Datamation’s staff writer Emma Crockett interviewed Yasser Alsaied, VP of IoT at Amazon Web Services (AWS), who shared his perspective on the development and growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) industry.
Yasser Alsaied Q&A
How did you first start working in the IoT industry?
For the past six years, I have been involved with the Internet of Things (IoT) from chipsets to System-on-Chip (SoC) to modules to devices and the cloud. I joined Amazon Web Services in 2021 as the vice president of IoT. I lead the AWS IoT business, which covers a wide range of cloud and devices services, such as Robotics, Industrial, Automotive, Consumer, Public Sector and Commercial segments. Our services are among the highest-connected IoT services globally and continue to grow in the fields of digital twins, smart cities and connected vehicles.
Before joining AWS, I was with Qualcomm as their vice president of IoT as well. During my time at Qualcomm, I held several leadership roles, covering the launch of Qualcomm’s first wireless local-area network (WLAN) chip for mobile phones, Qualcomm Innovation Center, and Code Aurora Foundation to solve legal and operational issues around the open-source software release. During my last four years at Qualcomm, I managed their IoT ecosystem and led the strategy to scale IoT chipsets, including key technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision drones, robotics and 5G.
What is your favorite thing about working at AWS?
The most important thing for me is how our work at AWS positively impacts humanity and the environment using IoT technologies. The positive impact and opportunity that AWS offers are unmatched anywhere else.
What sets AWS’s IoT approach or solutions apart from the competition?
It really starts with our market approach to IoT. We understand it is not enough to provide just an IoT platform and disconnected services, and that our customers need fully verticalized, purpose-built solutions that derive actionable insights. They need to be paired with industry partners and account managers that have specialized domain knowledge to reduce complexity of integration and understand customer problems or industry challenges. At AWS, we have created such a deep and broad set of partners, solutions and services, so customers can choose the best solution to drive value for their use case, from secure device connectivity to management, storage, and analytics. Everything runs on the same infrastructure and tools from the cloud to the edge—which ensures seamless performance, reliability, security, scalability, and makes it easier and faster to launch. To support industry verticals, we offer a variety of IoT solution options for the Connected Vehicle, Industrial, Consumer, Public Sector and Commercial markets to best fit the customer’s needs and technical capabilities.
Another reason AWS is the best place for IoT is our commitment to continuously innovate and make it easier for customers to realize IoT solutions. Since I joined in 2021, AWS IoT has rolled out over 50 updates and launched brand new services, such as AWS IoT FleetWise, AWS IoT ExpressLink, AWS IoT TwinMaker, and AWS IoT RoboRunner. Our qualified device catalog repository has grown over 800 partner devices.
Lastly, IT and line-of-business customers see security concerns as the top challenge for IoT projects, which limits a business’s ability to move an IoT pilot to production. At AWS, security is the top priority. With all of these services and solutions, AWS is extending the most secure cloud computing environment available today to IoT devices at the edge. Whether they are using AWS IoT managed services, partner solutions, or builder services, customers have access to preventative and active monitoring and response to keep data and devices secure. We also provide a security-dedicated service for IoT devices, AWS IoT Device Defender, which makes it easy to audit configurations, authenticate devices, detect anomalies and receive alerts to help secure your IoT device fleet.
The IoT Industry
What is one key new IoT technology that particularly interests you?
I am keen to focus on the industrial and automotive sectors, as they both seek to promote sustainability and the well-being of humanity and the environment. For example, automation and remote sensing will increase the ability to prevent disasters and know ahead of time if things may go wrong, utilizing AI modeling while protecting equipment and people from running into risky situations.
What is one new IoT technique that teams should implement?
We see a growing need for more simplistic IoT-centric tools. It’s critical to make these tools more accessible for companies to innovate and leverage them, and easier to enter industries as the adoption of IoT technologies continues to grow. For example, tools like AWS IoT Core Device Advisor help developers validate IoT devices for reliable and secure connectivity with AWS. They can identify device software issues, such as being unable to reconnect and get detailed logs to troubleshoot issues during development, and testing cycles.
Another IoT technique that teams should implement is security. As customers move from IoT experimentation and PoCs to deploying IoT production-ready solutions at scale, we find that security is no longer a concern, it’s a barrier to IoT adoption and it’s slowing down digital transformation. Business leaders are excited about the possibilities of IoT, they are also pragmatic about the complexity and security risks associated with deploying IoT solutions. This is due, in part, to a lack of understanding of how to adopt security best practices to the new technologies, as well as a struggle with disparate, incompatible, and sometimes immature security offerings that fail to properly secure deployments, leading to an increased risk.
AWS IoT’s security strategy is focused on delivering a broad and deep set of security capabilities that allow customers to keep their devices and infrastructure secure with multi-layered protection from edge-to-cloud—protecting their IoT devices, their connectivity, and the data that they generate.
What is one new IoT strategy that companies should implement?
We continue to see very strong IoT interest and adoption from our customers. We don’t anticipate IoT growth will slow down any time soon. However, it is clear that the role of IoT hyperscalers is changing, and in large part, this is tied to an industry shift towards verticalized solutions instead of IoT as a horizontal offering. This shift is in the best interest of customers because they never come to us asking for IoT directly. Instead, they come to us seeking specific business outcomes and for help determining how they can leverage technology to monitor, control, and optimize their business processes to get those outcomes. What this shift means for cloud and IoT software providers is they must put IoT into context for customers’ unique vertical challenges by offering industry-focused solutions and partners that drive business value based on their customer’s in-house skillset, IT scale requirements and use cases.
In addition, it is becoming more important for companies to work with partners to build complete IoT solutions and applications together. It is vital to ensure companies and their partners are building and creating solutions that are deployed quickly to realize business outcomes and accelerate their time to value. This is also another key strategy companies should implement.
What is the biggest IoT mistake you see enterprises making?
IoT can become complex, and not all companies grasp it. But companies are starting to understand the incredible value of collecting available data, especially in manufacturing, automotive, and enterprise verticals. Data is critical for companies that need to monitor, protect, and improve their products and services. Therefore, the biggest challenge is misunderstanding the value of IoT data and not looking at them as valuable sources to help improve the environment or challenges that companies face today.
In addition, we heard from our customers about the other common areas where they struggle with IoT. For example, they need to navigate the breadth of technologies and skills required for the ecosystem. They also encounter challenges related to adoption, scaling, and device management. For instance, they often need help connecting legacy equipment that wasn’t designed for digitization, or guidance on how to connect digitized OT with IT backend quickly and cost-effectively. Finally, customers also have concerns with future-proofing investments. They have to consider how IoT investments will impact existing infrastructure, drive ROI or incur technical debt in the future.
What are some promising current trends in the IoT market?
Customers are broadening their sustainability initiatives to go beyond emission reduction to create smart environments (i.e. cities, buildings, factories), leveraging IoT to monitor energy performance, reduce waste, and align facility operations with occupancy trends. One great example of this is how Yara collaborated with us to build an efficient and sustainable Digital Production Platform (DPP) for the farming industry. This DPP is a key enabler to digitize their production system across 28 production sites, 122 production units, and two mines. The DPP detects, collects, and runs sophisticated analytics on production data linked to productivity, reliability, environment, safety, quality, and innovation, using AWS IoT SiteWise, AWS IoT Greengrass, AWS IoT Core, AWS IoT Analytics, and Amazon SageMaker. This solution has helped Yara to predict product quality and composition, improve balancing of the site utilities and detect when machines need repair or maintenance to keep production at optimal efficiency levels.
At AWS, we’ve made the consumer-centric vertical approach the north star of our IoT strategy. To better serve our customers, we’ve verticalized our IoT and AI services in ways that are optimized to deliver accelerated outcomes for segment-specific use cases. For instance, AWS IoT SiteWise and AWS IoT TwinMaker services were built to support Industrial IoT customers with collecting, organizing, and analyzing industrial data, as well as creating digital twins of real-world industrial environments. AWS IoT FleetWise supports our automotive customers. We also work with vertically-focused partners who use these services to build solutions for our customers. Our IoT products, sales, and support resources have been restructured to align with key customer industries, allowing us to be more customer obsessed and streamlined in our ability to address customer needs and challenges.
At AWS, we consider the cost implications of every service and feature we design and across our offerings such as compute, storage, and databases—the foundational building blocks for every IT system and application—AWS continuously works to help customers improve performance while lowering their costs. As the impacts of the challenging macroeconomic environment continue, we are seeing customers more focused on controlling costs, and we are actively helping customers optimize cloud spending for existing workloads. In fact, one of the benefits of the cloud compared to managing a data center is the ability to optimize costs relatively quickly. For example, when it comes to IoT, we are providing edge processing and connectivity capabilities through FreeRTOS, AWS IoT ExpressLink and AWS IoT Greengrass, thus enabling customers to analyze data closer to where it is being captured and optimizing their cloud-related expenses.
What are the biggest factors that are driving change in IoT?
The technology that is traditionally referred to as IoT has advanced hugely in recent years. We are rapidly evolving towards a new paradigm of hybrid edge, cloud-connected architectures that achieve much more than just collecting and sharing data. I believe this is one of the factors that is driving the change in IoT. Our commitment to making IoT solutions more accessible globally ties directly into our continued efforts to expand our hybrid cloud and edge computing capabilities. By extending our AWS infrastructure, services, application programming interfaces (APIs), and tools to edge locations like on-premises data centers, 5G towers, and smart factories, we are able to provide all the benefits of the cloud for workloads that require low latency, data residency, local data processing, or complex application interdependencies.
How has IoT changed during your time in the market?
Over the last decade, IoT has grown from aspirational technology, such as simple task machines to a core differentiator that businesses use to solve problems and drive value through revenue generation, operational improvements, and innovation. For example, more and more companies deploy IoT devices and use them to support critical use cases. Companies have transitioned from “Why do we need to invest in IoT” to “How can we scale IoT deployments more efficiently.” During this period, customers had to go through their internal alignment to bring IT and OT teams together. Now, we see those who embarked on the IoT journey early on reaping the benefits of it with new business value. Take the case of Autodesk, which has built a whole range of IoT services around its Info360 platform for water utilities. Using AWS IoT as the basis of their platform design, they have reduced their technical debt and development time by 60 percent.
We have also seen customers needing help to create scalable architectures where they can easily connect a range of devices, collect data, and analyze it to make informed decisions. These customers have relied on AWS and AWS Partners to simplify their IoT journey by offering a deep, broad, and secure set of solutions and services. Continuing to reduce initial costs and complexities has proven to help customers get the most out of their IoT vision. For instance, Dexatek Technology, a Taiwanese company that gives electronic consumer products smart capabilities using its IoT solutions, increased the performance of its IoT platform, enhanced security, and lowered management time by migrating to AWS IoT Core.
Where do you predict the IoT market will be five or 10 years from now?
I believe IoT will become a universal business expectation rather than an exception, and the growth of IoT will continue with connected enterprises and factories. Many businesses and industries will continue to invest in IoT because it provides business and operational value and they want to connect to the cloud for scalability and benefit from infrastructure cost savings. Companies will also continue investing in IoT technologies and other relevant rising trends, such as generative AI, AI/ML applications. As a result, we will continue to see new customer segments unlocking the value of IoT.
New data analytics patterns will also be unlocked in the future as more and more IoT sensors come online. These sensors will be capable of capturing new information with high accuracy, such as new analytics in software-defined vehicles or factories of the future with Industry 4.0 initiatives. Companies will look to IoT leaders like AWS to provide more verticalized solutions that are easy to deploy and repurpose across multiple instances. AWS IoT has already embarked on such a direction by offering industry-specific verticalized services, such as AWS IoT SiteWise, AWS IoT TwinMaker, AWS IoT FleetWise, AWS IoT RoboRunner, and AWS IoT ExpressLink. In the coming years, it will be critical to make IoT-centric and solution-based tools more accessible for companies to innovate and leverage them, allowing them to more easily enter the industry as the adoption of IoT technologies continues to grow.
Personnel in IoT
What is one new IoT development your team wants professionals to know?
One of the IoT developments that professionals should know about is the services built to collect, manage, and visualize data from industrial equipment sources at the edge. For example, AWS IoT SiteWise is built to enable industrial enterprises to collect, store, organize, and visualize thousands of sensor data streams across multiple industrial facilities. This will become an important technology to help industrial companies as IoT is becoming increasingly critical.
If you could give one piece of advice to an IoT professional at the beginning of their career, what would it be?
Be cautious about operational excellence and security, two critical success factors for the IoT business. The scale and growth of IoT have a large radius; therefore, IoT professionals need to understand how to securely design, build and scale IoT technologies that can withstand these requirements.
With the shortage of tech talent, how is your team finding and retaining professionals to work in IoT?
The IoT business has always been a team sport. Whether companies are working with their own teams or partners, when there is a shortage in certain areas, they should look for partners to find the right solutions to help solve customer challenges. The goal is to ensure customers are up and running securely and at scale.
For the greatest business impact, what should IoT professionals be focusing on most in their roles?
One of our leadership principles is customer obsession. We start with the customer and work backward to earn and keep their trust. Therefore, delivering results and bringing value (e.g., helping customers to optimize costs when using our services or reducing energy consumption and waste by utilizing the data from IoT devices) to the customer is the bottom line that IoT professionals should focus on most in their roles.
What is one of your top professional accomplishments?
One of my top professional accomplishments was developing and opening up an ecosystem for OEM partners to build smartphones more easily when I worked at Qualcomm. Also, at AWS, I am pleased to work closely with some of the chip providers in the industry, such as Arm, NXP Semiconductors, Intel, Qualcomm, and others to integrate cloud services in their product design and bridge the gap between HW and SW for IoT applications.
What is your favorite part of working in the IoT market?
I truly believe in the transformative power of IoT and its ability to drive innovation, create new business models, and improve lives. Meeting and getting to know the people and experts within the IoT industry, from small businesses to large, open-minded enterprises, is important for me. I enjoy connecting with IoT professionals to learn more about their visions and innovations.
What is one of your favorite parts of the workweek? How does it encourage or inspire you?
Investing in our people is important for me. I enjoy talking to new and upcoming engineers and junior staff, our customers, and partners, hearing and understanding their big picture and thoughts about the IoT industry. I strongly believe that by working together, we can push the boundaries of what is possible in IoT and deliver innovative solutions that make a real difference and impact in the world.
Do you have a favorite way to recharge during the workday?
Connecting with people around me and keeping in touch with family and friends keeps me going during the workday. I love hearing stories and how those impact our lives and the environment surrounding us, starting with family members and extending to people I work or interact with.
What are your favorite hobbies or ways to spend time outside of work?
Outside work, I like to cook and spend time with my family and friends. I also enjoy car racing in my leisure time.
About Yasser Alsaied
Alsaied leads Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT business, which includes IoT Core, Industrial, Automotive and IoT devices. His group’s services are among the highest-connected IoT services globally and continue to grow in the fields of digital twins, smart cities, and connected smart vehicles. He joined AWS from Qualcomm, where he was vice president of IoT and held various leadership roles, including managing teams that released Qualcomm’s first Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) chip for mobile phones and leading the formation and launch of the Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) and Code Aurora Foundation (CAF) to solve legal and operational issues around the open-source software release.
For the past four years, Alsaied managed Qualcomm’s IoT ecosystem. He directly managed the critical part of the strategy to scale IoT chipsets, including key technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision drones, robotics, and 5G. In later years, Alsaied was involved in developing a network application vehicle in Nortel Networks that provided advanced speech recognition technology. Alsaied was then part of the Nortel research team to develop 3G architecture and participated in the location-based services and payment processes on 3G. The years following Nortel were spent holding major leadership roles in Philips, ATI, and AMD. He was part of their respective consumer electronic business units and played key roles in design wins that implemented leading-edge technologies in consumer products with very large volumes.