology standards organization to one that is supporting multiple standards and working groups. We have to be sure the migration to multiple technologies is accepted and supported by our members and that we are adding options for their own business plans and growth. As a member-driven organization and looking at the release of Matter, our SVE (Specification Validation Event) is crucial. We have a collective responsibility to ensure this release is solid, stable, simple, open, and secure. Trust and transparency have always been our watch words and they are key to our success.
What excites you for the expansion of use-cases for Alliance technology?
Bruno: There is a lot of passion in the tech industry to be more kind to our environment by reducing electronic waste and energy consumption. Zigbee Green Power has tremendous potential to eliminate more batteries in networks because it allows harvesting power within a device’s surroundings. Whether kinetic energy from pressing a button or harvesting energy from a device’s environment, we have an evolving standard in Zigbee Green Power than can reverse some of the impact of technology on nature and improve our environment. I’m equally excited about the impact Matter will have on IoT. Consumers are eager for a simple, secure protocol that is easy to set up and comes with the Matter logo signifying its interoperability and security they can trust. Small manufacturers are now on a much more level playing field and their innovation can shine through.
With this change and expansion, John, what has remained in place or constant in the Alliance that continues to be significant today?
John: I would have to say what I still see is that energy to create, which is brought by passionate people working for a greater good, all with a spirit of cooperation. Every company contributing their intellectual property, their human resources and their monetary investment has an equal voice in the evolution and outcome of standards approval. That has been constant since our inception and has been a key ingredient to our success.
Finally, a question to you both: where do you see the Alliance contributing to the world in the next 20 years?
John: I think the sky is the limit in terms of our ability to help a variety of industries and use-cases that solve real-world problems. But if I look at one that will ultimately impact us all, it will be the ability to ‘age-in-place’ and how IoT devices will become an increasingly important conduit for care. Along that vein, I think we will see more and more non-tech companies coming into our ranks. I’m thinking about companies who are already involved or have a natural link to caring for people, so don’t be surprised if you see some very non-traditional “tech” companies joining our ranks to offer ways to monitor, care and support you and your loved ones in the home.
Bruno: It’s hard to see into the crystal ball sometimes but I believe one of our main challenges will be to create and deliver technology that’s good for all. Thanks to AI and IoT, we can deliver some truly smart things to support our planet. Cybersecurity will always be a constant threat to any technology in the connected world, so we also have a commitment to securing the IoT for consumers. And, while it’s hard to see two decades ahead in tech, I can’t imagine a scenario where we don’t use what we are developing to make quantum leaps in the field of health and wellness. By being so prevalent and having a constant interaction with consumers, IoT technologies like Matter are poised to reshape how we think of caring for others and our ability to deliver a better quality of life.
Bruno Vulcano is in his third year as the Chair of the Connectivity Standards Alliance Board of Directors and is the Board’s former Vice Chair. He has been active in the Alliance for more than ten years. Vulcano is a 25-year veteran of Legrand and leads their efforts in R&D for the Internet of Things. John Osborne is the Chair Emeritus of the Alliance Board and former Chair of the Board. He is currently the Chief Operating Officer at Lexi and former President of LEEDARSON North America. He has been involved with the Connectivity Standards Alliance for nearly 14 years.