Interview with Paweł Adamek | QA in Thaumatec Tech Group

What challenges do you need to overcome to deliver outstanding software for medical-grade devices? One crucial stage, that many hopefuls fumble, is testing. 

At Thaumatec Tech Group, we know that expert testing is essential to the development lifecycle and the success of your end product. That’s why we have dedicated teams who test, define test strategies and automate the execution.

Today, we are talking with Pawel Adamek, the Lead Quality Assurance Engineer at Thaumatec. He shares his experiences and explains how our unique approach to testing minimizes software failures and the risks related to software embedded in medical devices.

Pawel Adamek

Pawel, could you tell us a little about yourself?

I live in Wroclaw with my family and like to spend most of my free time with them. Besides my family, my passion is exploring new technologies. 

I love diving deep into topics… I try to truly understand them so that I can resolve any related issues that may pop up in the future. I’m lucky because this process of exploring and investigating is what I get to do daily at Thaumatec. Having my career and my passion align is very rewarding and simplifies my life a lot! 

Currently, I’m the Lead Quality Assurance Engineer in Thaumatec. This means I’m responsible for planning, executing, automating, and measuring quality targets throughout the whole development lifecycle.

And Thaumatec is focused on HealthTech and medical devices, do you have a particular interest in this area?

Yes, Thaumatec is a HealthTech company. This means we engage in projects which are from the people for the people, to help them, to improve their quality of life.

The perfect example of how we do this is through medical device development. At Thaumatec, our main focus is the software side of development. In the medical sphere, this requires stringent preparation of documentation for certification, which is also one of my responsibilities. So having a keen eye for detail and accuracy is paramount.

That’s interesting. When you say “documentation”, what needs to be considered? What are the steps in the process?

When we are talking about the development and testing of medical devices there are certain requirements and rules which must be met to pass certification. 

For example, Thaumatec is ISO13485 certified, which means Thaumatec has a Quality Management System which meets the ISO13485 standard, which is required to develop medical-grade software. We prepare our software according to the IEC62304 standard. 

The order that one must follow according to these standards is very strict… but it’s also logical! 

First off, you need to prepare the project requirements and planning documentation, which includes the development and verification plans. Once these are complete, then the development stage can begin. 

It’s at this stage that our developers start implementing our plan and we create test cases and automated test scripts. Once the test plan and scripts are ready, our testers trial them and provide feedback about the software quality to the developers so that the developers can fix any issues. This is an iterative process.

Once it’s sufficiently tested, it’s time to release the software. At this stage, we prepare a set of documents called “the release documentation”. This includes reports, traceability, and coverage information. We then gather the implementation and required documentation and share them with the notified body for certification.

Let’s focus on the testing part. What’s important when testing a medical device?

The testing scope depends on the software safety classification, which is described in IEC62304. There is no limit for testing per se, but there are minimal requirements regarding testing for each software safety class. For example, IEC62304 specifies 3 classes: A, B, and C. 

Software is considered to fall under class A when it does not contribute to hazardous situations or where the hazardous situations could result in an acceptable risk. Class B is when a hazardous situation could lead to a non-serious injury and class C is when the software could cause serious injury or death. As you can imagine, class C requires much more testing.

Can you tell us more about how the flow and testing are impacted by the safety classifications?

Okay, let’s take class A as an example. The first testing step is to prepare a verification plan. This plan needs to contain all the rules required for testing in that class. Next, we organize a set of tests to cover all the software requirements. When these are prepared and a software version is ready for testing, test execution can start. When anomalies are found during testing, we funnel them through a software problem resolution process. This involves documenting the issue, repairs, and verifications. 

It’s also possible to leave anomalies unresolved if stakeholders decide that it does not pose an unacceptable risk, but such a decision needs to be documented in writing and include the rationale behind it. 

When retests are done all records need to be collected, including the name of the tester, their steps taken, and a list of anomalies. This way, tests can be repeated if need be.

Here it’s important to mention the review process, which is also a type of testing. When it comes to medical products, reviewing the development is crucial at every stage and during each level of development. Reviews are required for the source code, and therefore, they must be properly documented.

As I already mentioned, more testing is required for classes B and C. These classes are very similar in that similar testing activities need to be done for both. Of course, all actions described for class A are also valid for B and C classes, but in addition, unit and integration testing is also necessary. 

That’s a lot of information. It’s clear that you are an expert in your field. What would you like to say to others who may be interested in pursuing a similar career?

In real life, going about our daily tasks, there often isn’t enough time to set up and test activities before we dive into them. In medical product development, there is no way to omit these processes because it will result in failure at the certification phase. 

Because it is so strictly structured, I think software development for medical products is a fantastic way to hone your knowledge and grow your testing abilities. The standards can seem intimidating at first, but in actuality, they are a very useful resource –  you can read them, study them, and refer back to them whenever you need.  

Another way to learn is by doing, through mentorship and on-the-job practice. At Thaumatec, we are big on knowledge sharing. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, we are always on the lookout for talent. You can reach us at hr@thauamtec.com.

How has your career developed since starting with Thaumatec, would you recommend the company to others in the field? 

Absolutely. One thing that springs to mind right away is the responsibility, trust, and respect the team gave me as soon as I walked in the door. It’s satisfying that I have the flexibility to make changes and improvements. 

I also really enjoy having direct contact with management and clients. The culture of communication is very open in this way. We all share our opinions, problems, and ideas and collaborate on solutions, which is very intellectually rewarding. I think this stems from the fact that we are all inquisitive people. We love learning about new tech, it’s in our DNA. 

I feel seen and my efforts are rewarded. I would definitely recommend it!.

Kamil Grabarczyk and Pawel Adamek

Thanks for sharing these insights, Pawel!

Thanks for the opportunity to share it!

IOT Wireless | The rise of connectivity | diversity and choice

IOT  Wireless | The rise of connectivity | diversity and choice

In my 40-year career, I have seen hundreds of tech trends come and go, experienced innovation first-hand, and witnessed a worldwide, technological evolution. 

Internet of things (IoT) started as one of these hypes but now, after many years, it has earned its place in the history books as an innovation. Today, IoT is essential to the function of almost every industry, company, and private life. Although many don’t realize this because IoT works quietly in the background. 

One of the core characteristics of IoT systems is wireless connectivity with low power consumption solutions for sensors, actuators, and devices with long lifespans. 

But not all IoT solutions are equal. At Thaumatec labs we have undertaken many experiments and trials to understand how different connectivity technologies interact and how to produce reliable, secure, and well-performing systems. 

We are proud to share with you some of the connectivity insights we’ve gained while working on IoT solutions for clients in the automotive, smart city, healthtech, and safety and security industries.

Kurt Neubauer, Technology Network and SOO

  1. Overview 

Wireless and mobile connectivity is one of the most quickly growing access methods and is used in almost every industry to gain independence from location and enable freedom of movement. Many different radio technologies and standards are available on the market, but they are usually only designed for, applicable with, and perform well in particular use cases

IOT Radio Access Infrastructure:

Thaumatec is using its comprehensive IoT expertise and experience in different types of radio access to create prototypes and design, develop and test wireless and mobile devices and applications to improve these systems. 

Typically, we use 3 types of wireless access: 

  1. Low-power, long-range radio technology

LPWAN (low-power wide area networks) transport data, status and information from connected low power and autonomous sensors and devices to the decision-making application for storage in the data backend. The network infrastructure can be set up in its own network, which requires environmental and maintenance costs or fee-based operator services. When it comes to LPWAN, we offer LoRa WAN, NB-IOT, CAT-M and Sigfox solutions.

  1. Short range radio technology

This refers to transporting data, status and information from close (room- or house distance) sensors, access-points and devices to the decision-making application for storage in the data backend. The network infrastructure can be set up in its own network, which may require environmental and maintenance costs. For short-range radio technology, we offer RFID, NFC, BLE and Wi-Fi-based solutions.

  1. IoT mesh technology and solutions

IoT mesh technologies transport the data, status and information from close (room- or house distance) sensors, industrial areas, and closer rural areas via access points and devices to the decision-making application for storage in the data backend. This is completed without any network planning or any other physical or technical construction works related to connectivity. 

Simply place and play: the radio network configures itself and is prepared to handle many nodes and comprehensive infrastructure. The reliability, performance, safety and security features for this solution have been greatly improved in the last decade. Here we offer ZigBee and Wirepas mesh solutions.

Decision-making criteria 

The differences in these technologies can be examined using the following parameters:

  • Range and urban range
  • Power usage and long life
  • Reliability
  • Security

Performance and data rates

  • Environmental and operating costs

These parameters must be matched, tailored, and customized carefully according to your requirements. For example, IoT applications with radio network functionality often require a combination of two or more radio standards. In some cases, this means a mediation between long and short range, in other circumstances, it ensures security during outages.

Compare your options

This table provides an overview of the existing criteria, capabilities, weaknesses, and strengths of the available technologies. 

Low-power, long-range radio technology:

Comparison parameterLoRa WANLTE NB-IoTLTE-CAT-MSigfox
Urban – rural area range (km)15 – 30303030-50
Urban area range (km)2-55-8113-10
power usage for long life(mw)1001000-50001000-500050
ReliabilityIn the case of full, real-time requirements, LoRa is not the best choice due to message delay constraints.Reliable high level 3GPP standardReliable high level 3GPP standardAlternative network operator, private and independent network, good performance, bigger range
SecurityLoRaWAN™ application payloads are always encrypted end-to-end between the end-device and the application server.Unauthorized use of the dedicated spectrum is subject to prosecution. All mobile operators employ SIMs with secure integrated circuits,layer two tunnelling protocol (L2TP), or internet protocol security (IPsec).Unauthorized use of the dedicated spectrum is subject to prosecution. All mobile operators employ SIMs with secure integrated circuits,layer two tunnelling protocol (L2TP), or internet protocol security (IPsec).In a Sigfox network, each IoT device stores a unique ID, a Network Authentication Key (NAK), and an Encryption Key (Ke), the last two being secret and 128 bits in length.
Performance and data rates (kbps)2711010000.8(140 messages/hour)
1 device costs(per Modul EUR)10-148-1410-406-12
Environmental and operating costs(per monthly fee EUR)1-2 (public)0.25 (private)<1 (100kB)2-6 (1 Mb)<1
Overall performanceLoRa communications are reasonably resilient to detection and jamming and are immune to Doppler deviation. Very low power consumption.Globally available, good safety,global service by operator and vendorsGlobally available, good safety,global service by operator and vendors#1 rating in shipping and services
Typical usageLoRa is a very useful and good choice in case of small data transfers and actions needed in networks to connect small and battery powered devices without cabling.Leased infrastructure and smaller data rate, mobile IoT devices as in vehicles or in non-urban area, agriculture, telematics, real time closeLeased infrastructure and higher data rate, mobile IoT devices as in vehicles, telematics, real time closeCompanies, production, manufacturing sites
Plus & minus+ Open protocol and very low power consumption- Urban range short, not for real time applications, smallest urban range+ power save, simple radio technique, global reach- No HOV, fee to pay,  does not support VoLTE for speech transmission+ TCP/IP use (connect servers), low data on small costs, good coverage (especially USA), global reach- Higher energy consumption, fee to pay+ message efficiently due LwProt, wide coverage- sigfox device interference to wideband systems, one way communication without acknowledgement

Short range radio technology:

Comparison parameterWi-FiBLE (BT 5 best)NFCRFID
Range (max)100m, (11 b/g/n)1 km (11ah)3km + (11af)50m-150m4cm100m
ReliabilityGood performance and long experience on the marketError correction procedures during set up (but reduction on the data rate)NFC possible if devices are switched off or empty battery, no battery NFC tags (power via antenna induction)Specific use, fast connection set up and data exchange, safety features and safety worker suits and gloves, access control solutions
SecurityWired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), weakWi-Fi Protected Access (WPA, WPA2), 256-bit  Key brings some improvement Main security issues: pairing process and BLE in general are passive, eavesdropping, man in the middle. (MITM) attacks and conducts identity tracking.Very limited distance to the reader,2 factor authentication with OSs or web browser, NFC itself not secured against Third Party side channel attacksSecure mechanisms can be applied to prevent attacks: cryptography, automatic detection of rogue devices, cloning resistance, secure storage of critical data in remote databases, use of secure physical modulations and medium access control (MAC) protocols.
Performance and data rates (kbps)till 100 Mbit/still 9.6 Gbit/s (802.11ax)till 2 Mbit/s (Bluetooth 5.0)till 424 kbit/still 100 Mbit/s
Overall performanceSeveral Wi-Fi standards allow selection of the most suitable oneas it is available in all smartphones,highly applicable for monitoring and sensor solutionsAvailable in almost all smartphones,single chip solutions availableFast transaction usage possible due to fast set up with reader, NFC tags and devices in no power mode make inductive accessible, available in more and more smartphonesInduction powered RFID tags without battery/power supply, read/write on tags, many devices at once
Typical usagee.g. applications in smart home area, shops and malls, officesSmartphones and tablets, wireless headphones, digital signage, car stereos, fitness trackers, smartwatches, beacons, HW devices, machine monitoringIdentity documents, contactless and mobile payment, key cards, electronic ticket smart cards, mobile phones, keys/car keysShops, retail, warehouses, Stock lists, inventory data, animal id implants, smart cards (Mifare, Desfire), defense apps, railroads
Plus & minus+ Very popular, little investment, easy installation and integration- Not the most secure + Low power consumption and costs, easy integration- Security issues+ Fast connection set up, e.g. pay and go- No certificate according to common criteria, low data rate+ Fast scanning of many devices- Further security implementations needed

Mesh technology

This table compares the features and specialties of a mesh set up. The physical radio part for both is similar.

Comparison parameterWirepasZigbee
Rural area range5 km100m
Urban area range40m30m
Power consumptionLow power modeRouter: 25uA / 1.5 packets per second non-routing: 12uA with 8 sec access cycle12uA sleeping mode54 mA transmitting mode
InterferenceWirepas Mesh dynamically avoids using the channel that other devices are using nearby.Wirepas Mesh dynamically adjusts the transmission power to the lowest setting to avoid interfering other devicesThe 2.4 GHz band that ZigBee uses is often crowded. Crowded frequencies can cause interference which will result in lost or unreliable signals. You may also experience poor reliability if your devices are out of range.
ReliabilityWirepas Mesh does handle acknowledgements and re-transmitsautomatically for each message in case of packets lost. Messages are buffered until those have been successfully delivered.Router will automatically find an alternative route. No need for an application to have logic.Lower network reliability will occur due to network complexity,more resource usage, and complex object relationships.
SecuritySignaling message encrypted with AES128.Every message encrypted with AES128 CTR 128-bit AES encryption for secure data connections
Performance and data ratesTransmission of maximum 102 bytes dataPackage takes only milliseconds, thanks to 1Mbps bandwidth20kbps – 250 kbps
environmental and operating costs(per Modul EUR)e.g. Worth appr. 10 Eur> 5.00 EUR
Environmental and operating costsNo operating costs for private networkNo operating costs for private network
FeaturesDecentralized operation, low latency mode, Synchronous operation, ,self-healing of connectionsno single point failure, industry standard security, automatic roaming, OTA Update
Low duty cycle,low latency,direct sequence spread spectrum,
Network element size max.>1.000.000 Nodes65.000 Nodes
Overall performanceExcellent self-configuration,highest security and reliability standard,effective operation and maintenance features,highest scalable IoT connectionNetwork increase and complexitycauses lower reliability,latency increases as network size grows
Typical usageindustrial mesh IoT networksSmart lighting, HVAC controls, securityand energy management, home NW
Plus & minus+ rentability for all kind of networks, both big and small + Good performance – Network growthcauses less reliability

Decision

These are just a selection of the radio technologies that we are experienced in. If they interest you, great. But there are many other technologies available that may fit your needs even better.

Before deciding, it’s important to always:

  1. Investigate the relevant use cases
  2. Collect all valid connectivity criteria for these use cases
  3. Check the connectivity standards and technology
  4. Create a decision table and flow

Then, select the best fitting radio technology

Here is an example of a simple decision table which may help:

Making a selection using your most important criteria
Do you need a
data rate >50kbps ?
YESNO
Do you need a
data rate >500kbs
Do you need a
range > 10 km
YESNONOYES
NB-IoTCAT-MLoRASigfox

Bandwidth and range are examples, but you can add any relevant criteria to this process to ensure your project is aligned at all decision levels. 

Conclusion 

To avoid surprises during testing and operation, you should always compare the details of the connectivity technologies you are considering before diving in. At Thaumatec, we have a wealth of experience and knowledge in this field and are happy to help you find a solution that fits your needs. 

IOT Wireless | The rise of connectivity | Different radio access methods

  1. Overview of a broad field of specialized technology

Wireless and mobile connectivity is one of the most quickly growing access methods and is used in almost every industry to gain independence from location and enable freedom of movement. Many different radio technologies and standards are available on the market, but they are usually only designed for, applicable with, and perform well in particular use cases


In the previous article, we outlined how different types of radio access could be used for IoT applications and what the associated advantages and disadvantages were. In this article, we will provide definitions and elaborations on these radio technologies.

  1. Low-power, long-range radio technology

(LPWAN low power wide area networks)

LPWAN (low-power wide area networks) transport data, status and information from connected low power and autonomous sensors and devices to the decision-making application for storage in the data backend. 

Overview LPWAN

Narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT)

LTE Cat NB1 is a derivation of the LTE standard which is also specified in 3GPP release 13. It is designed for IoT applications that are even more constrained than those using eMTC. This technology is based on narrow-band communications and uses a bandwidth of 180 kHz. As a result, the data rate is greatly reduced (around 250 kbps down-link and 20 kbps up-link), which makes FotA updates hard to achieve using NB-IoT. On the bright side, NB-IoT consumes less energy and benefits from a greater range than eMTC.

Enhanced Machine-Type Com. (eMTC, LTE-M)

Long Term Evolution (4G) is a standard from the 3GPP. LTE Cat M1, which is known as either LTE-M or eMTC, is derived from the LTE standard and designed for Machine to Machine (M2M) communications (e.g., IoT). eMTC is a simplified version of LTE that aims to draw less battery power and to extend its range. In contrast to classic LTE, eMTC reduces the data rate to a tenth of LTE (up to 1 Mbps) and strips down the bandwidth from 20 MHz to 1.4 MHz. eMTC supports full-duplex and optional half-duplex operations to reduce consumed power.

Long Range (LoRa) 

LoRa is a proprietary technology from Semtech. Based on Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS) modulation, it can use several bands of the ISM sub-GHz spectrum depending on the geographical location. LoRa communications are reasonably resilient to detection and jamming and are immune to Doppler deviation. LoRa offers several parameters that can be modified (e.g., spreading factor) to adjust the trade-off between range and data rate (from 0.3 to 50 kbps). LoRa is the technology of the physical layer LoRaWAN, supported by the LoRa Alliance, and is an open protocol for the MAC and network layers.

Sigfox (proprietary end-to-end solution for IoT connectivity) 

Sigfox positions itself as an alternative network operator and deploys base stations around the world. This technology uses Binary Phase Shift Keying (BPSK) modulation over an Ultra-Narrow-Band (UNB) carrier of the sub-GHz ISM bands. UNB greatly reduces noise levels, which extends the communication range. The counterpart is a very slow data rate of 100 bps. To respect the duty cycle regulation imposed on the sub-GHz bands, Sigfox limits up-link communications to 140 transmissions of 12 bytes payload, and down-link to 4 transmissions of 8 bytes payload, per day and per device.

Cost factors

Telcom versus other low-power, long-range technology costs to connect [in USD]

Technologyone moduleconnectivityinfrastructure
LTE-M10-153-5 / Month for 1 Mb
NB-IOT7-12<1 / Monthfor 100 kb
Sigfox5-10<1 / Month
LoRa WAN Public9-121-2 / Month
LoRa WAN Private9-120.25 / Month500
  1. Short range radio technology

This refers to transporting data, status and information from close (room- or house distance) sensors, access-points and devices to the decision-making application for storage in the data backend

Overview short range tech

WLAN/Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is a family of wireless network protocols, based on the IEEE 802.11 family of standards. Wi‑Fi is a trademark of the non-profit Wi-Fi Alliance. Wi-Fi technology may be used to provide local network and Internet access to devices that are within Wi-Fi range of one or more routers that are connected to the Internet. Exceptional for long range the HaLow extends Wi-Fi into the 900-MHz band, enabling the low-power connectivity necessary for applications, including sensors and wearables. Because this frequency is freely available for basic communications, HaLow is also a standard for IoT.

Bluetooth / BLE

Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard used for exchanging data between fixed and mobile devices over short distances using short-wavelength UHF radio waves in the industrial, scientific, and medical radio bands, from 2.402 GHz to 2.480 GHz, and for building personal area networks (PANs). Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) is a wireless personal area network technology designed and marketed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Bluetooth SIG) aimed at novel applications in the healthcare, fitness, beacons, security, and home entertainment industries.

NFC

Near-field communication (NFC) is a set of communication protocols for communication between two electronic devices over a distance of 4 cm (1​1⁄2 in) or less. NFC offers a low-speed connection with simple setup that can be used to bootstrap more capable wireless connections.

NFC devices can act as electronic identity documents and key cards. They are used in contactless payment systems and allow mobile payment replacing or supplementing systems such as credit cards and electronic ticket smart cards. NFC can be used for sharing small files (e.g., contacts) and bootstrapping fast connections to share larger media such as photos, videos, etc.

RFID

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. An RFID tag contains a tiny radio transponder (a combination of radio receiver and transmitter). When triggered by an electromagnetic interrogation pulse from a nearby RFID reader device, the tag transmits digital data, usually an identifying inventory number, back to the reader. This number can be used to inventory goods. RFID tags are used in many industries. For example, automobile companies often use it to track progress through the assembly line, pharmaceutical companies often use it to track inventory through their warehouses, and farmers and pet owners are increasingly implanting RFID microchips to track and identify livestock and pets.

  1. IoT mesh technology and solutions

IoT mesh technologies transport the data, status and information from close (room- or house distance) sensors, industrial areas, and closer rural areas via access points and devices to the decision-making application for storage in the data backend. This is completed without any network planning or any other physical or technical construction works related to connectivity. 

Simply place and play: the radio network configures itself and is prepared to handle many nodes and comprehensive infrastructure. The reliability, performance, safety and security features for this solution have been greatly improved in the last decade. 

Wirepas Mesh solution (for massive IoT, reliable and cost-efficient IoT solutions)

Wirepas Mesh is a wireless connectivity technology for massive IoT. Wirepas Mesh running in the devices enables a scalable, reliable, and cost-efficient IoT solution. The network provides one horizontal connectivity layer for all IoT use cases: collect data from your sensors to an IoT application in the cloud, control remotely located devices, communicate device-to-device in the network with or without cloud and track the location of moving assets. All the networking intelligence is included in the Wirepas Mesh software to form a resilient large-scale wireless mesh network. The relevant radio standard is compliant IEEE 802.15.1, which is suitable with Zigbee, Thread, and other similar protocols. Currently supported are off shelf SoC Nordic nrF52832/33/40 and Silabs EFR 32 FG12/13.

Zigbee®

Robust, low-power mesh networks for smart homes and buildings

Zigbee is a standards-based wireless mesh network used widely in building automation, lighting, smart city, medical, and asset tracking. We have been a promoting member of the Zigbee Alliance for more than 10 years, providing robust stack delivery with the latest standards. Our Zigbee portfolio offers the lowest power mesh solutions enabling multi-year coin cell use or battery-less operation across industrial temperatures.

The technology defined by the Zigbee specification is intended to be simpler and less expensive than other wireless personal area networks (WPANs), such as Bluetooth and more general wireless networking such as Wi-Fi. Applications include wireless light switches, home energy monitors, traffic management systems, and other consumer and industrial equipment that requires short-range low-rate wireless data transfer.

Its low power consumption limits transmission distances to 10–100 meters line-of-sight, depending on power output and environmental characteristics.[2] Zigbee devices can transmit data over long distances by passing data through a mesh network of intermediate devices to reach more distant ones. Zigbee is typically used in low data rate applications that require long battery life and secure networking. Zigbee networks are secured by 128-bit symmetric encryption keys. Zigbee has a defined rate of 250 kbit/s, best suited for intermittent data transmissions from a sensor or input device.

Bluetooth Low Energy direction finding

Since 2019 when the Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced a direction-finding feature based on angles finding in their specification for Bluetooth 5.1 I was impatient to check if it is working!

Unfortunately, there is no mutch commercial DevKits or solutions to verify that feature, nevertheless, luckily now one of our engineers Arkadiusz Jagodzinski has prepared a custom HW solution based on the Nordic nRF52811 chip and verify how this feature works and how accurate it is based on measurements in special EM isolated chamber. In this first post I’d like to share with you 

Bluetooth Low Energy Location Services

Bluetooth Low Energy is one of the most popular wireless technology standards. Around 4 billion Bluetooth enabled devices were shipped to the market in 2020. This number will grow and annual Bluetooth device shipments will exceed 6 billion by 2025 according to Bluetooth SIG forecast.

One of the Bluetooth key features is location services. 119 Million devices that use location services were shipped in 2020, mostly for Indoor Navigation and Point of Interest Information purposes.

Until now Bluetooth location services solutions were using Received Signal Strength Indicator. RSSI measurements allow determining the presence of a device or rough distance estimation to it.

Source: Enhancing Bluetooth Location Services with Direction Finding, bluetooth.com

By using some more sophisticated approaches Real-time Locating Systems and Indoor Positioning Systems are also possible by mixing together RSSI measurements, multiple transmitters or receivers and trilateration.

Source: Enhancing Bluetooth Location Services with Direction Finding, bluetooth.com

Bluetooth Direction Finding

In 2019 Bluetooth SIG announced Bluetooth 5.1 specification which introduces Direction 

Finding features designed to improve location services. Direction Finding makes it possible to determine the direction of the received signal by using an antenna array and signal-phase comparisons.

Direction finding delivers two methods: Angle of Arrival (AoA) and Angle of Departure (AoD) which use the same principles.

In both methods, there are two devices: transmitter and receiver. The transmitter transmits Constant Tone Extension (CTE) signal after the regular BLE packet. The receiver role is to sample that signal and calculate the angle from which the signal comes.

In Angle of Arrival:

  • The transmitter has one antenna.
  • The receiver has an antenna array and it switches antennas when receiving CTE signal from the transmitter.

The angle of Departure is slightly different:

  • Transmitter has an antenna array and it does the switching when transmitting.
  • The receiver has only one antenna used to sample CTE signal from the transmitter.
Source: Enhancing Bluetooth Location Services with Direction Finding, bluetooth.com

Angle Estimation

After the sampling phase, we have IQ samples linked to each antenna. IQ samples represent the phase and amplitude of a signal. Using this data it is possible to calculate the signal phase difference between each antenna. Then using some trigonometry it is possible to calculate the angle of arrival.

Example angle of arrival estimation using two antennas in the receiver:

Using phase difference to derive angle of arrival

Source: Bluetooth Direction Finding A Technical Overview, Martin Woolley, 22 February 2021

Exploring Angle of Arrival method

In cooperation with Wrocław University of Science and Technology we will explore Angle of Arrival capabilities, mainly we will focus on examining the accuracy of:

  • Estimation of the angle of the transmitter to the receiver.
  • Transmitter positioning in 2D when using two receivers.

To do it we will use custom boards with Nordic nRF52811 chip and a uniform circular antenna array that can contain up to 8 antennas.

Sources:

IoT and the Importance of Strategic Differentiation

This is the third part in a three-part series on IoT value drivers.

Our previous post outlined Operational Effectiveness and how IoT can help optimize operational performance, risk management, and reduce product and service costs.

Here we will discuss Strategic Differentiation and how IoT can provide new and exciting opportunities for companies.

We will continue to center our attention on the Healthtech industry.

Strategic Differentiation 

Each product or service that comes to market should have a Unique Selling Proposition (“USP”) that distinguishes it from other products or services in a similar field. 

But what is a USP? According to Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, a USP is a,

“… factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition.”

Strategic Differentiation then is a strategy that aims to create this USP for a product or service.

To be specific, Strategic Differentiation looks at elements such as product design, features, brand image, quality, and customer service.

For businesses, there are hidden opportunities in each that can be used to set themselves apart from others. They just need to be discovered.

The power behind a differentiation strategy is found in its customer first approach. It seeks to develop products and services that provide intrinsic value to the customers the business serves. 

By utilizing the above approach, a company can succeed in creating a unique image in the market and can command a premium price for its uniqueness.

We have identified three areas where you can improve your strategic differentiation with IoT:

  • Improve Customer Experience
  • Differentiate Product and Service Offering
  • Enable New Revenue Streams 

Customer Experience (CX) 

The term customer experience (CX) covers the full range of customer interaction with the company, from initial contact to order fulfilment and after-sales service. Each interaction will either develop a positive or negative perception of the organization.

Developing a quality CX is critical to business longevity. In a study conducted by Oracle, 74% of senior executives believed CX was paramount to acquiring loyal customers.

If a customer does not have a good experience with a business, why should they return?

It is for this reason that customer experience has been listed at the top of executives priority lists over the next 5 years along with pricing and product development.

What is striking however, is less than half of all organizations are planning on investing resources into developing their overall customer experience.

It appears that whilst this may be on the top of executives lists, few organizations ever get around to doing something about it.

We believe that now more than ever, organizations must focus on providing a better customer experience. This includes Healthtech companies investing in IoT.

Luckily, IoT can provide many benefits to those wishing to improve their customer experience.

Typical elements that IoT can directly help with include,

  1. Response Times

The power of providing real-time data {link to former post} cannot be overestimated. Today customers expect rapid response times. IoT will deliver just that.

  1. Customer Support

According to Gartner, 64% of customers find customer experience takes priority over the price of a product or service. IoT can help by identifying potential customer issues before they occur and relaying those issues back to support team members.

  1. Personalized Service

Every customer wants a personalized experience. It is hard however, to offer personalized experiences at scale. Furthermore, it requires great resources from both finances and personnel. This is where IoT can help.

“You can suggest relevant products or guide them to use the specific features of a product based on the gathered statistics through IoT. The personalized interaction makes the consumers feel valuable, and they bond an emotional connection with your business. Using a passionate connective action significantly improves overall customer experience.” – Readwrite

Customer experience is one of the three elements we have identified that can help with your Strategic Differentiation.

Differentiate Product and Service Offering 

In our experience, often Healthtech companies center developing their USP around their customer requirements. This is useful, but it is only one third of the equation.

These companies must also consider strategically defining their product and service differentiation as well.

The reason that companies do not consider strategically differentiating their products and services is in part because they are generic.

Harvard Business Review writes further,

“On the commodities exchanges, for example, dealers in metals, grains, and pork bellies trade in totally undifferentiated generic products. But what they “sell” is the claimed distinction of their execution—the efficiency of their transactions in their clients’ behalf, their responsiveness to inquiries, the clarity and speed of their confirmations, and the like. In short, the offered product is differentiated, though the generic product is identical.”

Why do your customers buy from you? If your product or service is “generic” there may be others offering the same solutions. Yet, your customers continue to use your solutions.

Without knowing it, you may have already differentiated yourself from the crowd. In this case, it is a matter of identifying your differentiation and developing it further.

In the case of those who are yet to find product and service differentiation, a strategic partnership with a consultant or purposeful meetings with executive teams should help.

So where does IoT fit into this?

Real-time data can provide valuable input to marketing and sales.  It gives instant insights into potential and existing customer behavior which can result in identifying new opportunities that help to differentiate your business.

An example of an identified opportunity could be billing and pricing models. This leads us to our next IoT value driver.

Enable New Revenue Streams

All businesses seek to maximize revenue opportunities and capture additional value. This is fundamental to good business.

IoT can help here in many respects. According to ITChroniclestwo thirds of companies currently utilizing IoT have credited the technology with increasing revenue by 1% to 5%.

There are many ways that IoT can be used to increase profits. Propane gives one example saying,

“When nearly everything is connected, consumers will have the ability to search for and purchase things from almost anywhere. More and more often, consumers will be able to get recommendations and make purchases directly from products.”

Conclusion

Strategic differentiation can give insight into various opportunities available to a business via a connected product.

Customer experience, business differentiation, and new revenue streams should result by implementing the above strategy.

In our opinion these value drivers unearth low hanging fruit that would have otherwise been hidden.

We are still only at the beginning of understanding the true potential of IoT. Whether you are a Healthtech business, or any other business for that matter, IoT presents some intriguing opportunities that are waiting to be explored.

IoT and the Importance of Operational Effectiveness

As outlined in the previous post in this three-piece series, there are 3 fundamental reasons why many IoT projects fail:

  • Lack of a solid IoT Value proposition
  • Underestimation of the complexity of IoT projects
  • Organizations not ready for the impact of IoT on their employees, processes, IT systems and business models.

However, we believe that each of these elements can be mitigated by implementing the appropriate plans and procedures which we will talk about further here.

We regularly brainstorm with our customers about the additional business value IoT can create. We observe as they dream about the potential for their business. 

It is an exciting exercise, but it generally leads to the same complicated outcome, namely setting up a completely new business with new revenue streams. 

Whilst IoT can most definitely be utilized in this manner there are simpler business models that can generate substantial additional value in much less time. 

In the next two articles, we will look at two distinct categories used to analyze different IoT business value drivers, namely:

  • Operational Effectiveness
  • Strategic Differentiation

Here I will address how Operational Effectiveness in relation to IoT can aid in improving HealthTech settings.

Operational Effectiveness

Operational effectiveness is one of the core objectives of enterprise and IT governance. Organizations are always seeking to maximize the efficient use of resources in their business operations. 

This is understandable as it pertains to quality and productivity across the board, as well as improving competitive positioning in the markets in which they participate. 

Operational Effectiveness deals with establishing and extending best operating practices. This includes the continuous validation and execution of those processes after they’ve been prepared and implemented.

IoT is often overlooked when it comes to analyzing Operational Effectiveness. Reasons for this vary, but the likely reason is that people overestimate the complexities. 

What we have discovered, however, is Operational Effectiveness in IoT initiatives can be very easy to implement and quick to provide value.  

Here are three areas where you can improve your Operational Effectiveness with IoT:

  • Optimize Operational Performance
  • Improve Risk Management
  • Reduce Product- and Service Cost

Optimize Operational Performance

Operational Performance is the process of using real-time data to monitor and manage reporting. The desired result is to increase the operational efficiency of equipment, plants and logistics.

Some other areas Operational Performance can optimize are, 

  • Asset and material tracking, 
  • Connected operations intelligence, 
  • Operations management.
  • Real-time health monitoring.

The key to Operational Performance is utilizing real-time data which is supplied by IoT

“Real time analytics refers to the process of preparing and measuring data as soon as it enters the database. In other words, users get insights or can draw conclusions immediately (or very rapidly after) the data enters their system.”

Sisense

There are various benefits that come with using real-time data.

  • Quicker response times to potential incidents.

Response time in the medical environment is critical to success and failure. According to Safety.com, medical emergency response times across the US range from 5.4 to 11.6 minutes.

In relation to internal operational performance, IoT also has the potential scope to improve elements such as patient tracking and care.

  • Ability to stay agile during project implementation.

Project implementation can rise and fall on management agility. If organizations could identify project issues and pivot before failure, they could greatly decrease resource wastage.

  • Greater cost efficiencies. 

Along similar lines, real-time data can identify potential opportunities for cost-savings.

These each aid in achieving the main objective which is, Operational Effectiveness.

Improved Risk Management

Risk Management has a much higher profile in current management protocols in contrast to operational performance and reducing costs. 

We all fear risk in business. Whether the risk is financial, loss of market share, loss of personnel, or something related. It all effects business growth.

Lack of business growth can result in irrelevance. This is where real-time data can show its true strength.

Real-time data can provide businesses with critical information that they can then use to proactively identify and mitigate many of these risks. 

Risk Management consists of the following elements, expressed in chronological order:

  • Identify potential and imminent threats.
  • Assess the vulnerability of critical assets to these threats.
  • Determine the risk (i.e. the expected likelihood and consequences of threats on business assets).
  • Identify ways to reduce those risks.
  • Prioritize risk reduction measures.

By analyzing the above elements with real-time data, a business can then develop a risk register.

A risk register presents these elements in a manner that management can use to measure potential threats.

This register will list things such as identified threats, the likelihood of their occurrence, the cost of risk prevention and any related costs involved if a risk should eventuate

Overall, the expected likelihood and consequences of risks are reduced

Real-time data will also provide a better audit trail concerning any compliance risk.

Reduce Product and Service Cost 

Reducing product and service costs are always high on the priority list for Healthtech businesses.

Reducing costs can be addressed by implementing proactive procedures and policies. These procedures and policies can help in numerous ways. 

One such way is optimizing the service and product development processes.

By utilizing real-time data Healthtech businesses can examine products currently under development and provide a quality analysis that can for instance shorten the product development lifecycle

The below graph by Jabil illustrates the average product lifecycle for healthcare solutions between 2018 and 2020.

Similarly, the service and support area can utilize real-time data to improve monitoring and diagnosticscondition-based predictive maintenance, and warranty cost management

It will also aid in validating remote service concepts and facilitating customer self-service. 

One such remote service concept was mentioned by Business Insider. They described the concept stating,

“This type of patient care leverages connected devices with IoT sensors to offer providers a continuous stream of real-time health data such as heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose monitoring.”

Conclusion 

Within the Healthtech sector, IoT boasts great promise. But it will take numerous policies and procedures to bring about superior results from new innovations.

We believe that value drivers such as operational effectiveness are the answer.

Examining operational effectiveness can give insight into the different opportunities your connected product can provide.  This will help in identifying low hanging fruit that your business can benefit from. 

By utilizing real-time data provided by connected IoT devices, results can be presented to a potential or existing customer and used to support decisions made by the company’s senior management. 

3 categories why IoT projects fail to live up to their promise

The Internet of Things (IoT) claims huge promise and potential in all industries. 

A new update by the International Data Corporation (IDC) World Wide Internet of Things Spending Guide shows IoT spending growing 8.2% year over year to $742 billion in 2020. 

The IDC expects global IoT spending will return to double-digit growth rates in 2021 and achieve a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.3% over the 2020-2024 forecast period.

These are staggering numbers. Consider that AI will “only” be reaching an estimated $100 billion by 2024.

Granted, these technologies are different in many ways, but the fact remains. IoT is progressing at unprecedented rates.

One of the industries where IoT has been growing rapidly in 2020 is Healthcare, with a growth rate of 14.5%

Overall, it is estimated that 30.3% of all IoT devices will be used in the healthcare industry, which, according to Intel, is the second-largest IoT consumer.

According to a survey of the Healthcare industry conducted by Microsoft, 89% of workers surveyed said they have a project in either the learning, proof of concept (POC), purchase, or use (i.e., fully implemented) phase. 

Healthcare workers have high expectations of this tech.

However, despite its huge potential, many organizations still struggle to find success with this powerful technology. 

Many of us will have observed promising ideas that did not make it past the PoC stage. Furthermore, even if they made it to production the overall result was underwhelming

In May of 2017, Cisco was indicating that IoT initiatives average a failure rate of 75% and in July of 2019, Microsoft stated that 30% of IoT projects fail in the proof-of-concept stage.

So, what is the reason behind this high rate of failure?

We can summarize this into 3 categories:

  • Lack of a solid IoT Value Proposition
  • Underestimation of the complexity of IoT projects
  • Organizations not ready for the impact of IoT on their employees, processes, IT systems, and business models.

Lack of a Solid IoT Value Proposition 

Many of us would be aware of the rapid growth at which devices are being connected. This number is likely to increase in the future.

Whilst IoT presents intriguing possibilities around the connectivity of devices, it doesn’t mean that they should be connected.

Research from Capgemini mentions that 50% of the cause of failure is due to a lack of clarity around the purpose of the project.

This then gives us a clear indication that businesses are not spending enough time defining their Value Proposition (VP) before moving to PoC. This is a critical mistake as a VP is critical to any successful IoT initiative.

Let’s dissect this further.

Businesses need to start with the WHY (defining your IoT Value Drivers) before they focus on the HOW

For example, imagine you are trying to provide a solution around washing powder levels in the “everyday” home. What value is created and for whom, by knowing that you run out of washing powder? 

Is the value of knowing washing powder levels enough to justify the cost of building, implementing, maintaining, and using such an IoT application? 

The unfortunate reality is if customers are not benefiting enough from IoT initiatives, the businesses won’t benefit either. 

IoT creates value when the intelligence improves industry, making operational insight actionable. IoT is most valuable when it changes business processes through innovation, automation and orchestration, reducing often manual, labor-intensive or invasive tasks, minimizing data anomalies, adding value and productivity to workforce activities, improving customer experience and employee engagement. Further, IoT adds value by reducing risk, reducing costs and reducing working capital requirements, all of which can have a material, measurable impact on an organization’s financials

Craig Rock | Forbes Technology Council

Underestimation of the Complexity of IoT Projects 

Whilst IoT harbors immeasurable potential, it does increase complexity

This wouldn’t be an issue if organizations had the resources and infrastructure to cater to such complexity, but unfortunately, many underestimate the requirements.

The very nature of IoT creates a chain of dependencies. Each technological element is dependent on the other to succeed in its task in order to bring value to users.

An update in the firmware of one piece of the technological chain, for instance, can have consequences on the whole system. As such, the design and development phases must be strategically planned to circumvent these repercussions.

The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. 

“The complexities that companies experience building out and maintaining IoT infrastructure has hindered growth of the sector, leading to the failure of as many as 75 per cent of IoT projects”.

Philippe Guillemette, Chief Technology Officer, Sierra Wireless.

To add further to an already complex system, the value of IoT is in the information produced by the devices (sensors, actuators, and connectivity). These sensors collect vast amounts of data, which needs to be processed and managed

In order to draw value from this data, it must be integrated and analyzed at increasingly demanding velocities. Furthermore, this integration and analyzation needs to be conducted across multiple channels.

This is why implementing a proper IoT framework, including a clear data strategy, is crucial to a successful IoT initiative. Only then can an organization design and discuss the interdependencies. 

Organizations not Ready for the Impact of IoT on Their Employees, Processes, IT Systems, and Business Models. 

Many organizations don’t realize that the impact of IoT reaches further than digital technology. It has the potential to disrupt employees, processes, IT systems, business models, and customers

The introduction of IoT in the workplace will change the core of the organization — its standard procedures, daily operations, and larger functions. 

Opinions on the effect of IoT on the workplace have been mixed. 

Whilst fears of job reductions due to IoT automation have been expressed by analysts across the globe, there can be a case made for an increase in employment for the digital expert.

Every company that wishes to confront and implement complex IoT frameworks will have to invest deeply into the digital knowledge of their employees. 

According to a survey carried out by Microsoft29% of companies see the availability of resources and lack of skills as their major IoT challenge.

Digital literacy and data analytics will likely become among the top priorities of organizations investing in integrating IoT in a meaningful way. 

Conclusion

Whilst the statistics show mixed results it would be naïve to disregard IoT as a valuable tool for organizations in the future. 

We still have much to learn about its’ potential and how to use the technology to drive value for businesses and users. A framework such as IoT value drivers may be the tool required to tame its complexities.

Needless to say, if a cornerstone industry such as Healthcare can help to explore the possibilities IoT may very well find itself providing value in other industries soon.

We will just have to wait and see.

5 Things You Need To Know About Wearable Medical Devices

The science fiction of yesterday is the reality of today. Imagine your driverless car pulling up to your house. You get out of the car and walk to your front door, you unlock your smart lock with just your thumb. The smart lights come on automatically as you walk through the house, the temperature is regulated by your smart thermostat. Your glucose monitoring system beeps, warning you that your glucose level is low. You say ‘Alexa, play some Bach’ and music fills the room as you start to prepare a snack…    

The Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are rapidly transforming many aspects of our daily lives. With everything from virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, to blood pressure monitors and other wearable devices, to smart locks, smart lights, smart thermostats and other smart appliances, to connected and autonomous vehicles, few of us in the developed world can claim to be unaffected.

Wearable technology is part of this exciting and quickly expanding sector. According to Grand View Research, the global wearable technology market size was valued at US$ 32.63 billion in 2019 and is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 15.9% from 2020 to 2027. Wearable fitness devices, such as activity trackers and smartwatches, are increasingly popular among consumers. An example of this trend is Google’s acquisition of Fitbit, Inc. (US consumer electronics and fitness company) for a hefty US$ 2.1 billion. But it’s not just the big players who can reap the benefits, there are many exciting opportunities for both start-up and mature companies.

More and more, wearable technology is moving towards the healthcare sector and the line between wearable devices and wearable medical devices is not always clear. There is potential for companies to join this growing market, but it may seem difficult and complicated. There are regulations and standards that need to be respected, which means that companies developing wearable technology need to be clear about what wearable medical technology is, and whether they are crossing the line into that domain.

So, if you are thinking of entering this market, here are a few points to consider:

Know what a wearable device is

Wearable technology, wearable devices or wearables are smart electronic devices worn on or close to the skin to detect and monitor body signals such as vital signs and ambient data, giving feedback to the wearer. They are in fact tiny wearable computers. A popular example are activity or fitness trackers. These devices or apps measure activity related data such as distance covered, heart rate and calories burned, helping the wearer meet their daily fitness goals.

Know what a wearable medical device is

A medical device must have a medical purpose. According to the EU’s Council Directive 93/42/EECof 14 June 1993 concerning medical devices, a medical device is “any instrument, apparatus, appliance, software, material or other article, whether used alone or in combination, including the software intended by its manufacturer to be used specifically for diagnostic and/or therapeutic purposes and necessary for its proper application, intended by the manufacturer to be used for human beings for the purpose of:

  • diagnosis, prevention, monitoring, treatment or alleviation of disease,
  • diagnosis, monitoring, treatment, alleviation of or compensation for an injury or handicap,
  • investigation, replacement or modification of the anatomy or of a physiological process,
  • control of conception,

and which does not achieve its principal intended action in or on the human body by pharmacological, immunological or metabolic means, but which may be assisted in its function by such means”.

Some examples of wearable medical devices are:

  • Wearable devices for diabetics. They include continuous glucose monitoring systems (CGMs) that provide real-time glucose readings and automated insulin delivery systems such as insulin pumps that automatically adjust background insulin (example Medtronic).
  • Wearable cardioverter-defibrillators (WCD) for heart patients who are at risk of sudden cardiac arrest. The WCD can detect dangerous arrhythmia and deliver high-energy shocks to save the patient’s life.

Understand that software can be considered to be a medical device

As can be seen in the above-definition of a medical device, software could be considered to be a medical device. Directive 2007/47/EC states that “it is necessary to clarify that software in its own right, when specifically intended by the manufacturer to be used for one or more of the medical purposes set out in the definition of a medical device, is a medical device. Stand alone software for general purposes when used in a healthcare setting is not a medical device”.

What this comes down to is:

  1. Software embedded in medical devices must meet the same
  2. criteria and certification as medical devices.
  3. Stand alone software for generic devices can also be considered to be a “medical device” (as defined above – Council Directive 93/42/EECof 14 June 1993 concerning medical devices). So if you create an app that is used for diagnostic and/or therapeutic purposes, it will be considered a “medical device” and subject to the same regulations and standards as medical hardware devices.  
  4. General purpose software, even when used in a medical environment, is not considered to be a medical device. For example an app providing reference information for a patient or physician; an app connected to a wearable fitness device to monitor the general well-being of someone and not a specific disease; and software for non-medical purposes such as e-mailing, word processing, web messaging etc

Certification process

The production of medical devices requires compliance with regulations and standards that ensure the safety and efficacy of the devices.

In Europe, the most relevant regulation for this category of devices is Regulation (EU) 2017/745 on medical devices (MDR). In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the Quality System (QS) Regulation.

ISO 13485 is an internationally recognized Quality Management System (QMS) standard for producing medical devices. Compliance with ISO 13485 is often seen as the first step in achieving compliance with European regulatory requirements.

In 2018, the FDA annoucned its plans to harmonize the FDA QS Regulation and ISO 13485.

If you’re involved in the development, design, distribution or servicing of medical devices, being ISO 13485 certified demonstrates that your company’s QMS is designed to deliver consistent, high quality products.

As is the case with other ISO standards, organizations wishing to obtain the formal ISO certification need to go through a learning process, then put in place the adequate management systems and seek certification through an accredited body. This can be a lengthy and costly process.

Partners can help

All this may seem like a lot to take in and quite complex, especially when it comes to regulation and certification. But, did you know that if you want to design and make medical devices, you could also work with a certified partner?

Thaumatec is ISO 13485 certified to build software for medical devices.

So, if you’re planning on designing a medical wearable – or transforming an existing wearable into a medical wearable –  but do not have the necessary certification, get in touch with us and we’ll use our knowledge and certification to help you out.

In our next blog post we’ll take a closer look at regulations and standards, in particular, ISO 13485 and the EU MDR.

10 steps to successfully start international cooperation

The pandemic struck in 2020.  Corporate strategies morphed from focusing on development to survival.  Items like allowing employees to work from home and online e-commerce became a strategic IT priority. Hence, despite the pandemic, it was business-as-usual.  The concept of working remotely made many organizations realize that the proximity of their business partners and suppliers is not that crucial as it was thought to be. In most cases, local partners and suppliers were favoured over international companies. A local business partner has the advantage of being in the same jurisdiction, observing the same laws and regulations, operating the same currency, and speaking the same language.   

However, in most situations, looking for the best partners internationally can bring huge benefits to a business in optimizing quality, availability, and cost. This is especially true when it comes to software development.

Initially, there were technical concerns but improvements in the quality and availability of international links and supporting technologies such as Zoom have reduced them significantly. 

There is a concern that working remotely can bring communication and coordination issues, particularly in multi-cultural environments.  We have been working in the international arena for over fifteen years, gaining significant experience and have developed a 10-stage approach that we apply to each project to ensure maximum cooperation. 

The 10-step approach is as follows:

  1. Start with a test project with measurable goals and objectives. 

A successful international cooperation initiative starts with self-contained, relatively brief projects with clear requirements.  Application module projects where costs or time-to-complete schedules are known to provide an excellent means for testing the deliverables and measuring results.

  1. Ensure internal buy-in and involvement. 

Without the buy-in and active participation of internal stakeholders, it is impossible to create the type of collaborative environment that characterizes successful international cooperation initiatives.  The continued involvement of internal stakeholders with the knowledge of potential risks and rewards of international cooperation is important.

  1. Review and document internal processes. 

A common problem in working with international partners is that internal organizations often operate under informal processes described in the local language, making it difficult to collaborate with outside suppliers. Before selecting a third-party supplier, a company should assess its internal processes and identify and document where functions intersect. The company should also document how information flows throughout the internal software development life cycle.  This will provide an opportunity to refine and adjust internal processes where necessary. 

  1. Assign a dedicated project manager. 

Assign a dedicated client project manager, a single point of contact, to serve as the focal point throughout the entire project life cycle right from the planning and request for proposal (RFP) phase to acceptance testing and implementation.  Additionally, this individual should be an experienced manager to work closely with the international counterpart to solve day-to-day operational issues.

  1. Ensure organizational fit. 

It is also important to virtually meet with the individuals who will be working remotely to get a sense of how they will fit into the internal culture.  Reviewing the qualifications of prospective team members should be part of the process. 

  1. Fulfilment of documentation. 

Even with close and informal collaboration, it is important to have well-documented roles and responsibilities stating precise project requirements and clear project milestones.  A clear statement of deliverables is needed for project closure. 

This practice also applies to project tracking and oversight, configuration management activities such as version control, backup, and recovery and all other facets of the process. 

  1. Establish a secure infrastructure. 

Co-operating internationally requires a secure communication infrastructure and the use of collaboration tools such as email, chat, and intranet-based project Web sites. Choosing how work will be distributed and the specific development and network infrastructure should be done in line with the client’s security policies and development processes.

  1. Allow ample time and resources for knowledge transfer.

Knowledge transfer is a vital part of the process.  It not only ensures that the supplier’s staff members understand the client’s software but also contributes to the creation of a collaborative work environment that continues even after the completion of the project.  Additionally, long-term contracts that specify a periodic rotation of staff create a flexible yet knowledgeable base from which resources can be quickly drawn as needed.

  1. Acknowledge that cultural understanding is a two-way street. 

It is an absolute necessity in multi-cultural environments that employees be able to adapt and work effectively in other cultures. However, multi-cultural enterprises need to be aware of cultural issues such as if disagreements can be raised and how they are resolved. Some companies conduct internal cross-cultural training to create awareness around such issues. 

  1. Organize meetings and monitor performance and stakeholder satisfaction. 

Regular project status meetings in which the client and supplier team members review schedules and deliverables and resolve open issues are an essential part of international cooperation. They enable clients to stay on top of and maintain control over projects as well as track supplier performance.

How AI implementation will influence Thaumatec? – Interview with Michał Zgrzywa, Director of AI @ Thaumatec

Michał Zgrzywa, Director of the Artificial Intelligence department is already working in Thaumatec some time, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask him few questions about the AI, it’s influence on the world and our company! Enjoy your reading!

Why can AI be important for the current and future customers of Thaumatec?

Michał Zgrzywa, Directof of Artificial Inteligence @Thaumatec:

– There are countless ways in which Data and AI can bring value to our customers, which is why all the largest analytics companies like Gartner or Forester include them on their list of most impactful technology trends for the upcoming years.

They all seem to agree that in the coming years, the AI revolution will bring severe changes to how we are doing business, communicate, develop ourselves, care for us and people around us and many more. The reason why the expected impact is so large, similarly to all the great technological revolutions of the past like e.g., industrial revolution, is that from now on machines will be able to perform tasks that were so far reserved only for humans. The only difference is that the previous revolutions concerned physical tasks, while the AI one relates also to a subset of cognitive tasks like analytics, recognition, forecasting, spotting trends, spotting anomalies, etc. And these tasks will be able to be performed faster, with more precision and at the fracture of cost.

What is necessary for most of the AI use cases is data. And this is where the current and future customers of Thaumatec are in a strong position – the software embedded in our client’s products and the IoT solutions with their HUBs can provide a lot of data. The data that can be turned into value for our clients and their end users.

Where AI already is bringing the value to product organizations around the world are:

  • improving the product ability to analyze and interpret the environment through the measured signals,
  • extending the product functionality with capabilities like image, sound, or natural text recognition,
  • enhancing the product with possibility to recommend basing on historical patterns, forecasts of the future and environment around,
  • automating the product by allowing it to make autonomous decisions based on data,
  • improving the product ability to recognize unusual behaviors or patterns,
  • understanding of the product usage patterns and issues, which leads to better understanding of the end-users needs, improved product and more satisfied customers,
  • understanding of differences between end-users, which leads to better segmentation and personalization of products and services offerings, to increase revenue and satisfaction,
  • analysis of the products operation patterns that leads to predictive maintenance and lower costs of operation,
  • analysis of the products utilization patterns that leads to recognition of abnormal and potentially fraudulent behaviors, which increases the product reliability and security,
  • finally, the product data may become a new product itself, allowing it to generate completely new revenue streams.

Finally, Thaumatec customers will benefit from having the whole skill set: embedded development, IoT cloud development and AI / data science in one integrated team. We will help our clients to move their products onto a new level of development and gain from the AI revolution instead of being threatened by it.

What new skills will we have as a company?

We will strengthen our company skill set in multiple areas.

First, we will introduce the role of Data Scientist. Such a person needs to combine statistical knowledge, understanding of tools and techniques used in Machine Learning, software development skills (Python, R) with business analyst mindset. The most common technologies and techniques that a Data Scientist knows are:

  • Computer vision: object detection, semantic segmentation, image generation; techniques: various architectures of CNN, GAN, transfer learning, autoencoders, TensorFlow, TensorFlow Lite;
  • Natural Language Processing: speech recognition, NL understanding like text summarization, topic modelling or sentiment analysis; techniques: TFiDF, Word2Vec, BERT, GPT-3 and many more.
  • Predictive modeling: time series forecasting, classification, regression; techniques: ARIMA, regressions, random forests, Xgboost, deep learning, and many more.
  • Optimization: Genetic Algorithms, Bayesian Optimization;
  • Recommendation engines: collaborative, content based, hybrids.
  • Anomalies detection: clustering, dimensionality reduction, isolation forests.
  • Simulations: Monte-Carlo, reinforcement learning.
  • Software development: Python (Pandas, NumPy, Scikit-learn), R;
  • Data Visualization (Matplotlib, Bokeh, Tableau, d3).

The second crucial role we will have is the Data Engineer. Their skills are mostly around retrieving, transforming, cleaning, and storing data. Often Big Data. So, the technologies that are quite common for a Data engineers are:

  • All kind of databases (sql, nosql), data warehouses (cloud, on-premises), data lakes and data transformation tools;
  • Cloud IoT tool stacks: Azure IoT Hub, AWS IoT Core;
  • Big data tool stack: Hadoop, Kafka, HDInsights, Spark, Dask;
  • Software development in general (Python).

Finally, the third role around AI projects is Machine Learning Engineer, whose major responsibility is model operationalization. This person builds the pipelines for model training and model deployment. They are also preparing the test and production environments (often dockerised, located in the cloud). The most common technologies are:

  • ML models training and operationalisation: Azure Machine Learning Studio, Amazon SageMaker;
  • Devops tooling: CI/CD tools, Docker, Kubernetes;
  • Software development in general (Python).

Many of the skills can already be found in our company. But there will also be space for personal development and recruitment.

What kind of projects can we support?

I can envision at least three kinds of projects.

The most exciting projects that we will focus on are development of intelligent products for our customers. Here, to our regular competences of building IoT solutions, we will add the part around training and incorporating the intelligent AI models. This will result in building the AIoT solutions (Artificial Intelligence of Things), that have a huge potential of bringing innovative competitive advantage.

The projects from the second category would aim at existing products that would gain significantly from adding an intelligent component to them. The common scenario in this case is as follows:

  1. we would extend the hardware and firmware to start gathering new data from the product,
  2. we would build the infrastructure that allows storing the data in the cloud,
  3. using the new and already gathered data we would train the intelligent AI models,
  4. we would incorporate the models into the web applications, gateways, or the device itself.

Such extremely complex projects as the above categories require exactly the supplier like Thaumatec – a company that has embedded, IoT cloud and AI skills in the one, well integrated team.

The third category of projects would be more focused on only one part – the AI. In such cases we would cooperate with companies developing their product but lacking the Data & AI competences. We would join by taking care of the AI component, thus helping the customer to achieve their goal.

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