Co-Piloting: Q&A with Yannick Chammings, Witekio

Whether at the taxi down the runway stage or cruising altitude, embedded device makers and new players are seeking intelligence, connectivity—and success—even as software complexity expands along with the IoT.

Editor’s note:  “Twenty years ago,” Witekio CEO Yannick Chammings told EECatalog recently, “most embedded software devices were based on microcontroller architecture.” He characterized the microcontroller era as one in which software was “very basic—no operating system, very simple [human-machine interface] HMI, and with the aim of implementing just the behavior expected from the device, such as acquiring data from medical equipment or driving an industrial robot.” That was then.

Now, Chammings explained, embedded device makers face a “broader set of challenges,” as do enterprises that don’t fit neatly under the embedded device maker umbrella—companies looking to incorporate intelligence and connectivity into their products as the IoT pulses forward. Edited excerpts from the interview follow.

EECatalog: In September Adeneo Embedded, the company you founded 15 years ago, changed its name to Witekio and announced a “new identity.” Why?

Yannick Channings, CEO, Witekio

Yannick Channings, CEO, Witekio

Yannick Chammings, Witekio: Because the embedded market has evolved. First, with the appearance of microprocessor architecture 20 years ago bringing with it the ability to add value: software with complex operating systems offering connectivity and such things as more sophisticated graphical user interfaces. Adeneo Embedded saw that OEMs and ODMs needed technical expertise for help with challenges such as performance optimization and platform standardization—challenges not related directly to the purpose of the devices but more to the technologies that bring additional features and capabilities to the devices.

Then we looked ahead, especially at IoT trends in the B2B market. Now embedded devices are more interconnected. They aren’t just churning out data. And we noticed that “consumerization” meant that users’ experience with smartphones, tablets and similar devices is the same experience they expect in the B2B sector. It’s become a matter of managing a whole ecosystem of technologies, and we see software integration expertise as key to success for the implementation of embedded devices.

Figure 1: In the complexity “race” software has pulled ahead of hardware and seems determined to stay in the lead.

Figure 1: In the complexity “race” software has pulled ahead of hardware and seems determined to stay in the lead.

EECatalog: What is software’s role now?

Yannick Chammings: Software is becoming the main success factor for embedded device development. As the complexity of embedded systems grows, the portion related to software is growing faster than the portion related to hardware (Figure 1). And whereas up to now, one business application led to the development of one design, today, we see more and more commonality at the hardware level. Whether it’s just the hardware Board or System On Module (SOM) or a generic platform from one hardware vendor combined with a generic low-level implementation of firmware, this hardware platform can generally be used in different business applications, with the differentiation implemented at the software level.

EECatalog: And what are the market opportunities as software complexity continues to outstrip that of hardware?

Yannick Chammings: We are seeing a market opportunity at two levels. First, the traditional embedded players—OEMs and device makers who have been developing embedded devices for many years, if not many decades, and whose mindset is to think about the device first—are facing all the challenges I mentioned earlier.

We’re seeing the integration of more and more component pieces into the same device to make the device successful. And technologies are evolving faster, so typically if you look at technologies like SigFox or LoRa for connectivity in the IoT, they did not exist even two years ago.

At the operating system level, things are moving fast among Linux, Android and RTOS like QNX or Integrity. New technologies are popping up very fast, and at the same time they are under more pressure, because of the consumerization effect—pushing the industry to release products faster with the latest up-to-date user interface, for example.

This pressure is creating a gap between what the market is demanding and vendors’ ability to ramp up a development team and keep them up to date.

Second, new players who are not necessarily embedded device makers are seeing the opportunity, with the IoT wave, to create value with their product from a data standpoint. As long as they are able to make their products smart and connected, they can create some value with a data–centric approach. The thinking in this case, in contrast with the “device first” mindset just described, would be “solution thinking.”  However, these new players, lacking experience with embedded, need help with implementation. As described in one of the case studies on our site, optimizing the overall implementation of a system which isn’t an embedded product at all—an indoor recreational climbing wall—required, among other actions, defining interactions, protocols and architecture in order to set detailed specifications.

EECatalog: What is the approach Witekio has adopted to seize this market opportunity? What skill set is needed?

Yannick Chammings: The way to seize the opportunity is as a systems software integrator. As a systems software integrator, Witekio combines technical software expertise with an understanding at the system level of customer product requirements. That means we can assist with software architecture and identify the technologies required to achieve connectivity, for example. Just as important, from this springboard of having expertise with the software and with identifying the appropriate technologies, we’re able to effectively manage the integration of additional outside expertise.

We like to say that we can co-pilot with OEMs on this type of development rather than take full ownership of all the system implementation from A to Z. In general, our customers, OEMs and device makers, have some engineering in house with some good embedded development skills, they just have the challenge of dealing with the integration of new technologies, and Witekio aims to complement the OEM’s team with the right experts to help them deal with those challenges. In some cases we will also work with software service vendors who are providing complete software development teams and whose work complements that of our team.

We see our combination of three skill sets as unique, although other companies are able to provide one or two skills of the set.

The first skill is about our software technology expertise and our many years of experience in low-level software driver Board Support Packages and firmware up to the application technology expertise in embedded software. Second, we combine this with system-level expertise, which means that our engagement with customers is not focused on solving technical problems but on addressing the system architecture of their product and selecting the right technologies and implementing the right software architecture to handle the system requirements. This philosophy makes us much more about system-level collaboration than technology support or technical expertise.

Third is what we call Design Thinking, going even one level beyond the ability to work with our customers on understanding and analyzing the final user expectation to help with the definition of the right set of features, the right set of requirements for the device they are trying to build.

EECatalog: You use the term co-pilot. Did that come out of customer feedback?

Yannick Chammings: Yes, but it comes from more than just customer feedback. It comes from customers’ experience. This co-pilot approach that we’ve been talking about is something we are already doing with customers. The big change for us is that we are now making it visible to the wider market, but it is something that we are already doing with quite a few customers who initially engaged with us based on Adeneo Embedded’s technical software expertise role.

These customers reached out to us because they had technical challenges, but as we were moving forward in the relationship with them on their projects we became more and more involved. We became their software integration partner not only for solving technical issues or implementing some pieces of their software, but also for handling the management of other technology providers and helping them with the integration of these different technologies and architecting the overall software.

It is something we already have experience in and which enables us to be in that co-pilot role for the customer as they rely on us for the software architecture; for the identification of the right technologies to use; for the ability to identify the risks of integration of the different pieces and components.

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