Alan Munro is an consultant researcher studying people, use of new technologies, and interactions through them. His work is primarily in ethnographic and situationist approaches informing design of new technologies, and informing critical...
Council Interview with Gert Dam from IMBU.MOBI
Gert Dam is co-owner and managing director at IMBU.MOBI. The company provides iPad based asset monitoring where aggregation and internationalization (Russian, Chinese, Kazakh and English are supported) are the keywords.
Council: Can you briefly say how you got into this field? Gert Dam: I am co-owner of a service company operating in Central Asia in the Oil and Gas industry. Many of the Oil and Gas operators in this region are managing a large number of different assets scattered throughout large, empty geographical areas.
For our customers, it can be difficult and sometimes impossible, to assess, in real or near real time, the availability of all these assets and how this impacts overall production and gas-flaring levels. A side-effect of this lack of transparency is a higher vulnerability to oil-theft.
This is in short what got us thinking. There should be a way to offer a clear and near immediate view of all assets, both to our customers (and when applicale to ourselves), allowing us to gain a solid understanding of availability levels throughout all production locations.
Council: Are you coming from the hardware side or business analaytics?
Gert Dam: My back-ground is a mixed bag really. My educational back-ground is Electronics & Embedded Software but, soon after i started working, I got involved in sales & business development in emerging markets, mainly targeting the oil and gas industry. Then, as a business owner, the analytics side of things got more relevant. IMBU is a combination of all of the above.
Council: When did you think that IMBU could work? What convinced you?
Gert Dam: I have always been focused on sales and am frequently visiting oil and gas locations. The "field" conversations convinced me that a "dashboard", bringing all availability & production figures together into one rich interface, would have alarge added value for all management levels of these oil and gas organizations.
What convinced me was a discussion & concept presentation I gave to a director, responsible for $2.5 billion of annual oil production. This was unique in that he got more and more excited "during" a sales talk over a concept.
A good portion of his time is spent on consolidating production figures throughout the multiple production locations he manages. All are lacking a scheduled, automated and standardized reporting tool, easy to access for management and which he could carry with him. In addition, as IMBU reports are in Chinese, Russian, English and Kazakh, he also saw it as a communications bridge between his multilingual staff.
Council: Is there harsh competition already, or is this a place where lots of startups have equal chances? Do you see yourself going into more 'smart city' like applications like Worldsensing?
Gert Dam: We've chosen to gear-up in the niche I know well: the Oil and Gas industry in emerging markets.
There are many challenges. To name a few: support for many languages, spread out in difficult to access territories, lack of gsm coverage, lack of infrastructure, extreme ambient temperatures (-50C - +50C), etc. Not an easy place to start with a new m2m initiative as there are so many hurdles to overcome. Having an operation in this region should therefore give us a head-start over competition. We're planning to gear-up in Oil and Gas first and are not planning to quickly go into 'smart city applications' as we are lacking a broad market knowledge.
Council: It was a real design decision also I guess to start working with the Ipad, were designers involved? If so, who is responsible for the design of the 'dashboard' of the data aggregation? Does that mean that I can not work with IMBU if I do not have an Ipad? (or is it included :)
Gert Dam: As we're planning to work with large Oil and Gas operators we feel standardization, availability, security and quality are leading factors. We didn't see the added value of supporting multiple hardware platforms running Android.
We did see the added value of the iPad: best available Tablet on the market, available anywhere, standardized secure App distribution infrastructure, standardized hardware which makes it easier to offer support & service, etc. And yes... we do include iPad's in our product offering - these include a mobile internet subscription and service agreement. With IMBU' the User-Interface designer was leading the project. From day 1, we have treated usability as a top-priority. That is what makes IMBU different. We started with the user and then built a platform which is pleasant for him to use.
Council: As Business Model you have chosen an all in lease formula. This definitely makes sense in an IoT environment but it also greaty I can imagine complicates the launch of the product as you have to deal with many service companies first and convince them before there is a real application. Or did this go smoothly?
Gert Dam: We have indeed chosen to offer Software as a Service - meaning our end users pay a fixed fee / asset / month. To get things going, we have build Transmitter & back-end software ourselves.
For the iPad software, we have been using a software house in Utrecht (Netherlands) that understands the 'magic user-experience' we were looking for. Sales wise, we are starting with end-users and are not putting the pedal to the metal yet. We are intending to use our launching customer as a proof of concept and then market IMBU further to end-users in Central Asia. At the same time, we are starting up a first distributor in Russia. End-users are easier to convince then service companies who seem a bit more reticent. We believe that if end-users are convinced, service companies will follow.
Council: We hear that IMBU is launching soon as a full service in Kazachstan, how big is the scale?
Gert Dam: Our launching customer in Kazakhstan is starting with 300 assets to monitor. We are in discussion with a 2nd customer with 250 assets. It is our intention to first get those going before starting a wide-spread market approach.
Council: What do you think are the unique selling points of IMBU when compared with other initiatives?
Gert Dam: From the start, we have focused on usability - whereby other initiatives don't always really focus enough on the end-user experience.
IMBU is also geared up to function in a multi-language environment supporting Chinese, Kazakh, English and Russian. Assets are placed in a hierarchy and each level has its own dashboard. Top managers of an organization will use IMBU to understand efficiency & production levels of their whole organization and/or production locations. Operators and service managers will use the lower-level dash-boards and get progressively closer to the individual assets. We have also been focusing on the use of the Tablet as we believe it makes distribution, sharing and using of the information throughout an organization easier.
Council: Does IMBU only accept information coming from it's own transmitters or can IMBU also be build in to other hardware platforms?
Gert Dam: IMBU is all about the iPad App and its usability. From day 1, we have said that we are open to work with any type of field-installed hardware and are ready to interface with existing data centers. To be able to gear-up IMBU as a turn-key service, we have developed our own Transmitter software. We do however look forward to building partnerships with existing hardware & data centers to increase the quantity of users of the IMBU App.