Companies across almost every industry are trying to figure out how to take advantage of IoT (Internet of Things) to transform their businesses, and the task can be daunting. According to Don Sharp, CEO of Coolfire Solutions, IoT is much like the internet boom 20 years ago.
“We see a lot of money and activity going into the infrastructure of IoT,” Sharp says. “This is the new horizon, but a lot of companies don’t yet know or understand what IoT can mean and what they can do with it. For those that do, it can be transformational.”
The first thing is understanding that all data is not created equal. A lot of companies take the approach they need to integrate ALL their data, a slow and expensive approach. Sharp says that’s simply not true.
“We have a concept here at Coolfire Solutions: it’s not BIG data, it’s tiny data.”
Four or five years ago, the way you tried to integrate data was to create this big data warehouse or operational data store and bring it all together. It was risky, and a slow, expensive process. But the reality is, you can start with just some of the data––but it must be the right data. You need the data that is important for whatever you’re trying to accomplish.
“I’ve led a number of companies in my career, and interact with many organizations, and I’ve found companies don’t have an issue with having enough data,” Sharp says. “The problem is they can’t get to the data they have and do something meaningful with it to impact their bottom line. At Coolfire Solutions, we talk about actionable data and, first and foremost, it’s taking the data you have and getting into the right people’s hands.”
Coolfire created a mobile software platform, called the Ronin Platform, that enables companies to connect employees with relevant data across all operations on a single dashboard using their existing systems and infrastructure. It provides mission-critical “situational awareness,” which means knowing what’s going on around you at any time.
The Ronin Platform was developed for the U.S. Military in 2012 to improve communications on the battlefield.
“The problem was, when they’d send out a team of war fighters on a mission, the command post had access to all the information they could want –satellite imagery, video from aircraft drones, you name it, they had it,” Sharp explains. “But when they dropped the war fighters on the ground, all they had was their weapons and their radios. The military needed to get more information in the hands of the people on the ground.”
The military contracted with Coolfire Solutions to test the idea of providing a data stream from an aircraft to an off-the-shelf mobile device and do it with less than a second latency. Coolfire was successful and the technology they created became the genesis for the Ronin Platform.
Coolfire Solutions knew Ronin could have a dramatic impact in commercial settings as well.
The Ronin Platform doesn’t replace customers’ existing data systems; it layers on top of them.
“We’re about taking what you have and making it more valuable,” Sharp explains. “In many cases, we can extend the life of legacy systems. The Ronin Platform is unique in that it allows you to pull data from wherever it resides, be it a legacy system, IoT sensors or anywhere else, and ingest it into Ronin. Once there, it can go wherever the customer needs it to go. That’s a strength of this platform; it’s future proof. As new data becomes available you plug it in. You replace a system, you unplug that and plug in the new system. The Ronin Platform also has functionality, capability and situational awareness pre-built into it. It provides up to 95%+ of the solution customers need, depending on what they’re trying to do.
“Our value proposition is speed to market, lower risk, and lower cost. In many cases, we can have the platform up and running for our customers in two weeks to two months,” Sharp says.
Coolfire Solutions believes in agile development methodology and an iterative approach. This approach is important because typically when you’re trying to do new things, until you get the technology into people’s hands, it’s hard to understand the potential and power of it. So instead of trying to define some big monolithic picture upfront, they start with small, valuable functionality or workflow the customer needs and then iterate off that.
So, if the functionality is built in, what is left for the customer to do?
“I call that the last mile,” Sharp says. “This is where the platform is customized or tailored to the workflow that is unique to your business. You can change the user interface to whatever you want it to be. Unlike most software systems that can only be used one way, we give you all the core functionality you need but leave the last mile, so you can tailor it and differentiate your business in whatever way you want.”
Sharp explains that many companies need help with this phase of the transformation. Coolfire Solutions has established a program with Premier Partners who are able to help customers through this process.
“At our core, we are a software company,” Sharp explains. “We partner with the best and brightest technology services organizations. When a customer wants to use the Ronin Platform to transform their business and improve performance, they may not have all the necessary expertise on staff to achieve that transformation. Our partners bring a broad portfolio of services and skills, so they can help customers through any transformation they may want to do.
“The reality is, there is more to it than just the software. A business needs to think about change management within the organization, new processes, new workflows, all the organizational changes that need to occur. Those are all consulting services that we will never do. I am not going to build those kinds of capabilities in our company because we have tremendous partners, like RUMBLE, who know how to do that. And that’s where the partners become so important because many companies need help in driving change in their organizations and implementing new technology.”
It’s a universal challenge; leadership needs access to critical data and the ability to push useful, actionable data out to the people at the edge of an organization, so they can do their jobs more effectively.
A great example of this is Enterprise Rent-A-Car. The company wanted to bring data together and into the hands of their front-line employees, so they could transform the customer experience. Using the Ronin Platform, Coolfire Solutions integrated and aggregated Enterprise’s existing operational investments, legacy systems, and processes into a central dashboard accessible on a tablet known as LaunchPad. Previously, if there was an inventory problem at one of its locations, an employee might have to make numerous calls to find the vehicle the customer wanted and have it moved. This created a lot of unnecessary work and an inefficient process.
Today, with 23,000 daily users, their employees are out from behind the counter and interacting with customers. Enterprise has integration of its reservation and inventory data in real-time on the digital dashboard and has optimized its workforce efficiency. People get the cars they reserved and get them more quickly, so customer satisfaction is enhanced.
“The expected payback for this investment was projected to be three to five years,” Sharp says, “but it ended up being less than a year, a dramatic improvement. The promise of the Ronin Platform has played out in this Enterprise scenario.”
The organizations using Ronin may be dramatically different from each other, but the need to get information out to the edge is the same. From the military war fighter to the border patrol security officer in Central Asia, to Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s front-line employee, to a trucking or utility company. The workflow, the user experience, the core capability and functionality are the same.
You’ve got all these sensors and data coming in, but what do you do with that? It all comes back to architecting solutions to make data actionable, by getting the right data in the right people’s hands, in as close to real-time as possible.
Industrial IoT is arguably the next wave of technology that is out in front of us and businesses should not miss the opportunity to leverage their data to improve their operational efficiencies and drive revenue.