The Internet of Things (IoT) has become the next big thing in the technology world. But there are some big challenges to be overcome. Jagdish Harsh, founder and chief managing director of Mobiloitte, an IT company based in New Delhi, Singapore, UK and USA focusing on bots, apps, digital and IoT, discusses these challenges with Jagmeet Singh of EFY and highlights the potential of the growing IoT space for Indian developers. Edited excerpts…
Q How has IoT evolved in India?
IoT has evolved significantly across the globe. You can find some great examples of this evolution in Singapore, Denmark and Spain. And this same pace of growth is catching on in India with the government’s clear focus on digitisation and the huge budget allocation around connected healthcare. A few focused companies are taking the initiative in this space, on their own.
There is a large pool of well-trained medical professionals available in India, which has helped to enhance the potential of IoT developments in the healthcare sector. Also, the government has provided policy support to IoT enablers by reducing excise and custom duties, and offering exemptions in service tax.
Having said that, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, software/hardware specialists and domain experts from all sectors need to collaborate and work hand-in-hand to set the right expectations. Apart from harnessing technology around IoT, empowering people in rural areas by making the solution platform affordable is likely to be the key to drive the growth of connected devices.
The medical tourism market in India is reported to have had a turnover of around US$ 3.9 billion in 2016 and is predicted to hit US$ 8 billion by 2020. This is a major reason for manufacturers to develop new healthcare-focused IoT devices. Some new drug testing laboratories are also being established to advance medical services and help the government develop the country as a global healthcare hub in the near future.
The turnover of the global IoT market is expected to cross US$ 220 billion by 2020.
Mobiloitte’s strength lies in its ability to know where IoT applications are needed as well as in finding faster and cheaper ways to connect with devices. The company also focuses on greener manufacturing and developing solutions with completely remote mobile device management (MDM), thus reducing device management complexity.
Instead of just delivering cheaper solutions, Delhi-based Mobiloitte helps enterprises make affordable IoT solutions without compromising on security and interoperability. It develops products for predictive prevention of health issues, and to improve machine efficiency and reliability.
Q How is IoT enhancing the healthcare sector in India currently?
The Indian government is increasing its spending on healthcare, and closing the infrastructure gap as well as addressing the workforce scarcity. But to bring IoT to the healthcare sector, many big organisations have just started contributing with end-to-end patient engagement platforms. Wearables are also leading to innovations that enhance the fitness of a wider proportion of the population.
Apart from some large companies, startups are also actively researching and partnering up with NGOs to improve the health of the masses, using IoT.
Since 2012, the Indian health sector has witnessed active participation by IoT developers, resulting in solutions that address the problems arising from the 21st century’s stress driven lifestyle. Wrist bands that add a dash of wearable fun to the fitness process are a huge hit among the health-conscious youth. Sensor-powered pendants that can detect falls are also available to support elderly people.
Q What are the big challenges in developing apps for the IoT world?
Just like building solutions in any other nascent space, creating apps for IoT also involves some major challenges.
Developers need to focus on network latency, determinism and bandwidth when building IoT apps for precision-based machines. If the timing is off, even for a millisecond, the entire production floor could fail. Likewise, IoT systems need to be adaptive and scalable through software. Having black box systems that do not communicate well together are of no use in the connected space.
IoT applications can be built on tens of thousands of sensor nodes, but all this increases threat surface areas by orders of magnitude. Therefore, developers need to implement security at each and every level of their code. Industrial systems also have to be continually modified and maintained to meet changing requirements. Additionally, an effective platform-based approach should focus not on hardware or software but on the innovation within the application itself, and provide enough flexibility to the system to evolve and adapt.
Q How does your team resolve challenges in building IoT apps?
A single silver bullet cannot meet all the challenges in the IoT space. However, we consider that the challenges in developing apps for the connected space are forecastable —their redundancy is built-in and alliances with trusted and highly skilled organisations should be formed. We also prefer the establishment and formalisation of checklists and globally acceptable protocols in order to align different tools, technologies, people and processes.
Q Do you leverage any open source technologies while developing apps for IoT hardware?
The AllSeen Alliance, DSA, Eclipse IoT (Kura), and Open Connectivity Foundation are some of the promising open source technologies and platforms for connected devices. However, no single technology fits all solutions.
Hence, we believe in creating a hybrid architecture, which is the consolidation of the best of the breed from a plethora of open source technologies, as a one-stop solution for most IoT needs.
Q Is it easy to create a network of IoT devices through open source?
This would vary from case to case. While open source solutions can address some challenges, proprietary solutions can address other use cases, and several other use cases can be addressed via a mix of open source and proprietary solutions. As a thumb rule, the best-of-breed solutions need to be leveraged to create a seamless IoT platform that is universally acceptable, works in real-time, is cost effective and predictive.
Q Can a simple app developer be an enabler in the IoT world?
Yes, why not? The transformation of a traditional app developer to a developer for the IoT world requires only a few steps. We make this possible at Mobiloitte and create a pool of developers by training them, monitoring their progress on a weekly basis, and filling in their skill gaps by stepping in and providing thought leadership.
We have our own CoE (Centre of Excellence) managed by the Training Resources Group (TRG) and led by our CTO that continues to conduct research on new and upcoming technologies, creates reusable components, and develops zero build reusable frameworks as well as ready-to-use code snippets and documents. All these are made available, step by step, on the Intranet to train new employees. We also have a team that specialises in the IoT space, apart from many other complex and intelligent applications and programs. Hence we’re able to offer an environment of continuous learning to traditional developers.
The IoT policy by the government of India
The IoT policy document drafted by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) includes the following objectives:
To create an IoT industry in India with a turnover of US$ 15 billion by 2020. Presumably, India would have a share of 5-6 per cent of the global IoT market.
To undertake capacity development (human and technology) for IoT-specific skillsets for domestic and international markets.
To undertake research and development on all the assisting technologies.
To develop IoT products specific to Indian needs in the domains of agriculture, health, water quality, natural disasters, transportation, security, automobiles, supply chain management, smart cities, automated metering and monitoring of utilities, waste management, as well as oil and gas.
Q Is it possible for a developer to reach out to Mobiloitte for recruitment merely on the basis of some prior app development skills?
At Mobiloitte, we have a policy for social upliftment, which entails hiring B. Tech and M. Tech graduates right from their college campuses located in not-so-developed places like Gorakhpur or Bareilly and from the underdeveloped regions of Odisha, Uttaranchal and Punjab. They are handpicked through a well-designed, on-campus screening process and then brought to New Delhi.
We provide weekly training on trending technology topics to help them on domain- and technology-specific topics. Training is conducted by our Training Resources Group (TRG) members who first assess, evaluate and identify areas for improvement before providing the relevant education.
We also have a well-defined programme for people with physical disabilities to embrace Mobiloitte and become enablers not only in their professional lives but also in their personal lives. We believe that physical disability has nothing to do with intellectual capabilities.
Q What are the prime security areas that you focus on while developing apps for connected devices?
Development around IoT, where multiple devices are connected with multiple protocols and platforms, comes with a new set of security threats. Therefore, we focus on minimising the collection of personal data. We believe that personally identifiable information (PII) should be collected only to the extent that is required. This collected data must be encrypted and privilege access policies set, by default. We also ensure information flow enforcement and secure physical access control on IoT equipment to prevent access by malicious users.
You cannot completely secure the apps for connected devices, but limiting multi-user access and releasing patches based on the behavioural analysis of users helps to reduce the surface threats for attacks. There are many major security threats that we are continuing to evaluate, assess and monitor.
Q Do you think security is one of the vital concerns for an IoT app maker like Mobiloitte?
Yes, security is the primary concern for any IoT-focused organisation including Mobiloitte. Security threats are, in fact, one big reason why adoption of IoT is not gaining the momentum it should.
As more modern medical devices are deployed, adding to the growing collection of IoT connected devices, many healthcare professionals have found that with these advanced devices, come more advanced cyber threats as well.
There is a need to design protection services to reduce attacks in the IoT space, even while the deployed detection services receive data from healthcare applications, devices and networks and analyse it for any anomalies. With the aid of defence mechanisms, these detection services should also help health devices survive all mass security attacks.
Q How do you ensure that your clients’ intellectual property (IP) is secured?
We at Mobiloitte have designed and successfully delivered very innovative products including IoT-based solutions, as well as solutions in augmented reality; artificial intelligence-enabled, self-learning bots; solutions on cognitive services, and other mobility solutions that simplify operations.
During the past five years, in particular, we have been extremely focused on security, as threats at the application, network and data storage levels have increased manifold. We have evolved processes, tapped into combinations of technologies and developed automatic monitoring, logging and alert systems for any intrusion either by malicious users or automated software attacks.
IP is one very critical aspect of how our customers become our partners. We offer them privileged access based on version control so that the IP cannot be accessed through physical workstations on LAN/WAN. Also, we use a secure VPN tunnel to remotely access the solutions of our clients, and we continuously monitor and regularise policy controls for each new development.
We use security monitoring tools and solutions to generate tamper-proof audit control so that the IP cannot be accessed. Additionally, the code release process strictly follows NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) signed with our customers, and encryption of PII data is mandatory for all our offerings.
Q What are your views on the Indian government’s first ‘Internet of Things Policy’?
The policy is just the tip of the iceberg, but it is evident that the government is very keen and aggressively pursuing the rolling out of IoT infrastructure so that it becomes affordable and benefits 70 per cent of the Indian population living in rural areas.
It has been proposed that the framework of the IoT policy will be implemented via a multi-pillar approach. This comprises five vertical pillars, namely, demonstration centres, capacity building and incubation, R&D and innovation, incentives and engagements, human resource development, and two horizontal supports in the form of standards and the governance structure.
To me, the government’s initiatives towards IoT are not only exciting but also a strong signal to us to join hands and work to our utmost capacity to make the IoT dream come true.
Q Last of all, where do you see the app market in the next five years? Will it be all-pervasive in India?
The app market is presently in its early phase. My view is that, ultimately, everything is going to be on one or more apps.
There is a huge explosion waiting to happen in the app world, especially in the Indian market. Uber, Haptik, Paytm and Flipkart have just shown us the power of apps. There is much more to come.
Apps will play a key role in connecting all the dots, so that all of us live in a connected way. Right from connected healthcare to smart cities, apps can improve the quality of life not just in urban regions but also in major parts of rural India. App developers are likely to bring about innovations such as predictable farming, smart education for rural children and care for the rural elderly in the near future. All in all, apps are going to be the only media that you will carry in your pocket, 24×7. I think this could happen within the next two years.