Hakima Chaouchi is a professor, researcher and innovator at Institut Polytechnique de Paris Telecom Sud Paris where she leads a research group on emerging technologies and services in the IoT. Her institute is a well-known academic and research lab for different sciences and innovations related to digital communications technologies and digital applications. It is also active in different industrial boards to guide them in upskilling for digital transformation, and to respond to different industrial research and innovation issues.
As part of our IoT Masters series, I sat down with Prof. Chaouchi to get her view on what the most common mistakes are that companies starting out in the IoT make, and what piece of advice she would give them.
Read the full interview below.
BJ: What is the most important piece of advice you would give someone wanting to start out in the IoT?
HC: It is important to keep in mind that the Internet of Things is a multidisciplinary domain. It can range from hands-on electronics, telecommunication engineering, application programming languages, mathematical modelling and algorithmic design, all the way through to business development and human sciences.
With that in mind, it’s vital that an IoT beginner sets up a learning plan that fits their objectives. Effective learning requires a clear understanding of what role the beginner would like to play in an already established IoT project they could be involved in. This helps for them to understand which parts of the learning should be general and which should be deepened as well as which tools they should use.
I would first recommend looking at all of this multidisciplinary domain. There are different training programmes offered on a continuous basis, such as the one that I coordinate and run at Telecom Sud Paris Telecom Evolution. This involves one or two days learning about the big picture, helping students to understand the Internet of Things – including the list of available communications technologies, the electronic hardware parts of IoT devices, operating systems and cloud-based IoT platforms used to acquire the IoT data and host the AI related algorithms for the business intelligence.
BJ: What in your experience are the most common mistakes you see companies starting out in IoT make?
HC: I’d rather speak about the challenges for companies starting with the IoT. One of the common barriers is understanding that there is a big issue in IoT solution interoperability due to the millions of diverse IoT devices in the field with little standardisation – this will clearly affect the IoT application development and maintenance in the short, medium and long term.
The other major issue is the security framework behind IoT solutions. There is a fundamental mismatch between the fast pace of product innovation and the slow speed imposed by the often-limited capabilities of the IoT devices that should run the security solutions – both in terms of hardware and software. A company starting out in the IoT should absolutely respond to the security framework planned in the production of the solution in order to avoid a policy blocking the deployment of what could be a fantastic IoT service or application developed over many months or years by dedicated R&D and innovation teams.
BJ: Are you seeing more businesses looking to get connected to the IoT?
HC: Based on the economic analysis of different international organisations such as the OECD and WEF, a variety of different industries are looking into IoT, as well as data analytics and AI. These tools look set to shape the new digital society with the objective of driving economic growth and meeting sustainable development goals. So yes, all industries are either planning or testing the potential of using those technologies in their business lifecycles. Of course, there is also a need to understand the negative effects of such massive deployment of connected technologies and devices, while also finding the right balance between this IoT based digitisation and the impact of the environment.
BJ: Are there any sectors in particular that you’re seeing this boom?
HC: Yes – cities are particularly experiencing this boom. The IoT has stepped in to help manage growing urban populations by optimising resource management, such as critical resources distribution (electricity and water), transport and mobility. In urban hubs, you will find a variety of different industrial players in fields such as smart buildings, smart homes, smart grids, and intelligent transport systems, to mention but a few.
There are also a number of different industries that are benefiting from accurate monitoring of physical phenomena, with the assistance of smart technology – such as healthcare and chemical plant monitoring. Then there is Industry 4.0; this is the shift to smart manufacturing, which looks for new, smart and efficient frameworks to maximise production and its quality, while also minimising the negative effect on the environment. All industries that are concerned by monitoring and optimising operating processes and process automation are getting involved in the Internet of Things.
BJ: How important is security as an aspect of connecting to the IoT?
HC: It should be the starting point for every Internet of Things product. In some instances, security isn’t quite as important. For example, sensors that provide temperature readings in your house just need connectivity to transmit the temperature to the application, but not necessarily confidentiality of that information. However, it requires access control and security functionalities built in the system, especially if the sensor is connected to the home network, to prevent the sensor being used as a backdoor to attack the other devices connected to the home network and to the internet.
On the other hand, sensors that provide temperature readings in a nuclear plant must have a high level of security for data processing and transmission. This not only means using robust authentication and access control methods but also ensuring the integrity of the data and its privacy. For example, the temperature data information used for a weather forecast in someone’s home, is not confidential, but the same data becomes critical in the context of nuclear plant monitoring. The point is that security is important as soon as you connect your devices to the network; however the level of security and the related functionalities that need to be built in the IoT architecture should be defined following a clear analysis of the IoT application criticality level, its environment, who’s using it and the related IoT data governance framework. In that sense, in addition to the requirement of securing the data related to sensitive services such as critical national infrastructure, it is also important to build IoT frameworks that are able to implement governance rules such as privacy. In fact, when products sense phenomena whose data is ruled and governed by law, then security should be the first thing to implement prior to any other technological developments of the IoT application.
Take for example the European GDPR legislation. It concerns not only data from social media but also from any source of data acquisition such as IoT devices. As IoT reaches a level of maturity, security isn’t just pertinent to identifying the device and the transmission of data, but also the storage of the data and its processing. Any solution should first start with a clear framework of the end-to-end security needed to be implemented in their IoT solution.