A sitdown with Nicholas Allen – IAME Product Development Advisor
Nicholas Allen is one of IAME’s core advisors, as we head into our upcoming ICO. Nick’s vast experience in the blockchain and crypto asset realm is precisely why we approached him to leverage his expertise and knowledge as our specialised Product Development advisor.
Having served in a wide variety of roles focused on product design, development, and research – during which he led teams of engineers, draftsman, technicians, and developers – Nick’s experience as an 11-year industry specialist is already proving to be of great value to the IAME team.
Our Community Engagement team recently sat down with him to run through his history and body of work, what drives him, and why the IAME project was particularly appealing to him. One thing is evident throughout the interview – Nicholas Allen’s passion and drive towards excellence.
“As a truly Mauritian entity, IAME is in a unique position, geographically, in Mauritius to lead with an ‘out-of-the-box’ KYC solution. The landscape and timing is right and the IAME team has the right attitude regarding thinking big, not accepting “no” as an answer, and really wanting to make a difference.”
– Nicholas Allen, Product Development Advisor –
Tell us the Nicholas Allen story – what has led you to the work you do today?
I am by qualification an engineer with this passion – some might say curse – starting early with a habit of dismantling and, rather terribly, re-assembling various electronic gadgets around the house in my younger years. My curiosity to find out how things worked led me to take up extra hobbies like Advanced Math & Computer Science in high school & later the BSc Electronic Engineering undergrad / MSc Engineering postgrad paths. I discovered a passion for data, passion for trying to find ‘structure’ out of ‘chaos’ & passion for creating ‘something’ out of ‘nothing’.
After University, I headed to the USA for a break after which I returned to South Africa to join the Automotive Electronic Design and Manufacturing company, PFK Electronics. In short, PFK managed the entire design lifecycle of various innovative products through client engagement to product conception to in-house design (hardware, software, and firmware) and finally in-house manufacture. During my 11 years here, I was involved in hardware design, software architecture & embedded firmware/software as a Design Engineer, shifting to Product Development Manager leading various engineering teams and projects before finally managing the R&D department. During this time the R&D team had grown from 5 to 38+ electronic/ mechanical engineers, draftsman, technicians and software developers.
My interest in data and more importantly trying to derive insight from data was piqued as I was drawn into aspects of projects requiring insight into the vast amounts of data such as latitude/ longitude/speed/ acceleration/deceleration which was being uploaded to our servers from vehicles on the road on a daily basis (telematics products). I found myself wanting to design smarter ways to interpret and visualise data with automation and various data visualisation tools such as Power BI & Tableau.
I began writing various financial scraping services running in the cloud in my spare time for the traditional financial markets like the JSE and NYSE and was determined to write an algorithm/toolset, which would reveal trends and provide intuitive insight into the equity markets. This side-passion for finance, investing and quantitative/automated trading algorithms evolved and I decided I needed to pursue this further as a ‘one day’ second career. It wasn’t long after this that I discovered the crypto-asset universe & blockchain and became hooked on decentralisation and the value that could be derived from things like “smart contracts”.
I became increasingly fascinated by this parallel de-centralised universe and that’s how my company, AvantCore, was created as an R&D venture in this fascinatingly volatile space, which brings me to where we are today; currently focussing on a big data engine envisioned to reduce the barrier for traditional markets (both investment & data insight) wanting to access the diverse world of cryptographic assets. If only there was a decent KYC solution…
How has your work contributed to the success of various business and organisations?
[Slight laughter] That’s a brave assumption…
My time in this industry has involved a full spectrum of engagements with customers and suppliers – come to think of it, that explains my receding hairline and increasing grey hair.
On the customer front, I have been involved in engagements with customers in South Africa, USA, Russia, Holland, Romania, Bulgaria, and the UK. Interesting fact actually – at one stage, 70% of PFK’s products were exported internationally with our biggest seller being 40,000 products per month to a US customer. With an understanding of both design and manufacturing capabilities, I was lucky to have a unique skill-set of being able to interact with customers, diagnosing requirements, architecting solutions and finally converting these expectations into technical specifications to bring back to the R&D team.
I have also been involved in managing the delivery of projects and products across various internal departments and stakeholders such as R&D, Finance, Process, Production, Procurement, Purchasing and QA which has its fair share of challenges. We got a fair amount right but also a fair amount wrong.
What types of products have you worked on – specifically any that operate within the blockchain realm?
I have had exposure to a diverse set of projects including bespoke automotive security solutions, alcohol interlocks (if you’re drunk; your car won’t start), IoT (low cost, long range, battery-powered devices), and video-enabled vehicle telematics (if your car is stolen, we’ll have both the visibility around what is going on and the ability to track it). On the hardware front, these projects provided exposure to technologies like GSM, GPS, LoRa, Wifi, Bluetooth, Fuel Cell sensors, Accelerometers, Humidity sensors, Flow rate sensors, temperature sensors and the occasional… exploding LiSOCl battery. On the software front, I’ve been exposed to a variety of vehicle tracking solutions and mobile applications.
In the blockchain space, my work with my company’s big data engine has thrown me head first into this space and forced me to operate with various blockchain variants, projects, and exchanges. This portal provides real-time insight into this parallel universe in the form of an investment/market insight gateway. I’m also currently looking at a handful of R&D opportunities in the smart contract space with numerous inevitable IoT (Internet of Things)/Decentralised Ledger Technology synergies on the radar and that we look forward to hopefully pioneering in the future.
Give your vast experience in product design and development, what keys to success do you believe IAME has?
First up, I have to say that IAME is working on a problem that is worth solving and, most importantly, needs solving.
This is important. The existing KYC processes in the traditional market need to be turned on their head in order to stand a chance in being effective against the rapidly approaching decentralised disruption en-route. I do not think that a KYC face lift is going to suffice and IAME consists of a balanced team with appropriate skillsets and team member with a track record of tech solution delivery.
As a truly Mauritian entity, IAME is in a unique position, geographically, in Mauritius to lead with an ‘out-of-the-box’ KYC solution. The landscape and timing is right and the IAME team has the right attitude regarding thinking big, not accepting “no” as an answer, and really wanting to make a difference.
What is it about the IAME technology and concept that has you working with them – what sets IAME apart?
IAME’s fragmented approach to securing IDs and its deployment of a decentralised consensus approach to validating identities is both novel and intriguing. The ability to apply AI to this solution opens up a world of possibilities. Whilst there are going to be a number of hurdles and challenges, technology and competitor-related, to overcome, the team have some great ideas up their sleeves and have all ends covered. I’m excited to be a part of this project and am looking forward to contributing any insights necessary to taking it to even greater heights.
In addition to boasting a breadth of experience and knowledge, Nicholas Allen’s passion, energy, and drive is the burst of energy that represents everything that IAME is about. Nick’s guidance in product development will prove invaluable at all stages of growth of the IAME Identification network.