David DiLeo, CIO, Industrial Scientific Corporation
Company Transformation: IoT Beginnings
Industrial Scientific Corporation was founded in 1985 and quickly established itself as a world leader in gas detection through its world class sensing technology, dependable gas detection equipment, and exceptional customer service. For many years, this served Industrial Scientific and its customers quite well. However, at the dawn of the millennium, a new sense of innovation began to take shape within the walls of the company. This sense of innovation was rooted in recognizing the power of the Internet and what it might mean to the company, its future products and services, and its customers. This recognition marked the beginning of a journey that has since transformed Industrial Scientific from traditional manufacturer to forward-thinking technology company. In 2003, the commitment to this journey was solidified with the launch of a new, and at the time, novel concept of “Gas Detection-as-a-Service.”
15 years ago, the idea of providing industrial safety customers with a fixed price gas detection equipment and service solution was a fresh concept. Historically, this type of equipment was purchased and serviced on an as-needed basis through equipment performance observations, manual inspections or time-based servicing. With “Gas Detection-as- Service,” rather than purchase gas detection equipment out right and dealing with issues reactively, customers would lease the equipment over a four year term and in return, Industrial Scientific would proactively ensure that customers would always have a working life-saving gas detector in the hands of their workers. This concept tightly aligned with the company’s mission of “eliminating death on the job by the end of this century.” Ensuring that a working gas detector is in the hand of someone in the moment that it is needed most certainly increases safety and drives that mission statement forward.
At 100,000 feet, this concept and offering appeared straightforward. However, as the Industrial Scientific team began to explore lower altitudes, the reality of what was needed to bring this concept to life came into view and was eye opening. To make this work, both from an operational and financial perspective, it became clear that an internet-based connected device solution and platform was required. Remember, this was early 2000s. Dial-up internet access was still alive and well and nothing like this really existed on the market let alone within gas detection or safety. Would customers even understand the value proposition? Furthermore, this solution would need data. Lots of data. Timely data across various data points would be required to fulfill the promise of proactively increasing safety.
CIO Perspective: Today & Beyond
The combination of this data across equipment, hazards, and people is absolutely invaluable in assessing and proactively managing overall safety and risk.
With IoT, the line between IT and “the business” has become quite blurry
The insights derived from these data points allow Industrial Scientific to proactively maintain and provide working equipment, identify emerging hazards, and change worker behavior that is deemed unsafe. This is a win for all who are engaged on the platform—the end user company, Industrial Scientific, and ultimately, the worker. The other benefit of having all of this data is compliance and reporting. The ability to automatically generate regulatory reports quickly and accurately was a major undertaking for many companies. So it was from this idea and vision that Industrial Scientific made the decision to charge ahead and build its cloud-based IoT platform, iNet, to enable and power its “Gas Detection-as-a-Service” business. iNet was officially launched in 2003. Fast forward to 2017, and Industrial Scientific’s iNet platform is a mature and robust IoT SaaS solution that is on its 125th release with a customer base of approximately 3,000 customers across 9,000 global sites. A local on-premise version of the software is also available for customers who need an alternative to the SaaS solution. With over 225,000 connected gas detectors on the iNet platform, each month our service team receives 17,000 inbound alerts that are managed and triaged within our Salesforce.com CRM system. Many of these alerts result in new gas detectors and sensors being shipped to customers via integrations with our Oracle EBS ERP system. We’ve been very successful in creating a closed loop integrated “alert-to-fulfillment” process that ties together our fielded product IoT system (iNet), our CRM system, and our ERP system in a manner that allows us to scale and facilitate our “Gas Detection-as-a-Service” business.
As we look to the future, we plan to expand our capabilities, services, and offerings to adjacent equipment categories and related business processes. We feel that we are uniquely positioned to leverage our platform more broadly and apply our expertise in delivering a highly successful “Gas Detection-as-a- Service” business to other equipment manufacturers and service providers who are contemplating all of the possibilities that smart equipment represents.
From a technology perspective, the iNet solution is a custom developed web and mobile application that is implemented in a traditional technical architecture using a mix of virtual machines and dedicated server hardware with co-location hosting provided by a globally recognized top tier data center provider. However, given the rate of our growth projections, we will be looking to distribute various aspects of the solution to the cloud to gain economies of scale and elasticity in the areas of compute, memory, and storage. In examining Platform-as-a-Service providers such as GE Predix, Azure, and AWS, we’ve determined that while their infrastructure capabilities are solid, their IoT components are still a bit immature when compared to our needs. However, given the rapid and substantial investment in IoT, those platforms do look very promising. As a result, we anticipate that these will mature quickly, providing us the ability to replace some of the more generic IoT components of our solution. This should help us increase time-to-market for new functionality while reducing legacy code debt, application maintenance, and overall related costs.
It really is an exciting time for all of us and I certainly don’t need to summarize the benefits of IoT or the opportunities that it represents to anyone reading this article. Rather, my intention is to share our Industrial Scientific IoT journey in the hope that it might provide some insight to those who are considering a similar path. With IoT, the line between IT and “the business” has become quite blurry. This isn’t surprising given that IoT represents the collision and intersection of Information Technology and Operational Technology. In my opinion, this is a good thing as it increases the role and value of IT but also magnifies the importance and need for strong IT leadership. As IT leaders in 2017, we are faced with a plethora of opportunities, challenges, solutions, platforms, and partners who are all willing to sell us their wares. Connectivity has become ubiquitous and as a result, there is no shortage of data. Cloud platform providers offer low-risk consumption based opportunities to jump start and accelerate powerful solutions in ways that simply weren’t possible even just a couple of years ago. Navigating this landscape can be daunting. Of course, at the end of the day, our success is measured not by the technologies we implement but rather by whether or not we are addressing and solving real problems and creating value for those who use our solutions. If we maintain our focus and don’t lose sight of this important point, navigating becomes easier and we all benefit greatly.