The Debate on IoT Skills. Forming Data Scientists at Birkbeck, University of London

Fortunately, the Internet of Things community is moving away from the hype towards addressing issues that make IoT strategies and IoT solutions able to face business issues and solve operational problems. There are a variety of challenges, technological ones, business model ones, but also organisational ones. The multidisciplinary nature of the IoT affects the entire company structure. It introduces new tools and new modi operandi. Those require new professional profiles and new skills. The latter has been widely debated reaching the doors of governments, which, are trying to put in place strategies – educational and industrial – in order to enable the creation of those skills. That challenge is not addressable by a single stakeholder, but by the cooperation among academia, government, and companies. In innovation studies, the Triple Helix model is used to analyse the roots and the drivers of technological innovation. It is then used as a model for promoting innovation. A similar approach should be used for forming new skills in emerging technologies that are dramatically changing business systems and living environments. It is not an easy model to roll out, but, there are movements towards that. On Wednesday the 19th of January, I saw an example of a Triple Helix process coming through. I was invited at the Industrial Advisory Board at Birkbeck, University of London. The meeting is organised by the Department of Computer Science with the aim to share with the industry their teaching and research activities. But, the Department of Computer Science wants also to know if their activities reflect the needs of the industry. It was a good moment of interactions. And, it was refreshing to see how academia is responding to the need of the industry. In fact, the Department presented two new initiatives. The first one is the Birkbeck Institute for Data Analytics (BIDA) that aims to develop interdisciplinary research in Data Analytics and Data Science. The second announcement was the MSc in Data Science. Inspired by the UK government initiative in promoting new skill formation, BIDA is looking to collaborate with companies in order to engage MSc students with real problems, but also to promote research projects. If you want to know more and get involved, more info at or contact Dr.Alessandro Provetti, Director of BIDA (




The IoT Policy 2017 Wish – Making IoT Real for Small-sized Enterprises

Looking at the Internet of Things, the technology policy community has several challenges to face. Despite the 2017 wish list is long and complicated, there is a desire that cannot be procrastinated or treated weakly. That is the adoption and the impact of the Internet of Things vision for small-sized enterprises. We refer to companies with less than 50 employees and with a turnover less than €10m as defined by the European Commission (

There are two key sides of a Small-sized Enterprise IoT Policy. The first looks at the meaning and, consequently, adoption of the IoT in small-sized enterprises. If we all agree of the importance of the IoT for those types of companies, how do we move them towards the adoption of the IoT? Notoriously, the small-sized company is entirely absorbed by their core business. There is very little space for exploration for change, even if there is great desire for that. Therefore, what type of policy framework should we put in place to make that desire becoming reality? Being European, and not only, economies and labour markets largely based around small-sized companies, using the IoT as a modernization tool for those types of companies is a key policy topic to face.

The second side of a Small-sized Enterprise IoT Policy regards the developers of IoT solutions. This regards the IoT start-up movements, but, more in general the entrepreneurship and innovation capabilities of small-sized IoT solution providers. Large private organisations have played an important role in that direction setting-up accelerator programmes, incubators, and living labs in order to support start-up based innovation. Competitiveness and business development government and inter-government departments have followed that sentiment encouraging start-up formation and entrepreneurship in the IoT. However, has the public support been strong enough to enable the life of start-ups? Do we need to coordinate public-private-academia initiatives? Are we trying to increase the life-time of start-ups? Do we want to use the start-up mode as new labour market tool – job creation – or do we want to use the start-up mode mainly as a learning tool or both? Is public investment enough and targeted to the difference phases of start-up? Is public investment focussing on management coaching and mentoring activities? Are we dealing efficiently with cost management such as working space renting? Are we investing in skill formation? It is difficult to see an IoT entrepreneurship policy that systematically address all these questions. It seems that we are in front of policy fragmentation that, often, does not address the needs of entrepreneurs. IoT start-up policies should systematically look at the life of start-ups in all their moments and needs with the objective of making the start-up strong enough for the next phase, whichever that might be.

At the beginning of the year, we are all ready to change what we did not like in the previous year. We are then absorbed in the daily life and the desires get a bit lost in our routines. But, we should be vigilant on this. Small-sized companies are too important for our economies. We need to nourish them and the IoT is a phenomenal instrument to make them healthy and wealthy. Let 2017 be the year of the Small-sized Enterprise IoT Policy!




Discussing the Chief IoT Officer and People behind the IoT at IoT Convivio

In a beautiful villa outside Milan, precisely Villa La Valera in Arese, since September, there has been an unusual and jovial discussion on the Internet of Things. 30-40 top managers from various Italian organisations have gathered at the IoT Convivio ( twice, one in September 2016 and the second on in December 2016, to discuss about the profile of the Chief IoT Officer and his or her team. To be honest, profiling the Chief IoT Officer has been just a narrative stratagem to explore the people behind the Internet of Things and the challenges those people have to face. I had the pleasure to chair and run the discussions. The IoT Convivio sessions explored a variety of technological and business themes. But, here, I want to share some points that have strong and not widely explored IoT policy implications.

The discussion started from the assumption that the IoT is a multidisciplinary and transformative vision impacting any economic sectors and any living environments. From a business perspective, the IoT vision is an absolute competitive advantage necessity. It is about changing modus operandi, optimizing processing and generating new ideas. But, all this requires a strategy with external and internal implications for the organisation. Who designs, develops, and deploys an IoT strategy? And how should this individual and his team be? And, here, the key question: is there the need for a new professional figure, the Chief IoT Officer? The attendees agreed that organisational change is necessary in order to embrace the IoT. They also believed that we could imagine the Chief IoT Officer (CIoTO) as an evolution of the current experienced Program Manager or Project Manager. That evolution is not simple. The CIoTO should be able to run complex and multidisciplinary projects. He or she should have “political capability” in order to champion short-term and long-term impact of the Internet of Things in the organisation. He or she should be able to navigate changeable contexts, being able to speak the language of engineering and the language of branding at the same time. And, with all this, having continuous, and clearly, in mind the business objectives. But, he or she is not a “superhero”. He or she needs a team, an “IoT Team”. And how does the IoT Team look like? The participants have explored numerous professions and skills in the area of data science, software development, marketing, branding, and design. But, they also raised a strong concern about the availability of such professions tuned to the IoT. And, therefore, the question was: how do we form those skills? This is an IoT policy question of extreme relevance and urgency. There was a school of thought arguing that the companies have to stimulate the academia on those needs as it is already happening in certain cases – Politicnico di Milano, Imperial College for example. There was another school of thought arguing that the approach should be more proactive. The education system requires a reform able to answer the needs of a labour market strongly affected now and in the future by technological change. An innovation studies’ model, called Triple Helix, could be a framework to explore proactive approaches. The Triple Helix brings together academia, government, and businesses as the engine for innovation. The same collaborative model could be used to designed the educational format to form professions needed in an “IoT Team”. There was not final consensus and answer. However, the debate is open and it will be re-discussed at the next IoT Convivio in Rome, where IoT policy issues will be explored extensively.

Do We Need AI Policy?

Artificial Intelligence has been the most discussed topic during 2016. It is not anymore a science-fiction topic, but something real, something around us in various forms and with a long trajectory of development of new ideas. As the impact of artificial intelligence on our lives becomes more evident, a key question is arising: what should the policy makers do about artificial intelligence in order to gain benefits and avoid problems? There is a school of thought believing that it is too early for policy and regulation around artificial intelligence. We can characterize this group around the following remark “it’s way too early for explicit AI policy” by Andrew McAfee, co-author of “The Second Machine Age.” The remark highlights that we have not see the real transformative power of AI yet. Therefore, we do not have the right picture in order to legislate on the topic. Parts of this group also believes that a “policy de facto” process will come into place, basically, eliminating the necessity of any policy making institution intervention. However, there is another school of thought that believes that policy and regulation for AI are necessary. AI policy can be seen as an extension of a more comprehensive IoT policy. This school of thought has produced a number of documents during last two years on the topic. For example, recently, the Government Office for Science in the UK has produced the short document “Artificial Intelligence: Opportunities and Implications for the Future of Decision Making”. In October 2016, the Executive Office of the President of the United States has published “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence”. There are also some independent assessment on the topic by think tank such as the case of Effective Altruism Foundation and Foundational Research Institute in Germany that published “Artificial Intelligence: Opportunities and Risks” in December 2015. Those papers explore the implications of AI and the possible steps to take in policy terms in areas such as data privacy, labour market, and security. ETPO will explore those papers in more details in future articles.

Understanding Data Privacy in a Fully Connected Society

The M2M/IoT enjoys the debate around the number of connected devices we will have in the future. Those fabulous numbers bring fabulous opportunities! But, the IoT community, or part of it, is also aware that the dream will come through if it is safe and positively impact people and organisations. Some conditions for that to happen are ethical issues around the use of data. In order to understand those issues and their impact on the development of the IoT, we have met Dr. Katerina Hadjimatheou, Senior Research Fellow at the Interdisciplinary Ethics Research Group at University of Warwick. Dr. Hadjimatheou is specialised in ethics of security and surveillance technologies.

Saverio Romeo (SR): The IoT community moves along the view that we will live and work in spaces connected and intelligent. This is provided by connected devices of any sort – from fitness trackers to temperature sensors and so on. Which are the ethical issues to consider in a fully connected society?

Katerina Hadjimatheou (KH): There are three consideration to do:

a)   What kind of information is being processed: some kinds of information are considered inherently private, for example, information about intimate aspects of our lives, such as information about our close friendships, our families, our sex lives, and our bodies including our health.  Information about our energy consumption or purchasing habits is not inherently private, but this does not mean we want it shared with everybody. Which leads me to the second consideration, namely,

b) Who is viewing that information: most of us don’t mind non-intimate information about us, such as our energy consumption or our purchasing habits being collected in order that we receive better advice from our energy providers on how to save money, or so that we can receive advertising that is more reflective of our preferences. Yet at the same time most people would feel uncomfortable about their purchasing history being provided to their mother in law so that she can choose them a better Christmas present. And, even though some information is very intimate, there are usually some people we gladly share it with. For example, we routinely share information about our health, sexual habits, and families with doctors even though such information is ‘inherently’ private. As this suggests, in order to preserve privacy, we need to be able to choose whom to share information with, which leads us conveniently to the third consideration:

c) Whether we have any choice about the kinds of information collected and the things that are done with it: a ‘liberal’ society such as our own is built partly upon the belief that people should as far as is possible be at liberty (i.e. free) to decide for themselves where to live, what job to do, what kinds of relationships to have, how to treat their bodies, and generally how to live their lives. For example, most people believe that the extent to which one lives a healthy lifestyle should be a matter of personal choice, and not something imposed on people by others. This means that, even if it is better for us to eat healthily, and even if it can be demonstrated that having remote connected devices monitor our food consumption and exercise improves health outcomes, we believe people should have a choice about whether to adopt such devices. This does not mean that everything should be a matter of choice, because some of the decisions we make about our own bodies affect the wellbeing of others. For example, it is nowadays commonly accepted in the EU that one’s personal choice to smoke should be limited to places where it does not affect adversely the health of others. Nevertheless, in a liberal society personal choice is always very important and must be taken into account when designing technologies. Technologies and systems that enable personal choice are better than those that do not and technologies and systems that enable fine-grained choices, at different points in the process of technology adoption are better than those that offer only a one-off, single chance to ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’. More chance to consent or opt-out from aspects of technology decreases the risk of what is known as ‘function’ or ‘mission’ creep. Mission creep occurs when data collected for one purpose is then used for another. For example, some smart metering systems collect data about temperature within a house which can also be used to determine how many people are at home. The fact that people sign up to a system that monitors temperature within a house in order to know when to turn the radiators on does not mean they should be treated as if they also signed up to a system that monitors the number of people in the house. 

SR: Many believe that privacy by design should be a fundamental criterion in designing IoT solutions. But, what is privacy by design?

KH:  Privacy by design means building privacy concerns into the design of technologies, processes, and systems. One of the basic principles of privacy by design is that of data minimisation. This basically means collecting only the amount of data necessary to fulfil the specific functions of the device/system that people have signed up for. Data minimisation reduces the risk of function or mission creep. It occurs at the level of the device. But it can also occur later on. For example, most of us feel that a system which involves automatic processing of data with no human involvement is less intrusive than one which involves people actually accessing that data.

SR: The IoT community believes that data is strategic – in business and service terms. In order to fully exploit that potential, there is a school of thought that believes in data openness. From an ethical perspective, how do you see data openness?

KH: Perhaps predictably, I would say that it depends what kind of data is being discussed. Obviously, making the code for a very intrusive surveillance software open-source is not a sensible idea, given the risk of cyber criminality, misuse by authoritarian regimes, not to mention terrorism. Similarly, for those people unlucky enough to live in human-rights abusing regimes such as Isis, encryption is a vital tool for preserving privacy as well as many other basic liberties. Less dramatically, the combination of lots of data from different sources can result in the re-identification of individuals who believe they are being monitored by their devices on an anonymous basis. Data openness seems a good idea as a general principle when the data refers to the actions of a government operating in a democracy, because such governments should be accountable to the people, and for that transparency is necessary. In contrast, customers do not owe transparency to the companies they do business with, and businesses who collect data about their customers have a duty of care to those people to process the data in ways that do not infringe on their privacy, even when customers have, perhaps unthinkingly, clicked that ‘agree’ button.

A Policy-based Interpretation of Huawei MBB Forum 2016

In a recent interview to the Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera”, Hiroshi Ishiguro claims that Europeans are scared of technology. In Japan, technology advancement is strictly part of the human development, “technology is part of us”. The view of the Japanese people as an early technology adopter and technology explorer is not new. It was also evident at the Huawei MBB Forum 2016 in Tokyo. The enthusiasm for technological advancement was the motive of the event. Robotics, 5G, artificial intelligence, and the evolution of the IoT – particularly the low-data rate IoT via NB-IoT – were strongly illustrated and their benefits were discussed extensively. However, during the first day of the event, there was little space on challenges needed to be faced in order to make those benefits real. Additionally, the topics discussed during the conference are also very relevant from a policy point of view. But, that angle was not part of the conference and, probably, was not the appropriate context for a policy discussion. However, the Forum drew attention to five major policy implications.

1)      Governance and Decision Making Process for the Connected World. The conference clearly claimed the power of technology – and of those who provide technology – to shape society. A presenter went even further to claim that technology can reach “happiness for everyone”. It is without doubt that technological development is changing and will change even more dramatically our way of living. But, how should this change happen? Who should govern this change? Which should the role of the policy makers be and which should the role of influential and very large organisations like Huawei be? And, which is the constructive role of citizens? And, overall, how should our democratic process change to define the governance for a connected world? The Huawei MBB Forum 2016 was not the place for those questions, but, it clearly prompts those them.


2)      Data Security and Data Privacy. Expressions such as “data is the currency” or “data is the real enabler”, stressed by different presenters, highlighted the consensus on the essential role of data for the shape of the future society. But, little was said on security from a technological perspective and, also, from a policy perspective. Questions on the ethics of data were not addressed. Questions that become more pertinent considering the vast attention dedicated to artificial intelligence.



3)      5G Application Policy. 5G is the next mission for the mobile communications community. But, that mission is worth pursuing it if it is associated to real opportunities. There was an unanimous consensus on this. But, how do we avoid to run along the 5G technology track without paying strong attention to the opportunities? And, here, the role of technology policy can be important. Different technology policy organisations have put great efforts in the research and innovation side of the 5G story. A similar approach is necessary on the application side pursuing a multidisciplinary approach bringing together the industry, the academia, the government, and the social organisations.


4)      LPWAN Policy and SME Technology Adoption Policy. On the other side of the data rate spectrum, there is NB-IoT, strongly embraced by Huawei. Besides the LPWAN competitive landscape issues, NB-IoT and all the other LPWAN solutions are in front of numerous opportunities in terms of applications, but, at the same time, of a community of users not very aware of the potential of the technology. This is particularly true for SMEs. Helping SMEs understanding the transformational power of the IoT, and, specifically, of LPWAN solution is a challenge that policies can help face. It is important to start thinking about the IoT from the point of SMEs.


5)      Emerging Tech (AI and Robotics) Policy. AI and robotics were seen as the next “big things”. The audience were fascinated by discussions on AI and Robotics and the demos captured people’s imagination. However, powerful tool such as AI and the strong emergence of robotics poses several questions. The most immediate one regards their impact on the labour market. New professions will be needed in the era of AI and robotics. AI and robotics will drive a re-shaping of existing professions. Therefore, how do we achieve that? New skills are necessary at the different levels of the labour market. The educational system is the route for forming those news skills. But, what sort of educational system can do that?


Obviously, those five key policy areas – and there were others – deserve much more than a couple of lines. But, the message is that the technological development showed at the Forum – the one we are living on daily basis – is full of policy questions that need answer. Probably, Hiroshi Ishiguro would not be worried about. He believes that robots will just be fully part of our future. Geminoid, the android developed by him and that resembles him, probably, will be a speaker in a future MBB Forum. But, while waiting for Geminoid, it would be also nice to see female speakers at the next MBB Forum. Technology development with a wide – gender, race, and geography – realm will take us further.

The Politics of Things – Exploring Policy Issues in the Internet of Things

The presence of policy makers and regulators in the world of M2M has not been irrelevant. The role, at least inspirational, of the EU eCall Directive for the automotive sector is widely recognised. Certainly, the endless story of the implementation of the eCall has become a sort of saga that has created uncertainty in the industry. In the story of the eCall, we can then see the positive and the negative sides of the policy making process and regulatory process involvement in technology development and deployment. Policy and regulation can become strong driver, but also strong inhibitor if the process becomes long, tedious, and entrenched into excessive bureaucratic, and sometimes, political mechanisms.


However, as the Internet of Things is showing its transformative potential of industries and society strongly impacting our lives, the debate of the role of policy becomes more relevant. It is not simply about acting on specific sectors – automotive with eCall, energy with smart metering and others – but it goes beyond that looking into interconnection of systems. The IoT creates system of systems impacting modi operandi in all the systems and interconnecting those modus operandi. That interconnection is based on data. It has been said in the IoT policy debate that “data is the infrastructure”[i]. In this systemic scenario and assuming that the role of policy is important in the future of the IoT (here not necessarily there is consensus), the question is: what type of policy framework is necessary for the IoT? And an even more radical question is: is the current policy making process equipped to respond to the transformation brought by the IoT vision? The different pace of development between technology and policy making process has been evident in the recent years (see policy making organisations chasing the rapid development in social media). The IoT, being based on a set of rapid developing technology, will exacerbate that difference unless the current debate on IoT policy will discuss necessary changes of the policy making process at any level.


Despite those fundamental questions, the current debate around IoT policies is moving around the following lines:

  • If “data is the infrastructure”, data will influence all kinds of economic, social, and civic activity, therefore, data security in the IoT becomes crucial. How do we enable security in the IoT? And what policy initiatives are required? Topics of discussions are security by design and security standards.
  • As a consequence of the previous point, the debate on data privacy is obviously very relevant.
  • Defining policy framework for supporting adoption and diffusion of Internet of Things strategies in organisations with particular attention on small and medium enterprises.
  • Defining policy framework for supporting research, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the Internet of Things.
  • Defining policy framework around the Internet of Things in specific sectors (see Industry 4.0 in German, Smart Factory in the EU, Farming 4.0 in Germany and so on).
  • The development of the IoT should be designed with the objective to ensure sustainable development, ensure accessibility for the disabled and underserved, and encourage civic and democratic participation.
  • Further themes revolve around the relationships between humans and connected spaces. Is there a right to be not connected in intelligent spaces?

[i] Ellen P. Goodman. The Atomic Age of Data: Policies for the Internet of Things. Report of the 29th Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy. The Aspen Institute