At M2M Innovation World Congress 2014, last week, M2M World News had the opportunity to interview Andy Balousek, Director of Technical Sales at ThingWorx.
M2M World News: Could you please share with us a brief description of the ThingWorx offering?
Andy Balousek: Product-wise our charter is to create a platform for this explosion in connected applications, to address the need for applications in the field of the Internet of Things. Connectivity applications experience a tremendous growth rate. Nevertheless, it doesn’t do anybody any good to connect a device, to collect the data and then do nothing with it. The need for meaningful applications around all of this connectivity is really what the platform is for. The aim is to facilitate development, making it faster to build applications around the connected things.
M2M World News: Is the main purpose of the platform to shorten the development cycle of IoT applications or to enable the creation of new types of applications?
Andy: Both! It’s faster for sure but then the good part of being faster is the ability to be iterative and innovative. Our platform enables to develop an application quicker, get it deployed and tested in an environment where it is easy to change. At the opposite of the old school development processes where you had, after testing your solution, to go on back to requirements, development, and test and then back to the beginning again, we want to make it in a way that each module that you develop is re-usable and changeable. That’s another strength of the platform.
M2M World News: Who is supposed to use the tool within the company: is it designed for the marketing people, for the technical teams…?
Andy: It could be both but it is not specifically designed for the marketing people. We are definitely geared towards the technical, the development side although you will not hear us use the term developer as much as application builder.
M2M World News: ThingWorx being part of the PTC group, what type of synergies are there within the group?
Andy: The good thing is that we have the status of a small company but without having to fear the “will you be here in 5 years?” question. So in our discussions with larger customers and for long-term engagements the backing of our “big” mother company is a plus. There are also really cool synergies and passions about completing the life cycle of a solution. PTC is all about designing a product and then following the product through its life cycle whether it is the actual design and development of the physical piece or the software going on it. What ThingWorx can give to PTC and vice-versa is completing that loop of when product is shipped and that’s it’s connected, we can get the life cycle understanding of how the customer is using it. Maybe they are not even using some features that are built into it. So maybe we can reduce the cost by removing those features in the next generation of product. The total life cycle management of products is key and it is a really strong argument to be able to say that we can change the way a product get developed, enable faster time-to-market and then close the loop by knowing how it is performing and used.
M2M World News: Can we say that the ThingWorx solution supports the PTC group’s vision that, in the future, more and more manufacturers will be designing products with built-in connectivity? Is the ThingWorx platform designed to enable this connectivity?
Andy: Yes, enable connectivity and then build the applications for monitoring, servicing… The platform offers the manufacturers the ability to create an application internally that gives them information about how their products are being used in the complete life cycle. And also it gives them the possibility to offer their applications as a service. That way, their service providers can more easily service, do predictive maintenance, spare parts ordering…They can know how they are servicing their parts and maybe even take it a step further by allowing the end-customer to dynamically change the product. For example, we have a case with a tractor manufacturer. They make a product and they have a network of dealers servicing the products. Then the end-users, the customers using the product, may want to change a software feature since many things nowadays on vehicles are software-controlled. For ex. changing the horse power rating dynamically because they may now need to be pulling heavy equipment or something like that. They may pay for that upgrade. So there is monetization of the application there.
M2M World News: Who are your direct or indirect competitors?
Andy: One of the biggest ones is “do yourself”. Talking to customers, they may already have some strategy, some development going on and they maybe evaluating ThingWorx and the PTC products against what they are already doing or developing with standard tools. Also, there is certainly competition out there with bigger players coming out with what they call an Internet of Everything platform. On our side, we’re really focused on enabling rapid application development with the ThingWorx platform itself. We want to enable our customers directly or our partners and innovators for vertical markets to be able to build the solution on their own in a record time. The recent acquisition of Axeda also brings us a competitive advantage: our combined tools now easily enable connectivity. That comes on top of what the ThingWorx platform natively provides which is Rapid Application Development.
M2M World News: What is your business model for the platform?
Andy: Typically we’re selling it as a subscription. The customers are buying as a subscription the platform and license with users and device connectivity and they pay a monthly fee. It could be for one year or it could be longer term subscriptions. It’s flexible. We can allow customers to deploy it. We can offer managed services, hosted solutions and we can allow the customers to deploy wherever they need. For example, in the medical devices’ world or for regulated industries, they may want to own their own stack, to control their data, to control the access. Having the ability to offer this flexibility is another power of what we offer.
M2M World News: Is the ThingWorx platform appropriate and accessible for both SMBs and large companies?
Andy: Absolutely! We are working hard on being ahead of the curve for scalability. With the IoT we are talking about 50 Billion to 1 Trillion connected devices. The only way to attack that is to be able to scale to those numbers.
M2M World News: Could you mention some customer references?
Andy: In the US, in the medical device sector, we are working with SysMex. It is a Japanese company that manufactures blood analysis machines. They have a US operation that distributes the equipments to hospitals and diagnostics centers. In their “power to the hour” model, they lease the equipments to the customer and the customer only pays for valid test results. So it is in SysMex’s best interest to keep their machines running all the time. For them, what ThingWorx allow them to do is reduce what they call the “windshield time”. Instead of having a field service technician visiting the end-customers to see if there is any service issue, they can now remotely diagnose, connect and interact with those machines with the ThingWorx application that they have developed to better service.
M2M World News: Can the ThingWorx platform generate “embedded agents” which can operate on all the M2M modules and devices available on the market?
Andy: We have the ThingWorx edge microserver, which is a very small footprint extension of the ThingWorx server and designed to be extremely reliable. It can run on existing OS like Linux or Windows but we also have SDKs that allow our ThingWorx ready partners to create their own “edge” agent. It interacts with the end device remotely and then connects to the ThingWorx platform using their always-on connection.
M2M World News: What, in your opinion, will be critical for the M2M & IoT markets to reach success and the projected billions of connected devices on the field?
Andy: The platform used and the ability to build useful applications will be critical but the standards for communication will also be key. At ThingWorx we are flexible and we are able to extend the platform as the new technologies emerge. We have a kind of holistic approach of standards and protocol standards. Emerging technologies will become standard 20 years later when the new ones are coming and trying to become standards. It is almost like a recurring or constant emerging market. So we want to provide a platform that is easily extendable and we have done a lot to make it available to provide ThingWorx extension packages so not just the edge infrastructure is customizable, the platform itself is customizable to adapt to all these changes.
M2M World News: ThingWorx has just released the Version 5.0 of the platform. Can you tell us a bit more about the new features provided in this new version?
Andy: One of the new features is the ability to design your own your own dashboards through an application builder. The dashboard pieces are built within the framework but then the users have the ability to build their favorite dashboards out of their content. The version 5.0 also features flexible deployment options for the applications developed with the platform, new SDKs to create edge devices in popular programming environments such as Java, C, .NET but also iOS and Android. At last, this new release provides a more sophisticated management of the access control to devices and information to fit with today’s complex ecosystems.