By George Trujillo, principal data strategist, DataStax; and Ara Bederjikian, president, Titanium Intelligent Solutions

Internet of Things (IoT) data can pour in from pretty much everywhere, be it from sensors that monitor air quality in a building, intelligent devices in a smart city, or mobile apps with an augmented reality overlay to enhance a live sporting event. IoT is embedded in our everyday lives with fitness trackers, Uber eats, Lyft, delivery tracking, security cameras, and smart thermostats. The exponential growth of IoT is providing other industries with a view of the potential growth of real-time data ecosystems.

Gathering and extracting value in real-time from diverse data generated by a very wide range of devices and other hardware poses a unique array of challenges, in both interoperability and scalability. IoT sensors, actuators, networks, and data and analytics platforms bring together the physical and digital world—and that isn’t easy.

New York-based Titanium Intelligent Solutions set out to build a global SaaS IoT platform that could handle these challenges. Doing so required a foundational, modern data technology stack that was flexible enough to support a wide range of IoT use cases in a scalable way, across geographies and across clouds. Here we’ll walk through the vision that drove Titanium’s success and an example of how Titanium put it to work.

Today’s real-time data stack

The demand for analytics and AI insights from high-growth applications, IoT devices, B2B transactions, multi-access edge computing, mobile devices, smart buildings and cities, and augmented or virtual reality is accelerating changes in data and infrastructure strategies. Organizations across industries are racing to leverage new ways to monetize the information that moves through streams of real-time data produced by all these devices and use cases. 

In a recent report, analyst firm McKinsey found that by 2030, the IoT industry could enable $5.5 trillion to $12.6 trillion in value globally, including the value captured by consumers and customers of IoT products and services.

The need to handle this wide variety of fast-moving, high-volume data has made operational resiliency, rapid growth across geographic regions, and elevating the customer experience table stakes.

Industry challenges for a real-time data stack

The gap between data-driven organizations and those striving to be data-driven is widening. A key element of success for the former: tight alignment between the business and IT. But this isn’t easy, and very few organizations achieve true alignment between technology leaders and business units. The VPs of software engineering, data warehousing, data science, data engineering, and databases often have their own preferences, technical debt, and technologies they prefer to work with. Add the cloud strategy to the application, data, and analytics strategies, and organizations end up with ecosystems that have grown into a wide variety of siloed technologies that all speak different languages. The complexity in these disparate ecosystems negatively impacts security, governance, analytics, and the value of data. A lack of alignment on the vision and enterprise-wide execution strategy is why many organizations struggle to be data driven in ways that will increase both business growth and revenue.

A vision for a real-time data ecosystem

Titanium created a vision for a real-time data ecosystem that incorporated leading-edge principles of a data stack for solving IoT data challenges. Titanium’s SaaS IoT platform delivers low latency, bi-directional communication, security at every link in the data chain, real-time data, historical data, and scalability. With a real-time data ecosystem, Titanium provides data necessary for ESG (environmental, social, and governance) reporting, analytics, operational management, artificial intelligence, and automation.

The company turned to the open-source NoSQL database Apache Cassandra®, which is known for its rock-solid performance, scalability, and reliability. For enhanced security and scalability, Titanium worked with DataStax to use their managed database service Astra DB, built on Cassandra. Astra DB’s multi-data model, multi-cloud, and multi-use case capabilities help Titanium focus on delivering customer value versus having to support a complex data ecosystem. 

Data interoperability requires seamless collaboration for data integration and correlation across business units, so Titanium built a unified IoT and IT network offering that increased efficiency and control—for itself and for its customers. Because the data is in the cloud, it’s accessible for a variety of uses while meeting security and privacy requirements.

Titanium also provides information that isn’t typically found in building automation systems,  including heating degree days and cooling degree days, climate zones, and more. These metrics can be relevant to ESG reporting—and it further enhances cross-departmental use. The ESG real-time dashboard is used by building managers to monitor and analyze building performance, while corporate ESG teams can use the data to meet sustainability goals. This increases the value of data across customer business units and regions.

Case study: Scaling a climate control system nationwide

In general, IoT companies focus on delivering functionality for building services with hardware solutions. Hardware solutions are often closed-loop systems that require the end user to use proprietary hardware, locking the customer in for the life of the product; this can have a significant impact on the speed and business benefits of integrating with other devices. As a result, industry IoT platforms often have fixed, limited functionality. IoT companies often lack interoperability and scalability, making it difficult to scale seamlessly across many locations and regions.   

Titanium sought to build a scalable, interoperable cloud-based data stack through a partnership with DataStax. The company’s SaaS platform required the flexibility to support customer operating models across different geographical regions. Standardizing on a streamlined, multi-model, multi-purpose data ecosystem was important to reduce data integration complexity and change management time to deliver faster business value from real-time data. The ability to supply customers with analytics and AI capabilities was a critical part of the data ecosystem design.

Titanium’s global cloud IoT platform required a high-speed database to support future growth in volume and velocity across geographical regions for the growing IoT industry. Low latency for real-time data was also essential for automation; time delays could result in making automated decisions that were outdated. Latency makes automation very challenging, if not impossible. People are used to manually flipping a switch to turn lights off – with no delay. A delayed response would be a roadblock to people using a cloud-based platform. 

Low latency for real-time data is also essential for when operating across multiple locations. If changes are made in various locations by different people, or if simultaneous automated actions and communications are delayed, it can be frustrating, and even lead to incorrect actions. A global real-time data platform requires multiple locations to work as one seamless data ecosystem with low latency being a priority. 

Using AI, Titanium can route data based on the strongest signal strength to ensure uninterruptible communication. IoT data feeds AI models; AI can identify hardware devices and commission them in the platform. This can be done remotely, eliminating a person physically at the location to manually commission devices. Predictive maintenance is also used to identify devices that are perpetually running or have not been active, indicating a performance issue.

Titanium also offers a sophisticated ESG dashboard that provides user-friendly advanced analytics. For example, it enables the comparison of multiple metrics to identify drivers such as CO2 levels, which can indicate insufficient ventilation.

A nationwide distribution company customer approached Titanium with the need to design a scalable climate control platform with a wide range of operating capabilities. Their distribution centers range from 500,000 to a million square feet and are in over 40 different states in the U.S. The company didn’t have a centralized, remote way to access its building functions in distribution centers across the U.S. 

The customer was looking for a centralized climate control system that could be measured, controlled, and monitored with real time data and analytics in addition to ESG reporting with predictive AI-based maintenance. In addition, given the lack of visibility to their assets, it was preventing them from adding corporate governance to save energy and reduce its carbon footprint by measuring real-time energy consumption and reporting the data into one dashboard. 

Titanium offered the company an interoperable platform with remote, single-user access for all their climate control operations. A design focus on data integration made it simple to manage all climate control systems in 50 distribution centers from one real-time dashboard. Titanium’s solution easily across their customer’s locations, saving the customer at least 15% in energy costs. The Titanium cloud-based platform helped eliminate siloed data, providing greater cross-departmental use and strengthening corporate governance.

An aligned vision

The IoT industry is continually evolving to support a wide range of use cases and operating models. Having a vision that aligns business and IT leaders on an execution strategy is key to building a data operating model that drives business revenue and growth. Building a streamlined, trusted, and reliable data ecosystem is the foundation for delivering analytics and AI results at the speed Titanium customers need for increasing business growth and revenue.

Learn more about DataStax here.

IoT Platforms, IT Leadership

Since its beginnings as a German engineering company founded in the wake of the Second World War, Sick AG has evolved into an enterprise that lives by the motto of “sensor intelligence,” specializing in factory, logistics, and process automation.

But in recent years, the global manufacturer of sensors and sensor solutions has had to adjust its supply chain system to match its goals of blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds.

The lack of integration between communication systems – not all of them digital – was slowing decision-making and incurring unnecessary costs.

“If a big company ordered some material, you’d have every person looking underneath his or her table to see if that material was there,” recalled Roland Avar, Sick AG’s Head of Product Management I Localization (RTLS).

What Sick AG needed was a real-time, global locating system – an integrated solution that would close the information gap.

“You waste a lot of time searching for material or an asset. Localization data enables agile planning of production and logistical processes for better delivery quality and reliability.” Avar pointed out. “With a digitized system, we would know where everything was at any time.”

Not a lottery game

Sick AG’s product portfolio includes RFID (radio frequency identification) readers, light grids, vision sensors, opto-electronic protective devices, bar code scanners, and analyzers for gas and liquid, along with gas flow measuring tools.

With more than 10,000 employees worldwide, the company serves as a guidepost for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, a time of rapid change to industries, technology, and societal patterns due to smart automation.

As technology expands, so have the company’s processes in logistics and production. But as Avar noted, “Complexity definitely increases when you have multiple systems talking to each other. That’s why we needed to have the systems connected. Without that interconnectivity, it’s like playing the lottery, where you’re guessing numbers and hope that you are right.”

No one involved in the implementation of the new solution expected the process to be easy. “Let me say it like this,” Avar remembered. “We had some really challenging discussions.”

The name says it all

Even the dialogue about the platform’s name was spirited. In the end, developers settled on smaRTLog – for smart, real-time logistics.

The effort was a collaboration between Sick AG and multi-national, enterprise resource software (ERP) leader SAP.

smaRTLog connects real-time location-based information coming from Tag-LOC System, together with SAP business transactions. In other words, Tag-LOC System consists of the hardware, antennas, and tags for indoor tracking, and a technology independent intelligent hub Asset Analytics which interacts with SAP technologies for further analytics of all inventory and logistics – capturing, processing, and storing the information that would provide complete transparency and blot out the gray areas.

When items were delayed, all affected workers would receive alerts, along with updates on arrival times. Built-in mechanisms would spot defective material and eliminate it from the production process. Incidents previously characterized as “unexpected” were now telegraphed in advance, increasing predictability, along with the quality of warehouse management.

Growing within the system

In less than a year after its July 2021 deployment, the SmaRTLog solution had transformed manufacturing, automation, and logistics for Sick AG and its clients.

The average search time for missing materials decreased from 45 to 15 minutes, while the period between a requisition and delivery was reduced by 20%.

Companies that have adopted the platform report a more engaged workforce. “People aren’t worrying about, ‘Did I scan this? Did I not scan this? Did I do a good job? Did I do a bad job?’” Avar said. “And they have more time to concentrate on more crucial jobs, more satisfying jobs. Their confidence level grew like the system itself.”

Earlier this year, Sick AG was recognized for the creation of smaRTLog by being designated a 2022 finalist at the SAP Innovation Awards, a yearly event honoring organizations that have used SAP technologies to improve both business and society. You can read about Sick’s amazing accomplishment in their Innovation Awards pitch deck.

Avar believes that, with infrastructure considerations now diminished, the solution gives companies the flexibility to grow in ways that hadn’t existed before. The platform “can change or support their digital strategies,” he said, “and it’s a blueprint that other companies can follow.”

To learn more about Sick’s creation of smaRTLog, read their Innovation Awards pitch deck.

Collaboration Software

Organizations have seen tremendous digital transformation for several years now, but especially in the past year, we have seen many accelerate that digital journey. From navigating the new world of remote-first work to deploying modern apps in record time while strengthening cybersecurity, cloud adoption has made businesses become more agile and resilient.

Multi-cloud is no longer just a buzzword – it’s here to stay and growing at a rapid pace. More enterprises are delivering code across private and public clouds and increasingly using Kubernetes to scale apps. In fact, IDC predicts that in 2022, 90 percent of enterprises around the world will rely on a mix of multi-cloud and legacy platforms, and the recent VMware State of Kubernetes 2022 report found that nearly half of the organizations surveyed are utilizing Kubernetes in multiple public clouds. 

However, managing apps and infrastructure in a multi-cloud environment comes with added complexity – teams have to control costs, ensure performance, and manage consistent security policies across these diverse and distributed environments. By implementing platform teams, organizations can drive modernization and accelerate their multi-cloud journey while balancing moving fast and managing risk.

How Platform Teams Can Support Modern Application Platforms

To help with multi-cloud complexity and streamline software delivery, organizations need an application platform. For that, they need platform engineering teams. Platform teams provide consistent, end-to-end management and enable business leaders, security personnel, and other members of the organization to communicate business needs and meet business challenges. A team of experts focused on running your platform as a product is essential for delivering world-class developer experiences and delivering applications to production quickly and securely.

Platform teams are integral to a DevSecOps practice by not only building and running the platform developers use to create new applications that drive business revenue, but also acting as a communication link between your dev team, IT operations team, and security team. By having a team of experts devoted to running your platform as a product, organizations can improve the developer experience and get applications to production quickly and securely. Tools such as VMware’s Tanzu portfolio can elevate app development and the DevSecOps experience for platform teams, while VMware’s Cloud Management solutions can enable infrastructure teams to embrace infrastructure as code and empower lines of business to optimize resources across clouds.

How to Cultivate a Successful Platform Team

When done well, platform teams provide exponential value for software development organizations. By using a modern application platform team, developers and stakeholders can experiment and solve business-critical problems faster, in more innovative ways, without sacrificing reliability. This, in turn, creates immediate value for your business.

If you want to hire the best people for your platform team, make sure they have the right combination of business, technical, and people skills. To be successful, team members must possess a data-driven mindset, a willingness to learn, and an ability to adjust to change. Platform teams that are confident and capable of adapting to change are better equipped to succeed as more application teams migrate to their platform.

Above all, platform teams should have excellent communication skills. Fostering a culture of open communication is necessary to ensure that developers, IT ops, and business units such as human resources, marketing, and finance understand the platform and can help to champion it. Platform teams must demonstrate how their platform adds value to stakeholders in order to justify platform changes, funding, and staffing

At the end of the day, business capabilities and outcomes are not solely tied to technology or tools used. It is important for employees in an organization to focus as much as possible on creating value for the organization. As a result, attention needs to be paid to the individuals supporting this toolset. The ultimate application platform is supported by platform teams that help elevate the developer experience and makes app deployments frictionless.

To learn more, visit us here.

IT Leadership, Multi Cloud

Developed by Zuellig Pharma, eZRx is ASEAN’s largest B2B eCommerce platform for the healthcare industry – offering a smarter and more convenient way to buy and sell healthcare products online, anywhere and anytime, versus reps visiting clients face-to-face.

As COVID-19 began spreading its tentacles through Asia, Zuellig Pharma, one of the continent’s largest healthcare services groups needed to ensure that medicines and healthcare products – from vaccines to personal protection equipment (PPEs) – were delivered in a timely and efficient manner.

Given the urgency, Zuellig Pharma could not rely on a manual system to place and process orders and returns as well as payment requests. Efficiency and effectiveness needed to be optimized further. With much of the world locked down during the pandemic, the number of touchpoints to connect with customers was also vastly reduced.

Zuellig Pharma adopted a transformative innovation to ensure that its 350,000 customers and 1,000 clients – including the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies – could have timely access to essential medicines and lifesaving products during this critical period.

And it happened to launch when the world needed it most.

A 24/7 lifeline

Zuellig Pharma provides distribution, digital, and commercial services in 13 markets across Asia, serving more than 350,000 medical facilities and over 1,000 clients in the region.

As COVID-19 cases escalated, the company’s B2B eCommerce platform – eZRx for healthcare practitioners, clinics, and hospitals – aptly enabled customers and sales reps to buy and sell healthcare products anytime, anywhere, without needing to meet others physically. It also reduced pricing errors and consolidated important information in a single location.

The solution is powered by SAP’s ERP Central Component (ECC), an on-premises enterprise resource planning system, along with SAP HANA data management software. With the SAP software, eZRx could integrate finance, inventor, and product data seamlessly on the web as well as on mobile devices.

Turning the tide against the pandemic

Deployed in March 2020 – the same month that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international pandemic – eZRx was able to ensure the smooth delivery of PPEs and other crucial medical supplies including COVID-19 vaccines, enabling healthcare professionals to do their jobs safely during this challenging time.

Through eZRx, customers could also have “full visibility of Zuellig Pharma’s product offerings and self-service, without having to wait for a pharma representative,” said Daniel Laverick, the group’s SVP, head of digital and data solutions. “Sales reps could also free up their time to focus on more meaningful tasks as well as provide customers with an omnichannel experience, enabled by e-detailing.”

In addition, the company could now safeguard compliance with international regulations with a database mapping specific customers’ product licensing restrictions. If a purchaser attempts to access any of the items via eZRx that are not market-compliant, the products are not shown.

In 2021, Zuellig Pharma was able to automate 11.6 million order lines, reducing the manual ones in half, and generating $1.2 million in annual productivity gains.

The development of a life-saving platform in the COVID-19 era earned Zuellig Pharma a 2022 SAP Innovation Award, an annual honor commemorating organizations that have used SAP products to benefit both business and society.

You can read the details behind Zuellig Pharma’s amazing accomplishment in their Innovation Awards pitch deck.

Data Management