Command Alkon's CTO, Charles Evans, Discusses Getting the Right Data, to the Right People, at the Right Time

In this interview, VP of Marketing, Ed Rusch, speaks with CTO at Command Alkon, Charles Evans about cutting through the noise of tech and IoT to focus on the data that matters:

Ed Rusch: Well, next gen?

Charles Evans: Cloud.

Ed Rusch: Analytics, big data, prescriptive algorithms, all this kind of stuff you're hearing kind of bandied about in the technology space. I think business owners are hearing these things, and know they somehow apply to their business, but may be overwhelmed as to what that might specifically mean.

Charles Evans: Our customers create a lot of information. They're doing it in batching systems. They're doing it in dispatch systems. They're taking that information and using it for a lot of different things, and we're keeping track of a lot of data that's coming through, so you hear a lot about big data. Well, we have a lot of data that's created, so that may not be at the same volume as the airline industry, or the banks, but it's still a lot of information that we to kind of figure out what's meaningful, and get it to the right people at the right time.

And so, what is that and how does that apply? We traditionally have done all that on premise, which means at the customer's location, on their machine and their hardware, and so we've helped our customer gather all of that information and pull it together.

Ed Rusch: There's a phrase I've heard, "We're data rich, but information poor."

Charles Evans: That's a good way to put it.

Ed Rusch: Right. So data in of itself can almost be a distraction or noise. It may not help you accomplish what it is that you're doing, so you have the ability to collect this data, then so what? What do you need to do to make it information rich?

Charles Evans: So, first thing is you need to know where it is, so having it in an information system, or in a place where we can keep up with it, and it's contextual, is really important. It's also important that you be able to ask the right questions against the data, and get information. So, there's kind of a tendency today to lean toward how do I report on that? How do I get dashboards that show me the data in a meaningful way.

Ed Rusch: So transactional type activities?

Charles Evans: Transactions, but then bringing those together, so that you can look at that in an effective way. What happened though over time is, as we grew, we acquired companies with a lot of those skills, and allowed you to leverage that information in many different ways. So, there's information that has to do with batching and actually running the plant, and you'll hear a lot of things about IOT. Well, we're really running the internet of things, i.e. running devices, with protocols that allow us to talk from our system to those devices, and make things happen.

Then we also have a way to take that information and distribute it, and so what's better at distributing than the Cloud, and so then we take our information and we put it in the Cloud, and so that you can track. Okay, we need to dispatch this load out into the field. Well, we use the Cloud for that, and so we can not only see it on a screen, and overlay it on a map, we can send a message to the driver in the truck, and he can see it, and he can get information about how he's suppose to get where he needs to be. And so that's kind of bringing together a lot of the Cloud ... Cloudy pieces, with IOT. And then again, mobile is kind of really hot right now, and what's happening and everybody has one in their pocket.

Ed Rusch: Sure.

Charles Evans: But even in industrial use, that's becoming much more heavily used, and so in the truck then.

Ed Rusch: Telematics, GPS.

Charles Evans: Absolutely, telematics, GPS. Again, it's also IOT, and so there we can have the information available to the right person at the right time, and the techie word is on-the-edge. We had the acquisition of Five Cubits quite a few years ago, and a lot of customers using our solutions there and again, that's taking that information that's collected on prem, or on premise, of all of our customers, and consolidating it and bringing it together in the Cloud, and providing it in a timely manner, consolidate it, and allows different companies to work with each other.

Ed Rusch: A lot of these types of things that you've described are maybe not the right word, but discreetly implemented in various parts of the industry. There's-

Charles Evans: A lots of solutions for those, yeah.

Ed Rusch: Yeah, organic, evolution is some of the other areas. Then you get into the interconnectivity from an ecosystem in community perspective, and the target's always moving, so as you're trying to get your arms your sense of what things are today, the technology target is continuing to-

Charles Evans: It's always forward, right? There are other people to integrate with. You're not on an island by yourself, so I think the key point there is we need all of our systems to work well together, and then we need to tie in with other systems, and those can be through API's or through open interconnect between tools. And then we also have a lot of customers who do things on their own, and they want to be able to tie in and get to the information. So, I think that whole open approach to integration is going to be key in the future, and that's the way that things work in the Cloud today.

If a customer needs to get information for their portal on the weather, there are services for that. If they need to get information about what's happening in their city with traffic and others, there's ... all of that's available, and we just need to be able to play in with all of those.

Ed Rusch: A many to many community of communities, right?

Charles Evans: Very well put.

Ed Rusch: Okay. So in concept makes a lot of sense, and technologies are emerging to make these things happen. In practical reality, why is it so much harder than what it might seem like when people talk about it?

Charles Evans: Well, the actual exchange of that information for many different systems requires a knowledge of where it is, ad where it's coming from, and it needs to be conveyed in a meaningful way. And since we created many of the systems that are used in this whole environment, we know how they plug together and we plug them together, and have them work together, so I think that's critical and important. We work with the leaders in the industry, and they give us back best practices of how these should work together, and we have a lot of experts that also understand the way things work today, and how they should work in the future.

Ed Rusch: So, these sorts of things, I think, just require some alignment and a shared vision from the product teams and the technology teams here, as well as the stakeholders across our customer base. What kind of things can companies like ours and other folks wanting to evolve their technological sophistication do in order to prepare themselves and equip themselves to leverage these things for the good of their business and the industry?

Charles Evans: Well, I'd like to start first with what I'm seeing some of the leaders already doing.

Ed Rusch: Okay.

Charles Evans: And I've had the good fortune of meeting with several CIO's and leaders in the technology realm for our customers, and many of them are already looking at what they need to do with open API's, what they need to do with integration with other systems, and what their plan is for moving to the Cloud, and instead of having to manage the infrastructure themselves, how can they go to somebody to provide things as a service.

And I think that as we evolve and grow as Command Alkon, and we work with customers who are evolving and growing and leveraging services, I think together we'll find a good place of how we can work together.

Ed Rusch: What barometer or engagement are you seeing, more broadly outside the leaders, to want to tap into this stream and this resource availability?

Charles Evans: Well, I think you see it at all different levels, and especially when you start talking about mobile. I mean, everybody wants to have a solution on their phone, or on their tablet, and that could be something in the cab, to that could be something for an executive looking at the orders, or what's been dispatched. And so I think most of our customers have a need for this high tech, and they don't just think about it in that terms. They just say, hey, I want something to work just like my phone does. That's the way I want things to work.

Ed Rusch: You know, lots of folks saying, well, I know where my ride is from the Uber driver, or the Lyft driver, and they're three minutes away, and I know their car and their tag number and the color of the paint, and the driver's name, and that information is real time and pervasive, and there's not a lot of friction to see on their device, and so the consumer experiences people having with companies like that are Amazon. And there's another example people use oftentimes, it gets people in the mindset to say how do we create these types of experiences for our customers, or as a buyer, these are the sorts of expectations that I'm being exposed to and expect from the people supplying me, correct?

Charles Evans: I think going back to your earlier question though, there's a piece of it that is kind of consumer-ish, and could be viewed that way, but then there is also a lot of complexity behind it in order to run a plant, or to manage a distribution of lots and lots of vehicles. There's quite a bit of complexity in that, and so we have to have the systems on the back end that can manage that, but then present it in a more easy way for our customers. So, that's our challenge.

Ed Rusch: Simplicity is difficult, really, in a lot of ways, right? There's a word I'm hearing, blockchain.

Charles Evans: Supply chain ... it's quite an interesting area. I mean, everybody's heard about Bitcoin and what's happened with Bitcoin, and it's not always had a great reputation, and it's used in some other areas, but it's actually, blockchain is getting a lot of press in the supply chain, because it's inherently traceable, and we're doing a little bit of research to see where and how that might apply to our ecosystem as well.

Ed Rusch: Well, fantastic. Well, if you had to put your crystal ball, or fortune telling head on, Charles, and had to make some predictions about the near future, what are some of these other buzzwords or things we're going to start to hear that we need to try to figure out, or our customers need to figure out whether they're relevant of not?

Charles Evans: Well, I think you've hit on the big ones in this space, you know, IOT and telematics and big data, machine learning. Business intelligence is going out of vogue now, but now it's machine learning and how do you analyze this data. I think you'll see a lot more, and we have a jump on that with optimization, and with some of the other intelligent ways that we're dealing with the information that we have, but those are the key ones. I think you don't hear a lot about artificial intelligence anymore. It's more about analytics, and how you can have that data available, and then utilize it and leverage it.


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