IoT and IT: Bridging the Gap | Digimondo's Dennis Kolberg
- [Ryan] Welcome Dennis to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week. - [Dennis] Yeah, thanks for being here as well. - [Ryan] Yeah, it's great to have you. Some exciting stuff I know we have planned to chat about, but I wanted to start this off by having you give a quick introduction about yourself and the company to our audience. - [Dennis] Yeah, I'm Dennis Kolberg.
I'm located in Hamburg in Germany. And from my background, I'm since I think 12 years already right now that I'm doing IoT, started with this Industry 4.0 topic a couple of years ago, cyber physical systems, edge devices, nowadays IoT, industrial IoT, the major topic.
That's my background. I had good luck. By that time I was, did my PhD in one of the birthplaces of IIoT and Industry 4.0, so I really learned it hands on, different perspectives, technology as well as in consulting and also using that technology, of course.
And nowadays I'm Chief Product Officer at Digimondo. I try to keep it short what Digimondo is doing. We are a software company, seven years old, started with LoRaWAN protocol, located in Germany and Hamburg as well. And we are focusing on providing a LoRaWAN IoT platform and not only LoRaWAN, generally open technology platform, IoT platform to connect the IoT world with the IT world, and I think that's one of the big challenges we are seeing right now at our customers. - [Ryan] Let me ask you this.
So throughout your time in the IoT space and, what have been some of the biggest evolutions of things you've noticed happen in this space. And just from where you started to where you are now, what are some of the big trends that you've noticed take shape or evolve? - [Dennis] I think in general I would say there have been three big phases. The first big phase was more when it was a buzzword, a research topic, and everybody was asking what is IoT, what are we talking about, and so on. Everybody was curious, had these huge visions of sensors everywhere, everything is connected, ubiquitous computing, and everything that.
And after this, the big next phase that was more the time where I've been the last year I was involved with was telling the people what really IoT is, what IoT is capable of, what are the advantages, how it works, explaining the technology. That's one big thing Digimondo did in the first years with the customers. Explaining, for example, what LoRaWAN is, what narrow band IoT is, how it works, how to connect things. Building up the tools, the hardware as well as software, was this big second phase until it all came to a high level of maturity from the hardware and software side. We have really good tools nowadays.
And then since two or three years, we see a change in the IoT world. People are not talking about the technology itself anymore and asking, yeah, what is this protocol? How does it work? And so on. And it's more focusing on the use cases. What problems in my daily life can I solve and why is IoT the better solution than, for example, doing it still paper based, manually and so on.
And that's the new phase we are right now in. At least what we observe at our customers and notice ourselves. It's more about the use cases and rolling out IoT out of these playground POCs, proof of concept projects into large scale rollouts. One big thing I think since two years.
- [Ryan] It's been interesting to see the focus of companies or shifting a focus from technology to more solutions and more use cases, more actually applications of the technology Are you seeing any use cases leading the way with how things evolve from more proof of concept projects into large scale rollouts for businesses? - [Dennis] Yeah, I've seen some new use cases coming up with a whole discussion about sustainability and how we can save CO2 and energy in general, especially in Europe coming up these topics. I have to say, our background is mostly we are working with customers in the utility sectors, caring for power networks and so on, as well as also industries. And one of the biggest new use cases in the last year especially was monitoring your energy grid. And that's one thing, especially in Germany, became important, but also in other countries as well. With the upcoming solar panels, e-mobility, renewable energies in general, wind power and so on, you have many new partners contributing to the energy network, consuming more energy, or in providing more energy, and that leads to the point that companies are asking is my power network still capable of managing all these different partners in there? And IoT is a really a good technology in there. You have a widespread power net.
You can't be everywhere at the same time. So sensors and IoT is one solution to monitor it and get the data to forecast power supply and power consumption, the need for power. That was one big use cases coming out, especially the last year we've observed in the utility sector and in the industry sector. One thing I think since two years, we noticed that assets management or asset tracking became more and more relevant in the industry sector due to the fact that it's nothing new, this use case, tracking your utilities, your containers, where are they worldwide? It's nothing new, but now we have better technologies, more reliable technologies to really see where is my asset right now located.
- [Ryan] Let me ask you this with the kind of the evolution of companies moving more from proof of concepts into scaled rollouts these days, what are some of the challenges that are now becoming top of mind for organizations because scale is more possible than it has been before? Obviously focusing on ROI is super important, right? You're getting different people using technologies, but where do you see the biggest challenges existing for companies that are adopting these solutions? - [Dennis] Yeah, the one thing already three or four years ago, what we've noticed is, and I think you mentioned it. There's a new group of customers or users using IoT. We all are a bit more tech oriented, started a couple of years ago and got into this technology and now everybody's using IoT and maybe sometimes with a little technology background and that's also not needed because you want to solve your daily problem. If you're an accountant, you want to solve your accounting problem and not care about the technologies. So there's a new user group on the one hand that wants to use IoT.
And it must be really easy to use, otherwise, the people get frustrated. Think about your grandma, your grandfather using IoT. They don't want to care about if the battery level is low or not. So it must be really easy, especially the user interfaces you're providing to the people.
That was, for example, one of the reasons why we introduced the Digital Twin for IoT into our platform, to make it easy for this group of users. These new group of users. That's from the user perspective.
Another perspective that changes with these rollout is that IoT is not working in a bubble anymore. Most of the projects, let's say 5 to 10 years ago, have been projects in an isolated bubble. Proof of concept project. IoT work for itself. It wasn't connected to the outside world.
But as soon as you go into a rollout, you need to interact and exchange information with existing systems, legacy systems in your company and your organization. For example, from the ERP system, you want to receive some meta information about the machine form a billing system. You need customer information for providing metering data. So the IoT world is connecting with the existing IT world. And that makes it a lot of more challenging for people doing these projects to fully understand the landscape, fully understand the different protocols, how it integrates everything.
And on this, it's one thing we are currently working on to provide not an IoT platform, but more an integration platform to bring these two worlds together and make it easy. This typical problem existing since 20 years, transforming data into each other. - [Ryan] Obviously, when we think of IoT companies, we'll talk about IT and OT and the combination of those. But when we're thinking about IoT solutions being integrated into legacy IT environments, how does a company approach that? How do you plan for bringing IoT into your business? How do you get them to work together nicely? Like what has to go into that? - [Dennis] With our companies, we always recommend or with our, to our customers, we always recommend to still start small and iterate and scale up by this.
I think that's nothing new. Everybody's doing it. But some people try to skip this scaling up phase and directly don't go into the rollout, but it means in general, for example, that if you're having a project and want to monitor your energy net, your power supply net, you start with a little stations where you put sensors, like five to 10 or up to 30 then. And then you extend scale up to 200 machines, for example, the industry on the power net power supply stations, and then you scale up for 2000 and even bigger. So it's on the one end scaling up not being too fast. There are so many tiny things that can go wrong and unfortunately they will go wrong and you need to handle these things.
That's the one big thing still. Thinking and iteration, scaling up. The other point is always about the integration, the interfaces you have on different software systems, the data you use. Are they in the same format? Does the ERP system, is the ERP system able to work with the data coming from the IoT platform? And one thing we noticed there, the biggest challenge in there is that usually you can't change your existing IT landscape. These are sometimes systems 10, 15 years old, maybe the developer is not available anymore or it costs a million or even more to change the interfaces. So one approach we are following is that we try to transform the data into a format that the target system can work with it.
So the existing systems don't have to adapt. We try to do as much as possible with our tools and with a project team together that we try to adapt to the existing landscape and not try to force the other way around. Here's a tool and now you need to adapt everything else. - [Ryan] One of the things I was reading about what you all do is try to really help companies get to a point where you can be more technology agnostic. What is, what does that exactly mean? - [Dennis] Yeah, with the technology agnostic approach, that was one thing that we noticed that on the one hand, from the IoT perspective, there is not the one and only protocol anymore. It's not like, we started with a LoRaWAN.
Everybody was talking about LoRaWAN. But there are use cases where you want to use narrow band IoT for the same thing you want to measure a temperature maybe which is outside your LoRaWAN network. The way you simply say it doesn't make sense to extend the network. Let's take a narrow band IoT. Or other protocols you want to use because for these use cases, it's simply the best technology.
So you need to find an approach that you can implement all these different technologies, all the different protocols into one system and use them for one of the same use case use different protocols. One example from industries, if you're doing asset tracking, you're not only want to know where the location of your asset is, but maybe you also want to know the humidity or the temperature or acceleration or something. And for this, maybe you need different protocols and technology. So you want to have everything in one place. That's from the IoT perspective, where we simply say technology agnostic. We must be open to different technologies because the use case defines what technology to use.
And same also to the IT landscape. There are so many protocols. You can't know them all, but if you are aware that in the future, there will be many new protocols, you can position yourself and the back and the software backend, develop it in a way that you can say, okay, we are open for the future.
We don't know the future yet. But we can adapt to these upcoming protocols and technologies quickly. That's what we follow with the idea of technology agnostic. No matter what technology it is, we try to handle it, we can handle it in a way and the use case defines what's the best technology to use. - [Ryan] So let me ask you for companies that you work with, or I assume it's going to require you to gather a decent amount of domain understanding, domain knowledge about the industry they work in to help build a solution that solves the problems for themselves and the end user or their customers, right? For companies that are listening to this, I'm sure they all are in a, or a lot of them are in a similar boat where in order to sell into a particular industry, it's important to understand the industry as well as you possibly can without obviously being in that industry every day. So how do you, how do, how can companies go about getting more domain knowledge in order to succeed with developing a solution that has a, that is more targeted or more, or is built more correctly or accurately for that intended end user, which may be an industry that you've never worked in yourself.
- [Dennis] Yeah, you mentioned one important point with this new phase we are in with IoT right now. You need domain knowledge. That's simply one of the prerequisites or requirements you need to have in this.
And that's one thing companies are handling differently. In our case, we, for example, have a quite large project manager team who is into the utility sector. That's one of the major markets we are active in.
And they can support our customers, take them by the hand, and they can recommend the right technology on the one hand and pre configure the system and train the users how to use our product in this case. So that on the one hand, this gap between domain knowledge and technology knowledge is covered by project managers who are on the one hand in the domain, but on the other hand, know what the tool is capable of. That's the one thing we have on this on, how we are handling it and how we try to help our customers on it and on the other hand what we see at our customer base is that more and more companies are building up tech teams that have this basic technology knowledge where is at least one person the project team on the customer side is deep enough into the technology that we can speak on the same level as well as knowing the customer domain.
But in general I totally agree with you. The domain knowledge is one of the biggest things and domains where we are highly active in, that's one thing our project managers are doing. And the other domains, for example, a customer from a new domain is coming towards us, that's simply the point where you need a project team which is openly working together.
Although it's a supplier and customer relationship, you always have to think as a team, act as a team, and the pain point of the one person is maybe the thing the other person can solve, so we need to talk openly, and I'm pretty proud of Digimondo. That's one thing we reached in our community with our customers. We usually have a lot of customer days over the year. For example, last year in December, we had one customer day where we bring them all together and the one is showing best practices, the other one showing latest developments.
We have a long evening event where we are not only just sitting together and doing small talk but exchanging ideas. What's going on? We're doing a study on what are the most important use cases for our domains recommended on the one hand. And on the other hand, people are showing their best practices to really push forward this knowledge exchange.
That's one thing I think 10 years ago, we started with it and IoT and we have to keep it this approach. - [Ryan] The more people can understand exactly what's, not just the end user, right, like we're talking about, but just all the different elements of it. The more informed buyers and adopters are, the better everything's going to be across the board for all of us. And one of the things I think that's really interesting about IoT that a lot of maybe other technologies or solutions that companies adopt is not really focused on is, there are SaaS products that are like this but with IoT, one of the real powers of IoT is the ability to develop and launch a use case but also keeping in mind potential use cases that you would want to build out on top of that with that existing infrastructure that you put in place for the first use case. How do you, how can companies set themselves up to be successful and harness the power of IoT? And the reason I bring that up is because, for instance, you deploy a LoRa network on a campus, but it's, and you're using it for one use case.
It, once you have that installed, you can easily consider and think about other use cases that you can use that existing LoRa network for to build new use cases and expand the capabilities of that initial investment. So how can companies really set themselves up to succeed with multiple use cases, which is one of the real big powers of IoT solutions at times? - [Dennis] The biggest dilemma in IoT, to start IoT, you always need a bigger investment into technology infrastructure first, and you need to justify this investment, of course. And most of the times, or many cases, it's not just one use case which brings up the return on invest for the whole infrastructure. You need to do a couple of use cases, but these use cases you don't know yet, so you can't name them and calculate them.
And I've seen in the last 10 years, I've seen it in every domain. It worked the same way. As soon as you set up IoT and trained the people in the company, even the company on with the people in the company with no knowledge about IoT suddenly come up with ideas like can't we measure this or that as well? That would help save me half a day a week if I could simply measure it. And this is one dilemma we have an IoT, to justify the investment although we don't know what we are going to do in the future yet, but we know there will be something. And for this, if you want to start your IoT company and it's important to pick up one use case where you are really convinced that that will solve the problem, it can be something given by law, you need to ensure by law that it works, or it doesn't work.
For example, I don't know, measuring water quality or product quality itself. It can be something which improves your sales, your revenues and you're offering a service model, you're offering through IoT, or it can be something that saves you money, but you must have one use case where you are convinced and the management board is convinced that this will bring you forward. It at least justifies a larger amount of the investment, initial investment, and then you have to start and make a short list or create a brainstorming, create a list with use cases, what else you want to solve, and then it's simply prioritizing. You have 10 ideas and bring them in an order. What could be the next use case which is most valuable for your company, then pick this one up, go deeper, solve it or reject it, take the second one and the same, so on and so on.
The important thing is it's, IoT is not just one project that starts and ends one day. It's one thing you have to do continuously. You're doing the one use case, and then you're doing the next use case, and after the third use case, you already have 30 new ideas you can solve, so it needs to be something continuously, and then it really justifies the investment costs you have in IoT, these initial costs for the platform.
- [Ryan] It's something that when you talk to somebody who comes to, a buyer that comes in and says, hey, I'm looking to have you help me track some of my assets. And then you start to open their mind up to all the capabilities of not just what the technologies can do and the solution can do, but also the new use cases that you can tack on to this over time to continue to optimize and improve processes, show more ROI basically from the investment. It really starts to showcase the power of what IoT really is all about. And that's really, and it's a really exciting thing to talk to people about for sure. - [Dennis] Last week, we've been on an exhibition in Germany, quite the largest exhibition for utilities.
And we had many conversations which worked similar. They asked, what can I do with it? And we offered them, okay, start with a low power grid monitoring. It's one thing I mentioned in the beginning, the biggest case right now. And through the discussion, we noticed if I already have this infrastructure, I can also monitor humidity in that area, or I can monitor the water level because we have all very often floods and every time we came to the conclusion, okay, that's pretty easy, measuring water level, it's pretty easy. Just one sensor because the whole infrastructure exists.
It's just placing the sensor two clicks in the system, then you can monitor it as well. And by this, you'll find so many use cases and especially in larger companies, one of the key point is that IoT shouldn't just be in one department. You need to show your solution. What did you do to other departments and bring the departments together. Again, what I said before, work as a team with everybody.
Be open. Other teams also have use cases where they always said, okay, IoT doesn't, it's not the investment worth but together, if we both work together and share the investment, it's always worth it. - [Ryan] Dennis, thank you so much for taking the time. For our audience out there who wants to learn more about what you all have going on or follow up on any topics from this conversation, what's the best way they can do that? - [Dennis] Different ways we have, of course. Visit our homepage, digimondo.com, for example, where we have a blog
on there with news about latest use cases or customer service and so on. And we are regularly publishing some updates on LinkedIn on the Digimondo profile or you visit my profile. And if you want to have a deeper talk, contact me, Digimondo. We're sharing, we are proud to share our knowledge because in the end, I think, the IoT market is so big, and we have to work together.
We need to share our knowledge. Otherwise we won't manage to bring it forward. - [Ryan] Absolutely. Absolutely.
Yeah, no, it's a great ecosystem to work together, share knowledge, partner, those kinds of things. So totally agree with you. But yeah, thank you so much for the time. Really appreciate it and excited to get this out to our audience. - [Dennis] Yeah. Thanks a lot for being here.