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Jeff Smith

Episode 1: Developing IoT Technologies and Systems, with Jeff Smith

Jeff N. Smith is the founder and managing partner of eviot, a global consultancy focused on large complex IoT deployments and vertical IoT technologies go to market strategies. Previously Jeff co-founded Incenergy in 2010 to build IoT/M2M energy saving and monitoring solutions delivered through the cloud for industrial and commercial environments. During this time Jeff has program managed and deployed projects for U.S. Government and Fortune 100 clients globally.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Jeff’s entrepreneurial journey and how that led to Incenergy
  • Jeff’s system of deploying Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to organizations around the world
  • How Jeff got good at IoT
  • What IoT really means
  • How IoT is making the internet so much more complicated
  • What Jeff helps people figure out if they want to incorporate IoT into their business
  • What Jeff is most proud of with his IoT system
  • What needs to happen to help clients implement IoT technologies
  • The paint-by-numbers process Jeff’s team has created to help implement IoT technologies
  • How Jeff deals with breakdown points in the IoT process
  • What makes Jeff’s IoT system largely different from other businesses with IoT systems
  • Some of the systems that Jeff’s company will tackle next
  • Why creating a network with lots of different devices is really complicated

Ways to contact Jeff:

Transcript:

Welcome to System Execution, the strategy and system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company, but here, we’ll solve your physical, technological, and psychological systems issues by connecting you with experts that have succeeded in overcoming those challenges in their own business, and providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results. Now, here’s your host, Vera Fischer.

Vera: Welcome to System Execution, a podcast devoted to using processes to drive to a better outcome for your business. I’m Vera Fischer, your host. All businesses, no matter the size relies on systems. Some of these are physical systems such as a factory. Some are technological like project management software, while others are psychological systems such as checklist and organizational charts.

Many of these systems overlap in your business or your personal life. I want to focus on one system today, a specific system you have found to be instrumental in your business or your life, and that’s why I’m really excited to introduce our guest today, Jeff Smith. Jeff Smith is Senior Director and a founding member of Incenergy, a company built in 2010 to deliver Internet of Things or IoT, and machine-to-machine or M2M energy saving and monitoring solutions through the cloud for industrial and commercial environments. During this time, Jeff has program managed and deployed projects for the United States Department of Energy funded projects and Fortune 500 clients across four continents. Currently, Jeff is focused on deploying and expanding LED lighting solutions to the company’s IoT technologies.

Prior to Incenergy, he was the co-founder of Global Climate Strategies, an organization focused on originating carbon-reducing projects in the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and India to increase energy efficiency, convert waste to energy, and prevent deforestation. Welcome to System Execution, Jeff.

Jeff Smith: Thank you, Vera. I’m very excited to be here.

Vera: Jeff, I have given System Execution fans a brief glimpse into your background, so let’s just take a minute and tell us more about who you are, what your experiences are, and then we’ll dive into your particular system that you want to talk about today.

Jeff Smith: Thank you, Vera. Before Incenergy, I’ve been able to be out in the world, and as you had mentioned in my bio, I had a chance to spend some time working on carbon-reducing projects around the world. This gave me a great glimpse in terms of what’s happening in the world and some of their needs. Before that, I’ve been in technology for going on greater than 15 years now, dating back well before the internet.

Vera: Didn’t you have a lot of experience in the ’90s when all the ‘.com’ offerings were really exploding here in Austin?

Jeff Smith: Yes I did. I can say that during that time, I worked for a consulting firm where our primary job was to essentially build the ‘.coms’, so during that time, it was working with anywhere from Cisco to Sun Microsystems, to also working with the plethora of internet startups that were here in Austin, so it was a very fertile time to be here.

Vera: That background then segued into more of that environmentally responsible stewardship. Is that correct?

Jeff Smith: Yeah, that’s correct. I mean, looking out over what’s happening throughout the world, that became clear that I wanted to spend some time being part of a solution. I could see that a climate change and the things that were happening around the world were certainly a concern to me, and if I had an opportunity to be able to get out into the world and focus on delivering systems or delivering projects, it would be part of the solution. That’s certainly something that I wanted to do.

Vera: Great. Currently, you’re at Incenergy. Again, just for the listeners, Incenergy is an energy management company that relies on technology and various levels of expertise, and I know that Jeff is a pivotal part of that execution. Jeff, let’s go ahead and get started, and let’s start with this first section. This is where we’re really going to queue up the system that we would like to talk about today.

Again, I’ll remind you and our listeners that this system could be from a business perspective or it could be from a personal, ‘What’s next?’ perspective. With that said, Jeff, here’s the question. The system I’m really good at is?

Jeff Smith: To fill in the blank there, Vera, the system that I’m really good at is deploying IoT technologies to global organizations around the world.

Vera: Okay. For me, that sounds very complicated to understand deploying IoT technologies, and I’m thinking our listeners might think that’s complicated, so we’re going to walk through this and we’re going to put some steps through it and make it less complicated. To be really good at Internet of Things deployment locally and globally, it certainly can’t be luck, so you really have got to have some things in place to get that system going, a really good idea. Explain to our listeners how do you know you’re really good at that system?

Jeff Smith: That’s a great question. I can tell you that coming to that conclusion has been fraught with a lot of lessons and bumps along the way. I can say that when I started this endeavor in 2010, this space wasn’t even really defined and building this technology was fairly new. Certainly, wireless technology was in place, but being able to add additional things that were out in the world and have these things have logic and be able to report back somewhere that had a meaning to somebody, there were a lot of challenges involved with that, and still seem to be challenges along the way. Being a startup certainly, there’s things that start in a laboratory which is where we started, and then we were able to deploy some of these systems locally in the Austin area and learned a lot of things there.

Then, if we follow that evolution, we were able to be able to land large global customers at which point there was a lot of learning because doing something with one or tens of things is something that is easy to wrap one’s hands around, but when you get into hundreds or thousands of locations, that’s where the learning really started.

Vera: Jeff, explain just so that I’m on the same page with you as our listeners. When you’re talking about Internet of Things, can you give me just a brief overview of what that really means because I know it’s a relatively new term, so I want to make sure we’re understanding that?

Jeff Smith: Yeah. That’s a fair question. IoT technologies can really span from let’s say if you have a Fitbit. That is a thing that connects to the internet. If you have a wireless thermostat you can control through your smartphone, that is a thing.

If you have a refrigerator or a washer dryer that reports or connects to the internet in any way, those are things. What we’re finding is that there are multiple things that are going to be instrumented in the world that you’re going to be able to interact with, and that’s really where we’re starting to see some market explosion.

Vera: That’s really interesting. Okay. That’s cool. All right. Why this area? Why are you really focused on this area from a system perspective?

Jeff Smith: I can say that one of the things that became clear is that in the world of Internet of Things, what’s a little bit different than the things that have been delivered thus far, everything has been contained in its own little box. Like if you get a laptop, everything is contained in there. I’ve got a screen. I’ve got a processor. I’ve got storage space. All of that is there.

What happens in the world of the Internet of Things, all of these things are broken apart so I have things that live in a cloud, I have things that live on the edge that just sends temperature or other parts, and then I have all of this information sent somewhere and delivered to me, and so the complexity associated with that starts to become exponential in terms of the things that you have to be able to keep your eye on.

Vera: From a global perspective, it gets even more complicated.

Jeff Smith: That’s true. If you look at companies like Cisco or IBM or read any kind of reports around where this is going, they’re looking at tens of billions of things that are going to be connected to the internet in the coming years, and so that’s going to be everything from self-driving vehicles to instrumenting appliances that you’re going to buy. It’s going to be something that’s going to be on the horizon for sometime.

Vera: Jeff, as far as explaining and educating people whether it’s a customer or a colleague, how much in education does it take to really get them to understand what you’re trying to do with the Internet of Things?

Jeff Smith: It really starts with some kind of an interview. One of the things I’ve really found is that some people may rush to implement some kind of solution and have no idea what it is they’re asking for or even if it’s going to be successful on the other end. For us, I have found that it’s important to go and sit down with somebody and find out what is the business case, what is the business need, and is there some way to have a thought lined through that that we can really bring back to what is the benefit, because what I found is that if you go out to the world and you instrument all these things and it just sends gobs of data up to the cloud, if there’s no real definition about what purpose that data serves, then it’s really kind of a farce in terms of going down this road. I think it’s important to define the value of the data or the things that you’re looking to do when you go through this process.

Vera: Was this initial interview and this thought process something that you’ve always done or did you end up determining that through a series of trial and error?

Jeff Smith: Yeah. It was a series of trial and error. I mean, for us, when we started out, it was a little bit of promoting the ‘Gee-whiz’ factor, like, “Hey, you can now control a portfolio of thermostats from your smartphone. Isn’t that interesting?”, and so yeah, it was interesting, but it wasn’t enough certainly in a business to business world. It wasn’t enough to really get somebody to decide to adopt to this in some substantial way, so it became important for us to be able to sit down and interview and realize that although we have this enabling technology, it’s still really a financial decision, and if I have no way to really reduce this to practice relative to what’s the return on investment, it’s going to be hard to move it forward.

Vera: I’m so glad you said that because people associate technology with no humans, but technology only works if you have that human element and there is a sense of purpose. Right?

Jeff Smith: That’s absolutely correct.

Vera: Yeah. I just love to hear IoT technologies aren’t exempt. That’s just so important. Your technology isn’t necessarily widget, but it is in some cases. Right?

Jeff Smith: That’s true. I mean, for us, there are pieces of information. Like for instance, if I wanted to be able to instrument let’s say if you are making meals for an airline and you want to be able to monitor and have some auditable record of one of the temperatures and all of your freezers and coolers to ensure food safety, and if those temperatures get beyond a certain range, there’s an alarm somewhere. These are things that heretofore people are walking around with clipboards and pieces of paper and they’re writing the stuff down. As quickly as we have moved forward in things like smartphones and computers, when you start talking about instrumenting the things in your environment, we’re still pretty much in the early days of this.

Vera: That’s interesting. That leads my brain to go to another area. Was your experience and seeing technology practically be born, and then go through its infancy in the ’90s, and now, it’s a testy teenager I think, out of what you’ve learned with all of this, what are you most proud of with this particular system?

Jeff Smith: It’s a great question. I can say that what’s been the most satisfying for me is actually going through the iterations of being able to go through a little bit of trial and error and finding out what works to be able to be to the point where things could be handed off and somebody can run with it. Meaning that at the beginning, there was a heavy assist, a lot of hand-holding involved in really taking somebody through the process. Now, I’m not meaning to say that I can completely without any touch at all handle this over, but it’s now to the point to where I know where the elements are that are going to fall down and there are systems and processes in place to ensure that people remain in that swim lane to be able to get from there’s just a site survey of what we can do at a place to the actual solution being deployed and usable at a site.

Vera: Do you have all that written down as they’re the proverbial three-ring binder?

Jeff Smith: Yeah. Yes, but it’s all in the cloud now. Yes, it does exist and there are things and process flows that we have done and instrumented either through our CRM or through other processes to make sure that people within the organization as something goes through, its usual maturation process and stages from “I’m just talking to somebody to somebody buying something to getting it out into the world” that the proper resources inside the organization are at least triggered or notified when it’s the time to come in and start doing their functions in order to move it forward.

Vera: Okay. When you’re implementing this system … This can be the really daunting part for most folks and this is where a lot of people will give up. You’ve had that initial conversation with that potential client, you understand what their goals are, et cetera, and then, you start getting as you said to where you can hand it off with minimal involvement, but you still need to be involved, so at what point from an implementation perspective can you actually hand it off and where people follow, “Okay. Do it this way. Step one, step two, step three”?

Jeff Smith: Yeah. In terms of the ability to hand it off, let’s say we started out in a situation where I actually had to be on site, I had to go to places and actually walk it through, it’s now to the point where we realized that we needed to provide waypoints. Essentially, “What happens when something arrives and being able to walk through with somebody?”, “What’s arrived?”, and what that looks like because it’s been financially unfeasible to consider that I need to go to all these places in the world where these things are going to be installed, so I have to find a way to communicate with somebody somewhere else on the planet about this package that they’ve received and be able to educate them in some way. For us, what we’ve done is really been able to say, “Okay. Here’s this first step. Once you finish this first step, we’re going to check in with one another, we’re going to assess where we’re at, and then we’ll go to the next step after that”, and so we found that being able to break it apart into its logical parts and only focus on that part, and being able to determine success or failure in that would help in terms of charting the path forward.

Vera: Okay. This is where the good stuff is. Let me ask you this. When you are shipping that stuff over to the other side of the world, is it words on a piece of paper? Is it pictures? Is it something they download on their smart device? How did they get the educational instructions?

Jeff Smith: Yes. Some of this is because in some of the places where we’re sending this stuff, there’s limited internet connection or either a phone contact, so what we needed to do is treat this a little bit like a moonshot when we’re dealing with things that are elsewhere in the world. If I’m talking about Sub-Saharan Africa or down in the point of Argentina and Patagonia, I mean, there’s difficulty in terms of communicating, so yes, there’s documents with words on them. There are pictures. We try to make it as paint by numbers as possible and be very, very clear about “We need you to check in at this point”.

Vera: Do you have your own internal team that does this type of creation and implementation? Do you have external resources you depend on? How does that work?

Jeff Smith: Yeah. For the most part, it’s internal resources. I mean, any external resources we’ll use are either wrapped around and making it look more easily visually consumable, but for the most part, all the content that’s associated with being able to communicate all of this is something that’s generated in-house.

Vera: How are you measuring that effectiveness of that deployment system of IoT technologies if you will?

Jeff Smith: If we start continuing to have breakdown points … For us, we wanted to back the bus up as far as we needed to to ensure that everybody was on it, because one of the things that’s unique about the Internet of Things is that I have operational staff in a location, and then I have IT staff, and so typically, those areas have not had to interweave on a continual basis, and so what I’m having to do is weave these two strands together to create this fabric. For us, if there’s breakdown points either in dealing with IT or dealing with the operational staff, we’re going to know it, and if those things are falling down fairly early in the process, we realize that there’s something on our end that we need to do to adjust because we have to follow these steps in sequence, in order in order to have it become live on the other end.

Vera: From your operations and your It staff, that must be what’s next as far as the next system or process that you have to figure out in order to really perfect that deployment?

Jeff Smith: Yeah. That’s completely accurate. Even before things are showing up, there are interviews and people that need to be identified, and it’s a little bit like “I’m going to tell you about it. I’m going to tell you about what I’m going to send. We’re going to review what we have sent, and then we’re going to walk you through the process of what to do with it afterwards”.

There’s a fair bit of orchestration that happens along the way in terms of even sending documents or providing access to video resources that we’ve created in so much as if there’s any kind of ambiguity or questions that they have, we’d certainly like to get that feedback as early as possible for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is I want to make sure I’ve got the right resources involved because there’s going to be an ask. There’s going to be something that I’m going to need them to do in order to make this successful, and so I need to know that they’re going to actually be able to do it, because in some cultures around the world, I have found that yes is something that they will say, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they actually understand what you’re asking.

Vera: Really, that’s interesting. That would be frustrating too when someone says yes, but they don’t really know what they’re saying yes to.

Jeff Smith: That’s accurate. That’s something else that we’ve learned is that I need to ensure and be very explicit about the action that I’m looking for that person to take and simply acknowledging yes doesn’t mean that they actually are understanding the information, so that’s why I’ve had to be very clear in the communication of this of what I’m asking them to do and I need them to respond back to me that “Yes, I understand what you’re asking me to do and I can actually do that”. That’s helped. That was one of those fall down points that I mentioned earlier is that I would send information. “Do you have it?”

“Yes, I have it”. “Okay. Great. Do you understand it?” “Yes, I do”, and there was a lot of yeses, but once it arrived, there was a lot of “I don’t know what this is”, “I don’t know what to do”, and so that was very frustrating for us. That was a learning point to ensure that before things get sent, we are orchestrating this and talking to these people and being very clear about what the ask is before the stuff arrives.

Vera: In your opinion, given that you’re really immersing all of this, Jeff, do you think that you and your company are heads above a lot of other companies trying to do this type of deployment regardless of the product? It sounds like you’ve got it really mapped out. Are you the one percent of companies that have this figured out or are you in the middle of the road? I’m just curious about that.

Jeff Smith: I would say that I feel like I’m in the one percent, and I only can respond to that in the sense that in going out into the world and talking to people and mentioning what we’ve done in doing a global rollout of this type of technology, there’s not many people that have done that. Certainly, there’s been a rollout of this kind of stuff here in the United States, but being able to go out to the edges of the world and to do that successfully, there’s not many people that have done that, so I feel like we’re certainly on the top tier.

Vera: Okay. That’s really interesting. From a what’s next for your business perspective, what do you think the next big system or processes that you’re going to have to tackle?

Jeff Smith: What’s clear to us in terms of the solution that we provide which is in the category of energy efficiency or being able to command and control a track systems remotely as a thing in the Internet of Things or being able to get energy meter data to understand how your energy is being consumed, the next thing for us is going to be LED lighting control. That has its own unique kind of situations around that in the sense that I’m dealing with something that for instance, if I’m in a manufacturing plant and my lights go haywire, that can be a problem. It can shutdown the production line. If I have it in a retail store, it can affect customers being able to buy things. Whereas, I’ve dealt with comfort and I’ve dealt with just reading meter data, dealing with lighting systems when they’re needed is going to be the next frontier that we’re going to go after, and I’m working through currently the way in which to deploy those kinds of systems which believe it or not, when people go out and change lighting, it typically happens on either a weekend, or a holiday, or in the middle of the night, so they happen in non-standard times.

Vera: It sounds complicated, Jeff, but it sounds like you know what you’re doing.

Jeff Smith: I’m glad it sounds that way.

Vera: I know you do. I know. This has just been, it’s super educational, but it really sheds light on I think something that people don’t think about that how you actually implement this throughout the world, and it’s only going to become more prevalent, and I think that the system that you have in place and the way that you’re going about it is really interesting. Some of it is just very methodical and somewhat simple. It’s common sense.

Jeff Smith: It is, and I would find that one of the things that has become clear to me in deploying this is when people have deployed IT systems. Typically, if you’re talking about this kind of technology, people are going to show up, and they’re like, “Oh, I’ve done this before. I’ve put servers and racks and connected to the internet and stuff like that”. Okay. Yeah. That’s true, but to put a finer point on it, when I start breaking all of those pieces apart and I start pushing those elements down further and further down to the ground or to the environment, or the piece of machinery where each one of those things has some IP address, it’s addressable.

It’s not just one singular computer. These are thousands of devices that are reporting in one location and they’re all talking, and so discerning that chatter and being able to set that up and maintain that network has been something that we’re still on the frontier in learning a lot of things about. When I get into situations where I may go into a plant and I’ve got 20, 30, 50, a hundred thermostats that I’ll go and deploy and network up, easy enough to do, but if I go into a plant that has 2,000 lights and I’ve got each one of those that has a 12 character number and letter combination that’s unique and I have to know where in space this thing is located and how it’s reporting, and how all of that network gets set up, when I have people that I’m not there, there may be five crews of people that are installing those lights all at the same time and how do I commission them, and how do I ensure that they’re all doing it because I have a very specific window in going into a plant where they’ve shut it down for a weekend. You only have Friday at midnight until Monday morning at five AM.

Vera: Wow. I would love to have you back on the show in a few months and I would love to follow up and see how that system has materialized and what you have learned and some of the wins and the failures in that. Would you come back and visit with us again?

Jeff Smith: Absolutely, Vera. I’d love to do it anytime.

Vera: Great. Jeff, it’s just been very educational to learn about IoT technologies and you really have provided some nuances that our listeners really need to hear to begin their own systems and execution on those systems. Today, before we close out, I’d love to hear any final advice you want to share or anything that we missed, and then of course, tell us the best way that our listeners can connect with you.

Jeff Smith: Thank you for asking, Vera. The only thing that I can really say that I’ve learned is that it’s easy to run off on your own and learn these things. I think it’s important to make sure that you’re clear about who are all the people you need to have on the bus. By bus, I mean, who are all the passengers that need to be on this journey that you’re going on, and ensuring that you back it up far enough to make sure that everybody’s on it in order to take it through. That would be another piece of advice that I would say that I’ve learned to make sure that it’s successful.

Then, in terms of being able to reach out to me, I’m certainly willing to provide my personal email address. It’s a Gmail address, and it’s simply my name and my middle and last initial. It’s ‘JeffNS@gmail.com’.

Vera: Great. System Execution fans, no matter how many notes you took or how often you re-listen to this episode, the key is you must know that every successful business uses system execution to drive to a better outcome. Jeff, I want to thank you so much for sharing your expertise and insight to our listeners today.

Jeff Smith: It’s been my sincere pleasure. Thank you.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution enlightening. For free examples, case studies, e-books, and more, be sure to visit ‘SystemExecution.com/resources’. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on email at ‘Vera@SystemExecution.com’. Until our next episode. Thank you for the privilege of your time.

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