In this episode of Unstoppable Talk, I interview Brian Oulton, President and Founder of Business Sense LLC, a Milwaukee company that helps industrial automation clients respond to the demands of IIoT, and devise strategies to market and sell their products. Brian has worked in the industrial automation space for several decades, having spent a long tenure at Rockwell Automation managing their technology, as well as other industrial firms. In our conversation, we talk about practical strategies that companies can implement to address the burgeoning Industrial Internet of Things market, and announce our new workshop – “Applying IIoT Technology to Your Business”. To sign up to receive information about this workshop, visit https://unstoppablesoftware.com/iotworkshop
Sam Schutte: All right, so we’re here with Brian Oulton from Business Sense LLC. He’s in Wisconsin joining me today and Brian is an expert on all things industrial IOT and working with industrial manufacturers on their sales and marketing and product development. Brian, welcome to the show. Maybe you can start a little bit about telling us about your organization and what you do.
Brian Oulton: Sure. Thanks, Sam. It’s good to be here. My company is Business Sense LLC. After many, many years in the industrial automation space, I decided to form my own consultancy and help people with the type of things that I’ve been helping them with throughout my career. To describe that a little bit, I’ve been in a bunch of different roles at places like Rockwell Automation, I was there 26 years. Belden, which is an industrial Hirschman switches and routers and Garrett Com and Tofino and Tripwire cybersecurity products and ProSoft, which makes an industrial gateway. So a lot of high tech stuff in the industrial automation space. I’ve held all kinds of different positions there from some very technical roles to training customers to probably half of my career marketing, half of my career sales and a ton of product strategy, in looking at markets and seeing really how they change and how my company should respond.
Brian Oulton: So a while ago I decided to start my own consultancy and chase after those same types of activities and help people in my space deal with their challenges in a technology as it evolves in the market and how they can respond in a form of aligning their sales force and their marketing group.
Sam Schutte: Great. Awesome. So, and we met through a mastermind group called Consulting Success that we’re both in out in Vancouver, but you are actually in Wisconsin. And I guess, are you from there originally? And did you go to school there?
Brian Oulton: No. You know what? I’ve been an Ohio boy my whole life. So I’ve lived in parts of Cleveland and Cincinnati for most of my life. And in fact, the job brought me up here a few years ago to Wisconsin. My wife and I have kids and they’re all grown and we love it in Wisconsin. So kind of in between both of those places for our whole career and our whole life.
Sam Schutte: Got you. Okay. So tell me a little bit more about some of the successes you’ve had that made you become a consultant.
Brian Oulton: So, all throughout my career, mostly marketing and sales roles, my companies kept tapping me to do initiatives for them. And, at Rockwell I was asked to put together the relationship with Cisco as a company 10 times bigger than Rockwell Automation and formed the teams and lead the group to actually enter a new product business space, bring product to market, work together on open standards, put together reference architectures so the customer base can follow along and figure out what practices are already established and are going to work for them. And then obviously promote the thing globally. That was an initiative in addition to my day job and I really enjoyed that.
Brian Oulton: In another role, in another company, I was asked to change the global sales force from selling components to selling entire automation solutions. Again, high tech space, and it influenced over $1 billion worth of their business. And I would say for the past 12 years, I’ve been in almost pure strategic roles where I’ve been asked to create a strategy and then go ahead and execute it. For sure, all of those things were initiatives and they look very, very much like the type of things that my clients are asking me to do on a daily basis now. So, the consulting thing was kind of calling me throughout all of these initiatives that I was performing.
Sam Schutte: Okay. So for some of the listeners out there that aren’t super familiar with Rockwell or some of what they do, can you talk a little bit about what are some of these devices that they market? What are they for, what kind of devices are we talking about here?= when it comes to what they produce and what Cisco does with them? So and so forth
Brian Oulton: Sure. So, Rockwell is a very broad based supplier in the automation space. They make a programmable automation controllers for industry. They’re effectively the brains of a factory that’s being automated where it reads or senses all of the equipment and the different states that the equipment and the product being produced or in, and then they make decisions. The computing platform makes decisions and then really tells the equipment what to do. And so, it’s really factory automation at its best. It’s pretty much everything except what people would think of as robot control. There are other companies that do that, but in North America, Rockwell’s a largest automation supplier that does this type of thing. And you can find them in all types of industry, from automobile to food and pharma, chemical, oil and gas, you name it.
Brian Oulton: So, they’re giant with huge market share. And I was lucky enough to be there for a good long time and play in all those different roles and really, walk through factories and processes around how people are building things. Kind of like that show How Things Are Made. I kind of have lived that.
Sam Schutte: Cool. And you’ve talked a lot before with me about some of the demands on a network that all these devices can have and can create. I guess that’s some of the reason, why you are working with Cisco and such. And I know that’s one of the challenges of deploying all this is sort of making them all mesh on a corporate network. Right?
Brian Oulton: Right. In fact, kind of a little closer to our topic today, the industrial world has had smart devices helping control their factories and helping automate factories for a good long time. I mean since the ’80s. But you have to be able to move that information not only in and out of the local controllers that you see, but to other parts of your factory to coordinate and orchestrate that whole thing. And so, communications is really important. And a few years back, industrial ethernet became the standard network in factory automation. And so at the time I was in a network role and so I cut a deal with Cisco to help in that space. It was a great relationship because they were interested in learning more and moving more into the industrial space.
Brian Oulton: And they primarily were in the business space in and so they wanted to learn more about industrial and how to do products in that space, create them to environmental standards and understand the needs of those users. And at the same time, Rockwell wanted to get into the business and have products in that space. And so the relationship worked, worked really well both ways. For me personally, I have been in the automation or the industrial space my whole career, but I got to learn a ton about the IT space from my friends at Cisco, so that was a really good learning experience for me.
Sam Schutte: Well, and as you mentioned, factory automation has been around for quite a long time since the ’80s and such. So what’s the real difference, if you were to define in industrial IOT or IIOT versus sort of more traditional automation, what’s the big difference there?
Brian Oulton: Oh, great question. You read any type of a magazine, any industry publication, everybody is talking about IIOT or IOT, industrial internet of things. And it’s actually a crazy topic. There’s a lot of hype and a lot of I think mystery surrounding that. When I talk with regular normal everyday customers, they go, “Yeah, I read about it but I’m not sure I get it yet.” But, in reality it’s actually the evolution of a number of technologies that really make new solutions possible today that that weren’t possible. Sometimes I think about it as almost the perfect storm of technology. So, consider there were smart devices for a good long time. There were networks to connect them, but they weren’t big and thick and robust like ethernet is today.
Brian Oulton: And in fact like 20 years ago, ethernet wasn’t very powerful. It was slower. It wasn’t super reliable. It was a good network for business use, but it really wasn’t appropriate for factor use. And then that technology evolved and it is the defacto standard that people are using today inside of factories and inside a processes. And so that’s a second part of that perfect storm.
Brian Oulton: And then, people wanted to store a bunch of data, but the memory and computers was crazy expensive. And so you add things like cloud computing, cloud storage and suddenly there’s enough computer memory, there’s enough storage that’s available in a practical fashion to people that they can get a bunch of data and they can put it places and then you continue with adding technology, like being able to take that data and perform analytics on it, on huge big data, another term. All of those types of technologies really coming together created the perfect storm that people have labeled IIOT and in addition to all the hype, there actually really is some awesome practical uses that to make it a benefit to use it.
Sam Schutte: Well, that’s interesting. You’re talking about volume of data and such. And I think a lot of sort of business developers or business technology folks who have SQL server or whatever, when they think of large amounts of data, they think of okay, a database with a couple million rows in it maybe, some of these industrial data systems can produce a couple of million pieces of data every day, or every week, and just because if you’re taking measurements on many, many devices throughout an entire factory, so it’s really, at least in my experience, just the volume of data is much, much larger.
Sam Schutte: We have one customer that, they’ve got 90 million pieces of data probably every month or so, every quarter maybe, which is much more data than you usually see, which it’s also kind of pushing the types of databases that need to be used, and to be more like object storage and all these things. So it’s definitely been a lot of change there I think that are pushing the technology systems too, maybe not to their limit, but stretching things a bit.
Brian Oulton: Well, that’s right. And I think the secret, Sam, is being able to do something that data, because I know for years there was a large consumer base product company that would store tons of data and it would keep buying more and more memory and it was really expensive and they had no reason. They had no idea of what they were storing or why they were storing it. Well, today you can, you can use analytics on that data and you can look for patterns and find business insights that you couldn’t find in the past.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. Because I think there’s this default view that if you don’t know what you’re going to do with your data, just store everything. Just go ahead and store everything and take up as much space as possible.
Sam Schutte: Let’s take a quick break.
Sam Schutte: We’ve talked a lot about the industrial internet of things on this episode, but what is it and how does it work? Welcome to the geek out. Before you can understand what the industrial internet of things is, you have to understand the internet of things or IOT. IOT refers to devices other than computers, phones or other devices that are connected to the Internet. A lot of times this is nontraditional devices such as appliances and so forth.
Sam Schutte: This has been our very rapid growth market. There are around 10 billion IOT devices in 2018, and it’s expected that there will be more than 64 billion IOT devices worldwide by 2025, and some think as many as 200 billion devices. How big will this market be? There’s a lot of different estimates and you have to take some of them with a grain of salt. In 2019, the IOT market is worth around $1.7 trillion and the North American IOT market is projected to be worth around $500 billion in 2022. By 2025, some people think the market will be adding as much as $11 trillion in economic value. Regardless of what the real numbers are, there’s a huge opportunity for growth.
Sam Schutte: Most projects in the IOT space are driven by the opportunity to reduce costs in the enterprise. The industrial internet offense as a subset of IOT. IOT is typically more consumer level and there’s typically much more steak with IIOT or industrial based projects. IIOT refers to the application of connected devices and sensors to machinery and transport energy and industrial sectors. The industrial Internet of things market is predicted to hit around $124 billion in 2021 and some people think over 14 trillion by 2030. The top drivers for IOT are usually operational efficiency, reduction in downtime and new business opportunities, among other things, and the US is a leader in deploying these solutions at scale.
Sam Schutte: Some common applications of industrial Internet are predictive maintenance, monitoring goods and tracking assets, automating logistics, monitoring, energy use and monitoring employee health and productivity. Some of the challenges to projects such as this is that whereas many IOT devices are somewhat disposable, IIOT devices can be much longer lasting, such as heavy machinery and so updates are needed, improvements, patches and repairs, they’re not disposable in the same way.
Sam Schutte: Data storage and accessibility of the many points of data streaming off of these systems as a problem and you need to have a real plan to feed it to analysis engines and make the decisions coming out of these engines actionable. There are multitude of different vendors and platforms for physical and software layers that all have to interact to be successful there. They’re security concerns, since a lot of companies aren’t comfortable with automatic patching yet, which leaves the vulnerabilities open. And finally, there’s a lack of standards for designed data structures as well as proprietary technologies that lock you down to one device vendor. All of that is to say there are a lot of opportunities, but it’s not necessarily a clear path how to move forward to every project.
Sam Schutte: With a huge opportunity for growth, cost savings in new product ventures that is being driven by the industrial internet of things, it’s a technology set that just about every manufacturer should be checking.
Sam Schutte: So you mentioned a little bit about some of the hype around IOT and such that we see out there because since it’s something that so many people were trying to get into, folks are still trying to figure out the real reasonable use cases. What are some of the ridiculous claims, you talk about ridiculous claims and some of your marketing materials. What are some of those and then what are the real true use cases out there that people are having success with?
Brian Oulton: Yeah, good question. The ridiculous claims I think, come two fold, right? One is I think everybody out there that’s got a product or a service, they just kind of slap a label on it and say it’s IIOT enabled. And that’s kind of ridiculous. I mean, there’s people who are making wire ties and they’ll slap a label on and go IIOT enabled and okay, that’s a stretch because, there’s no electronics in those wire ties. There might be a bar code or QQ Code on the box and somebody’s system is keeping track of that and doing something cool with it. But, those kinds of claims are a little over the top and they’re really not going to benefit anybody. It was like when people had cable TV or they had stuff that was “cable ready”, kind of feels the same way. Right?
Sam Schutte: Yeah. It’s the same with AI too for that matter, you know?
Brian Oulton: Right. And, I think the other is, there are a number of applications that people are choosing to pursue in the market right now. They’re ready, they’re good. They’re going to provide huge business, huge business value for the customer. But there are a number of things that are being talked about that are literally take any technology thrown at the wall, see if it sticks, call it IIOT. And when people are looking for practical application, it’s just really tough to see it. There’s simpler ways to solve that application that are just as effective if not more so.
Sam Schutte: Got you. And it seems like a lot of folks in the market are talking about is, what are you doing about IIOT? I know you say that’s kind of the wrong question to ask.
Brian Oulton: Right. And so IIOT, if you think of it as a combination of technologies that can really help you out, the real question to ask is help you out with what? And so, what companies really need to do is ask themselves what are the real business challenges or goals that we have for our company? Whether it’s a new strategy to beat the competition or it’s how to address the challenge of the changing workforce, whether it’s your own workforce and a bunch of domain experts are retiring or whether it’s your customers having significant changes in their workforce because there’s fewer of them. They’d been leaned out, their physical location is somewhere else now, whatever. The real question is, what are your business challenges or goals and how might you use the IOT technologies, the things that are sitting under that umbrella to solve your problem?
Brian Oulton: One thing I’d comment on is that, a lot of times it is very much worthwhile to revisit some of the things that you thought were out of reach for your business out of reach for your company, out of reach for technology to go back and revisit those things and to see if they can’t be solved with the technologies today because the technologies that have evolved really are solving some amazing, amazing things. So one of the things that I’ve talked to a number of people about is I said, “Think about the times where you’re sitting there eating lunch with a coworker and you’re ranting or complaining about the way things should be and you’re literally using those words, ‘Well, if we could only,’ or ‘The way things should be are blah, blah blah,’ because a lot of those things are actually solvable today.”
Sam Schutte: Yeah. And that’s the key thing with all these technologies with cloud databases and all the devices and kind of all these things we’re putting in the mix, it’s not a matter of just gathering data and viewing a report. I mean that’s kind of the very most simplest possible thing of, oh, I just want to pull up a PDF and look at a big pile of data every so often, People are doing stuff like escalating alerts to management, automated shutdowns happening. I think I’ve even read some stories about, based on data, certain tools or parts being replaced sort of automatically by the systems at the factory, right? So if it detects a problem, it just swaps it out, right?
Brian Oulton: Exactly.
Sam Schutte: And certainly we see that are in IOT like data centers and the hard drives and the problems like, right?
Brian Oulton: Right.
Sam Schutte: Because that’s a whole other little sector of IOT.
Brian Oulton: Right, right. I mean I’ll give you a couple. And by the way, you asked the question previously, you said, “Give me examples of hype and give me examples of good ones.” So let’s put this in a good one category. I mean, so if you think about machine builders, they build a machine and they deliver it to many, many different customers. A company that puts bottle caps on bottles delivers to all of the soda makers, all the beer makers, et cetera in the world. They really don’t want to get on airplanes that go service their machines, nor do they really want to have a service force that’s located all over the place. But their customers want really, really fast, really good support. So today what we see machine builders do is keeping a pool of experts that their home base and then using remote communications to help the customer out to do the job.
Brian Oulton: That could be everything from predictive maintenance where they’re literally monitoring key performance indicators, key sensors on a machine and watching for them to begin to stray doing statistical process control if you would on the machine from a bazillion miles away, and literally given the end customer call saying, “Hey, shut the machine down” or “Hey, listen, we know you shut down once a day. This time when you shut down and go do this kind of maintenance. It’s time and we don’t want your machine to shut down.” It’s a savings for everybody involved.
Brian Oulton: We also see those same machine builders, right? Being able to automatically do raw material replenishment that the machine needs. We also see them helping to troubleshoot using video, it’s just live streaming video for machines that are like mechanical in nature that have all kinds of arms and legs and moving around, sometimes the best way to diagnose that is to actually see it for yourself. But maybe you can see it from yourself from, many, many miles away instead of the delay of travel and the added expense of travel. So I mean, that’s practical application today. There’s a ton of people that are doing it, but there’s still probably 10 times that many people who have that all at their fingertips but have not taken advantage of it. And there’s great opportunity there for everybody.
Sam Schutte: Well, and obviously ultimately it all boils down to cost savings and better customer experience. But it’s interesting if you look at an old remodel or more traditional model for something, say like elevator maintenance. I’ve done a lot of work with elevator clients in the past building software systems for them and the traditional approach to something elevator maintenance is you have a one year test and a five year test. For your one year test you just come and you work through your 60 or 50 items on the list and you do it every year and it costs the same amount. And then your five year test is a bigger test and you actually dropped the elevator, make sure it’s brakes and catch it and do all kinds of really heavy stuff. Right?
Brian Oulton: Right.
Sam Schutte: Well, what if the brakes are failing three years in? Well, you’re not going to test them until five years, right?
Brian Oulton: Yeah. Who knows if those are the right durations, right?
Sam Schutte: Yeah.
Brian Oulton: Somebody tried to engineer that and they got a big huge safety margin. Who knows?
Sam Schutte: Well, exactly. And plus, I mean, one of my clients in this space and really all of the major elevator manufacturers and they’re rolling out all kinds of predictive maintenance solutions on all their machines right now. Tailoring that sort of list of maintenance that needs to be done. So not just on the sort of negative side, like, oh, something might go wrong, but also like, why are you coming in and fixing a bunch of stuff and check on a bunch of stuff and there’s nothing wrong with it? Your folks are there for four hours doing their inspections when really maybe there’s only two things that need to be oiled or fixed and that’s it and you should just kind of move on.
Sam Schutte: Obviously, if you can charge the customer the same amount, then you make more profit. Or if you can lower your price because you’re doing less work than the customers happier because you’ve got some advanced technology sort of reducing your sort of impact to them. Right?
Brian Oulton: That’s right.
Sam Schutte: So, I mean, but all that requires just that simple use case there, it really requires a ton of technology to make it really happen.
Brian Oulton: Right, right. Sam, I’m seeing another trend as well, and it’s really come people who are combining plant floor data with data from the outside. So, recently, I was involved with somebody who sells fuel oil to customers, right? They have fuel tanks, fuel oil tanks out in the country, and in all the different locations. The customer who has the fuel tank, right? Number one, they kind of need to be able to check the fuel level so that they never run out. And then if you think about what they would normally do, they’d go online and they’d start shopping and going, “Who has as low as fuel oil price and who can deliver it in a timeframe that’s convenient for me? I don’t want to run out of fuel oil.” Wisconsin, man, it really gets cold. So never, never run out of fuel oil. It would be bad.
Brian Oulton: Well, actually, today, using IIOT technologies, you can tie together the data that tells you that the fuel oil level is at a certain level and the rate that it’s been being consumed is a certain rate. And so you can figure out, hey, I got a week before, I’m going to run out. And literally combine that with online data, say from five or six different fuel oil service companies. You can check the price and check the availability of their service online automatically. Not a human doing this, but IIOT technologies going and looking for the best price that can deliver within the next five days and then making that happen. So dissimilar datasets coming together to solve applications and really not just handle the traditional diagnostics and maintenance that people do inside of factories, but tying that together really ultimately with the business on the outside and the customer base to benefit them.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, exactly. I mean, because there are a lot of those processes that people might do manually right now. For instance, there’s a company in northern Kentucky here that, they make a limestone or they make I guess, lime actually, and they can either use coal or natural gas to do so. And so they just literally every morning check both prices and decide what to burn. Right?
Brian Oulton: Yeah.
Sam Schutte: Well, that kind of works. But, when you’re burning just as the huge volumes that they are, if you could put some intelligence to that or really look at trend data a little more accurately, say that saved you 5% of your cost, I mean, that’s a lot of money when you’re burning, 8 million MMBTs in natural gas a year or something. Right?
Brian Oulton: That’s real money, right?
Sam Schutte: Yeah.
Brian Oulton: It’s real money.
Sam Schutte: It pays for itself very quickly, I think.
Brian Oulton: Yeah. So I mean, all these things are very doable today. There are things people are asking for if they think of the pure technology of artificial intelligence or machine learning. Those technologies are also being talked about. And, in fact demonstrated in some places. Are they possible? Yeah. But, they may not be exactly ready for prime time for everyone’s application yet. And so, part of this whole IIOT thing is to cut through the hype and sort the hype out from what’s really doable today.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. I saw a demonstration at a conference I was at in March. It was a Microsoft Hollow Lens that this petroleum refinery has deployed them out into the field and sort of a testing manner. I think, this sort of augmented reality for things like mechanics and repair personnel is, I don’t know if anybody’s doing massive production yet, but these folks, they go and repair refineries, right?
Brian Oulton: Right.
Sam Schutte: And so they had a demonstration of a, a worker wearing one, looking at a valve and it would pop up and say, “Oh, that’s a XYZ valve, and you need to make sure that you don’t tighten it any tighter than, so many foot pounds” or whatever the measurement is. And then they actually had using whatever the, I don’t remember what Microsoft calls it, but Microsoft video conferencing technology stuff in there. And they were able to pull up like a remote assistant into their view who could show them, like, “Oh actually blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You need to replace this part.”
Sam Schutte: So part of that, I guess the IOT part of that, because some of it’s augmented reality, some of it’s videos streaming, the IOT part of that is folding in the data that that valve might be able to tell you, in real time trying to guide that person decisions, you know?
Brian Oulton: Right.
Sam Schutte: So if you could pull up a trend or a prediction that, “Look, this thing we’ve noticed, it’s temperature’s spiking irregularly.” He might be more careful when he turns that valve.
Brian Oulton: No doubt, no doubt.
Sam Schutte: So, stuff like that.
Brian Oulton: Yeah. Yeah. I guess one of the comments I’d have is, for people listening to the podcast, I think you and I share the same opinion that there’s things that people can do today that in fact, business pressures are really driving the point, right? If none of these technologies were available, there’d still be super human challenges in the marketplace. There are more baby boomers retiring now than ever. I think 20 20% of them have retired and there’s 10,000 that are retiring every single day. And by 2022 or 2023, only 60% will have retired. But that’s like a huge number. That’s a huge number. And so it’s all of these people with all this expertise and really, the last way of performing processes and procedures in a manufacturing world, they are leaving the workforce and that’s created a heck of a challenge.
Brian Oulton: I think back a couple of years before that and a lot of the publicly held companies, a lot of the other companies, they went super lean, which, one of the ramifications there is there’s no duplication of jobs. There’s kind of really no backup for people. And then when the economy gets a little south, what ends up happening is some people are exited and the people that are left are asked to do your job and do this other person’s job too. And so, the workforce is super thin and I’m kind of thinking, “Okay, well you can hire a boatload of people and I’m sure hope that businesses are doing that.” But at the same time they need to get trained, they need to gain some expertise.
Brian Oulton: And I sure hope that the next generation, which is primarily millennials, I sure hope that they’re also looking at newer and better ways to get the job done. And I think these technologies that have evolved at this time or are coming on at the right time and are going to be a real help for that. I think without it, I think there’d be huge challenges in huge problems. And I don’t think this necessarily makes them all go away, but, of all the technologies I’ve seen evolve over 30 plus years in the space, this is a really unique time. It’s a really, really unique time. I think that these technologies are coming on at the right time. So I think, businesses really do need to take advantage of these technologies correctly. I think they can not only solve a lot of problems, but gain some serious competitive advantages.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. It’s interesting. I heard Ohio Governor Mike DeWine speak at our local Rotary Club meeting last Thursday. He came in and spoke and he said the thing that all of the employers he meets and talks with all over the state is, I need to find the people. Companies or manufacturers wanting to move here from other states or from abroad even, do you have the people here? Are they trained? Where can I find them? What cities are they in? I mean that’s what he’s asked. The only question and nothing else is as important. So it’s kind of interesting. I don’t know.
Sam Schutte: Because if you look around, say 10 years from now, probably all of the baby boomers will be out of the job force, even the tail end of that generation, is it possible that by leveraging some of these technologies like IOT, AI, other automation technologies that we can maintain the sort of same quality of work and output, not just with fewer staff, like lean and stuff pushes you in that direction, but also just with staff that aren’t as experts or aren’t trained as much to the degree because they’ve got their computer brain helping them spot problems that they otherwise had to be master mechanics to sort of detect. Is that sort of the future and enable some or is that too much hype?
Brian Oulton: No, I think it’s real. I think it’s real. I was pretty close to the first wave of automation in factories and, in fact, I saw the China market evolve and take on automation and it was very interesting because they needed to produce the quality that would be recognized by the West, by other nations as being super high quality to build things like cars, right? So a human could not weld the car. They needed a robot to weld the car. A human couldn’t perfectly align this piece and that piece and be able to roll a marble down the seam on the hood of the car, blah, blah, blah, to gain that type of quality. So they needed automation for that. But their workforce was, very inexpensive. And so they literally would get a bunch of workers to move the car’s chassis from one station to the next manually. They would literally put poles underneath, lift the thing up and move it to the next station, put it back down again. But then the next station was a highly automated robot doing something that had to perform something a human really couldn’t properly perform.
Brian Oulton: I think fast forward to today and to the future, I think there’s going to be plenty of awesome jobs in the trades. And I think there’s going to be plenty of awesome jobs in automation and in the high tech space. But I’d see the technology’s being used differently and those jobs be in really, really different from what they are today. Same thing’s going to happen. It’s history repeating itself. It’s just in a different way.
Sam Schutte: Well, and it’s funny because there’s that prediction, I can’t remember who it was. I believe it was one of the founders of Netscape or something like that way back when said that software will eat the world and every company will be a software company eventually. I don’t think we’re there completely yet, but it’ll be interesting when manufacturers, what really differentiates them is based on their software and not necessarily the product they make. Right?
Brian Oulton: Yeah.
Sam Schutte: If we’re moving more towards that space. Not necessarily the talent they have, maybe the workers they have, but just the systems they have in place to sort of do things better.
Brian Oulton: Yeah, that’s exactly it. I used to be a software product manager at Rockwell and so I’ve stood on a number of desks and shouted out from the top of my lungs a number of times. In reality, you might think you’re paying for hardware or you might think you’re paying for software or you might think you’re paying for services, but in reality, the value is having a solution.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. So I think the expectation here is that some of this IIOT stuff will really transform a company. Can you give me an example of what you’ve seen out there?
Brian Oulton: Sure, Sam. Actually, I’ll give you an old school example, but it’s striking. Long ago and far away, we had, places like UPS and FedEx and the US Postal Service, and they would try and get to your package as quick as they could. But if you didn’t get your package when you expected it, you’d call them up and they’d go, “Oh, give me your number. We’ll put a tracer out on it.” And that meant that they’d go and they’d look at paperwork and records and stuff like that and they’d maybe call you back a day or two later. And if your package hadn’t made it to you by then and they could kind of tell you where it was and kind of tell you when it was going to get there.
Brian Oulton: But fast forward to today, and they all have online apps and the trucks have GPS’ on them. And literally you just go, “Where’s the package?” And they go, “It’s coming down your street. Your doorbell is going to ring in three, two, one.” I mean, amazing, amazing technology that transformed that business and increase the reliability and the confidence of customers had on that. Well, that, absolutely was transformative for that industry. And whoever got into that first did it first gained some amazing advantages over their competitors and over alternative ways of getting stuff from point A to point B. Those same kinds of transformative things can happen for many, many of the businesses that are out there looking at IIOT, it really is just a matter of thinking through your own business challenges and your business pressures, thinking about what’s going on and going, “What have we discussed already that would change everything because it might be possible today.”
Sam Schutte: Yeah. And that’s an interesting one too, because I mean, that’s something that’s very much about the customer experience, right? I mean, I suppose probably internally UPS or FedEx or any of those folks, even the airlines all sort of have that now with your baggage, where it’ll show you in your app what airport it’s at and it’s unloaded and such. I mean, I guess they benefit internally from some of that, but a lot of it is customer facing data to have a feature that others don’t. What have you seen, because I know some of the work you do is help folks designing products as well and really kind of coming up with what features the market’s demanding their products have. So features that aren’t really guiding their internal manufacturing, but it’s stuff that just customers want to see. How do you kind of approach those sorts of problems, what questions do you ask, I guess to figure out what’s needed?
Brian Oulton: Wow. You know what? People coined the phrase voice of the customer. I don’t know if it’s 10 years old or 15 years old or whatever, but really being able to gain an insight around exactly what customers are trying to do, and exactly what experience they want to have, that’s really the key. There’s no IIOT technology to automate that. That’s actually just a really good business behavior that humans need to do. I will tell you that today, I work with a whole lot of people’s marketing and sales force, all of their customer facing resources and they say that the customer base is changed, that people have changed. They want to shop differently, they want to buy differently.
Brian Oulton: A whole lot of businesses in the space that I work in have not changed and aligned to support that, but it’s really, really good voice of the customer. Marketing people that do websites would call it customer journey mapping or user journey mapping. But the reality is that’s just a technique to say let’s very closely understand what people need and people want and then match it as best as possible. The technology comes in when you have way more flexibility and presenting that solution to the customer.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, exactly. That’s a good segue a little bit into something we’ve been working on. Brian and I have been working on developing a workshop that we’re going to offer. And. one of the real goals that workshop is to help business owners and operational managers and IT people at these types of companies come up with those solutions and really design those solutions. So, Brian, do you want to talk a little bit about that workshop and the schedule we’ve been putting together and what folks are going to get out of it?
Brian Oulton: So, one of the things that Sam and I did when we sat down is we asked ourselves, what things do we really know is true? What things are we seeing and what things do we know is true? And what we saw was that most of our business associates, people we work with customers, et cetera, there’s a huge trend. There’s just a lot of confusion. There’s a lot of people who are reading all kinds of, again, the hype and real reality, and they’re really struggling to sort it out. And in fact, the typical example is I hear over and over again, the boss reads a couple of articles about IIOT and how amazing everything is supposed to be and they pass it on to one of their direct reports and they say, “Here, it’s yours. You figure it out.”
Brian Oulton: Those people are coming to us and they’re saying, “I’m supposed to do something with IIOT. I don’t really have time to fool around and do something that’s meaningless. It really needs to have impact, but I really can’t sort it out.” And so, that was actually the genesis of why Sam and I sat down and said, “Hey, we should do something together.” Sam’s got an awesome software company that does work in all of these spaces today. And I’ve been doing a strategy around these technologies and around the manufacturing space for a good many years. And so, our skill sets are complimentary. We both saw the same thing. So we said, “We got to help people sort this out.”
Brian Oulton: What we decided to do is make this thing an interactive workshop. It’s a time where you can get away from some of your coworkers and all of the politics and all the noise and some of the crazy requests that actually are coming from inside your own company, and sit down and really sort through what’s hype and what’s real, and think about your own company’s biggest challenges, the biggest levers that would affect your business and make it better, more competitive, put it on a better path to grow, et cetera, and determine, whether or not specific IIOT technologies can be used to address the biggest threats that you have or the best opportunities. We’re going to make it interactive. So you’re really thinking about and working on your own company’s challenges and opportunities. But we’re going to make it a little bit Switzerland. We’re going to really ask people to share a little bit and give the opportunity for others to gain insights from what you come and you can share as well. So you’ll gain insights from other leaders that are at the workshop.
Sam Schutte: I think we’ll be unique too about it is, going from developing your kind of boilerplate strategy to figure it out, the hardware and devices and network infrastructure you need. And this would be the kind of end result of it, right? And then, figuring out what are we going to do with all that data, how can we guide other systems and integrate with other systems based on those data? And really look at it from that business solution standpoint and not just, hey, let’s just go throw something out there that generates millions of lines of data that we’re not sure we’re going to do with. Right?
Brian Oulton: That’s exactly it. And a couple of things that we know for sure is that, there are some super practical, very doable steps that you can take right now in order to take yourself down the road, get yourself closer to executing a breakthrough strategy that’s really going to help your company. They’re not hard and they’re not expensive. So, literally many of these things, obviously start with what are your business challenges, what are the business opportunities and really getting you to focus in and think about those things. But in terms of like execution, a lot of times it’s like, “Okay, well let’s figure out if that data is available in your factory somewhere and if not, are there a couple of sensors are a couple of devices you need to change out.” Or, “Hey, do you have the networks put together in your factory the way they’re supposed to be so that they can get the data from point A to point B?”
Brian Oulton: None of that stuff is super rocket science and these are things that are very doable that Sam’s company can help you out with. Pretty much it’s getting the direction in the strategy in place is harder than I think, than executing a lot of this. I don’t know. Would you agree? Since I’m speaking for you and you’re the one that does a lot of the executing?
Sam Schutte: No, I mean, I think a lot of the times, the problems that people want to solve can be done, they’re probably easier than they think they are. Right? But they just don’t even know how to approach it. And of course, there’s some things folks want to do that it’s like, “Ugh, it’s going to be tricky and expensive.” But it’s probably 80/20 rule and it’s just a matter of asking the right questions so that it’s successful and not just jumping into it without a plan. I mean, that’s the real key. I mean, that’s ultimately what experts and consultants get paid for is to ask the right questions. Right?
Brian Oulton: Right. Right.
Sam Schutte: So, yeah, we’re working on developing this. We have a signup link out there for folks that are interested, which is just https://unstoppablesoftware.com/iotworkshop. And I’ll put the link for that in the show notes for this and we’ll be releasing more information about that a little bit later here in the summer because it will probably be happening more than the fall timeframe. So folks can sign up there if they want to learn more about it.
Brian Oulton: And you know what I mean? If we got all of our wishes, I think what you’d walk out of there with would be some real insights on things that you can do to make a big difference and to use these technologies, and I think the right words and the right information to go talk to others in your company and get them on board and excited about what you’re interested in doing.
Sam Schutte: So maybe Brian, where we can close is, is what are your top pieces of advice for people who are trying to sort all this IIOT stuff out?
Brian Oulton: Sam, you know what? It’s what we discussed at the very beginning. Number one, there really is opportunity and, and you need to be able to take advantage of that opportunity correctly, else your business will be left in the dust and there’ll be competitors that will implement something and really, really leave you holding the bag. So you’ve got to do something. The second piece of advice is you really do need to get informed and really sort out the difference between what’s real and what’s not, what’s doable and what’s not. And there’s so much noise in the market. I think you really should come to our workshop. We’ll give you the straight story on what works and what doesn’t, what ready for primetime and what’s not. But, you really need to sort that through.
Brian Oulton: I think with everybody having limited resources, limited time, you can’t shoot too many blanks here, so you’re going to need to make what you do in the area of IIOT really, really count and be effective. And so I would say, dream big, make sure that you’re prepared to act and to do something. And I would say, sort it through, get educated and well informed. Not on it always being technology, but really if nothing else, revisit your business and your businesses goals and your hopes and dreams and your aspirations in the way that the world should be if you had perfection, and then start comparing that to the technologies available to you today to see if he can’t get pretty darn close.
Sam Schutte: Nice. I like that. Dream big. So yeah, thanks for being on the podcast today, though. It was great to have you to talk about all this with you.
Brian Oulton: Thank you.
Sam Schutte: I hope sometime we can come on the podcast again here and talk a little bit more about new things we’re seeing in this space, maybe six months from now because it’s a fast moving market is one thing that we know for sure. So, maybe sometime we can have you on again.
Brian Oulton: Thanks a lot. It’s been a pleasure talking with you today and it’s a pleasure working with you.
Sam Schutte: Thank you.
Brian Oulton: Looking forward to more.