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Allaster Fulton has always considered himself a mechanic after all his job as the vice president and general manager of Semtex, Wireless and Sensing Business is to utilize the tools provided to him in his toolbox and give customers the appropriate solution. The only difference is his tool kit helps millions of people across the world stay connected through a variety of different technologies. Bolton joins IT visionaries to provide a referendum on the state of the Iot, and he discusses why the biggest challenges facing his community are themselves.
Plus, he talks about why Laurer or Long Range Wireless Solutions and 5G are no longer seen as competitors. But allies enjoy this episode. It visionaries is created by the team at Mission Dog and brought to you by the Salesforce Customer 360 platform, the number one cloud platform for digital transformation of every experience, build connected experience, empower every employee, and deliver continuous innovation with the customer at the center of everything you do. Learn more at Salesforce.com platform. This podcast is created by the team at Mission Dog.
Welcome to another episode of it, visionaries, I mean, Phase-Out, host of I.T. Visionaries, and today we have a special guest house to what's going on. Hi, nice to talk to you. Great to have you on the show. We're going to be talking Iot today, which is fun. A lot of really cool things going on at some tech. And we're going to get into your background as well. So let's get into it. How'd you get started in technology?
That's a good question. I guess I've always been into technology since my first Sirtex 18, which probably takes me horrifically, but playing around with that and later I think I upgraded to 90 Dragons 32, which is about as much power as I think. You have an average wristwatch these days. My focus was even them was much more on on how those technologies could really affect us as people rather than kind of geeking out on how the technology that was that was much more my brother focused on what to do with it.
I was more interested in the meaning that it had for us and the potential to really fundamentally change human interaction. And I think I first really started to understand that transformative effect hands on in the early 90s. And I started my career focusing on product development, which was a bit surprising given that I did a degree in economics and law. But in the early 90s, I was working in product R&D on what turned out to be one of the first online grocery stores, a company called Supermarket Direct back in the UK.
And it really, really was the early days. The product catalog was distributed each week on CD rom because back then the Internet didn't really work. The ordering process was by email and it was enormously clunky. But it was really striking to me at the time that this technology and the application of these technologies had the potential for creating distributed models of engagement and driving much more efficiency. In that particular example in retail, go to market and distribution by removing, if you like, the physical boundary from the way in which we interact with services, with each other, with businesses.
What was also really clear to me was the role of data and insight driven from that data in delivering better customer experiences more efficiently and also get right back then just how difficult generating that data was based on the technology that was available at the time. And in the 90s, we had telematics and machine to machine and very similar technologies as we have today. And actually, I think and I'll talk about this, I think as we go on, it's still really difficult.
It's still too difficult to generate data, the toolkits that we have at our disposal for what we do with that data change dramatically. But the very process of transporting data from A to B is still harder than it should be. And that's something we're focused on very much at centre. It was also really clear that it wasn't really the technology that was the problem, actually. It wasn't the strengths or the limits of the technology, but it was how we shaped that technology to do what we need.
And and the interpretation and translation of that need into technical requirements was was then, as now, I think, a real missing link and personally something that I've always found to be fascinating, that that process of determining and understanding made and translating it into execution, I think is one of the hardest things. I mean, I'd like to say that point. I kind of had this this road to Damascus moment and decided to devote my career to technology ET but I generally don't think Korea is a plan that way, at least at least I was much more fortunate to have a series of exciting challenges that came my way.
And that really started actually with an opportunity to start shaping the main delivery channel I saw in the 90s for these new experiences, that being the cell phone. And so from an early days in product, our R&D on the business side, I made it into the world of cell phone when I joined data. So flash forward to today. Tell me a little bit about your some tech.
So I need a fairly diverse business unit within Symantec and Suntech as a company is quite unique, actually. It's a 60 year old semiconductor company that has three guys, 60 years really established a position. Of R&D led strength. We focus on markets where there are some difficult technical challenges to solve, just the core problem is difficult or the way in which you solve that problem within power constraints. It's a challenging combination, not the business that I'm responsible for.
Spans a couple of different areas which are quite different. On the one side, I have a high row business that we we manufacture components for aeronautics and defense, etc. simple components that are designed to last for 20, 30 years. And we have a power business that's focused on energy recycling and wireless charging, which is very relevant in the Iot space, particularly given the number of sensors that are battery powered. There's a sensing business which is focused more on on mobile phones and wearables.
There's a part of the business which is focused on capacitive touch. So for earbuds and things that don't have a graphical user interface that rely on touch as the primary means of communication, that's an area that we cover to the probably the main focus of our R&D activity is around. Laura and Laura is a technology that was invented by a company that we acquired to solve a very specific set of challenges in distributed sensor networks. That being the need for a highly secure, long range, easy to deploy, highly efficient, low power way of connecting sensors around us.
And the reason that those characteristics are also important is as we move toward, I think, the promise of the Iot, which is the ability to understand kind of everything actually to to generate data from each part of the process and use that data to drive a better set of decisions, mostly to do with resource utilization. Doing that from experience is really hard with a lot of the technologies that are available today because they're too expensive or they are too hard to deploy.
They cost too much in terms of power. And so the focus of our business really is on Allura and taking what is a very strong technical solution and shaping it to the needs of the market and providing a set of tools that people building Iot applications can use. And that means not having to rely upon deep embedded hardware development skills. But but that you can approach this from the perspective of the cloud developer and actually utilize this technology in your solution so that parts of the business really has three components that together constitute the product that's hardware.
So the actual silicon design itself, the software, the abstracts from some of the underlying hardware complexity and then services that make the development process simpler or easier or quicker. So that's the primary focus.
And we're lucky enough to be part of a broader ecosystem around Lower Awam, which is the data protocol that runs on top of Laura the physical, and that's run through an organization called the Law Alliance that we obviously spent a lot of time working with and supporting to enable the broader ecosystem of folks, building networks, using or building solutions, using raw, etc..
And so how does Laura compare to something like 5G?
A good question. I mean, I look at this this world of those Iot and I see the need for a variety of different tools. And if you look at any comprehensive Iot solution and you could swap Iot for M2M and telematics just as well, because they're essentially targeting the same set of problems, you've got a variety of different needs. There are some taking a manufacturing process. For example, there are parts of your manufacturing process where the data type that you're generating is is very high bandwidth or the situation that you're trying to monitor and react to is near real time on a site near real time rather than actually real time, because those are those of the audience who've been in the space, you know, understand the difference between those two things that they had to, for example, understand from worker safety perspective whether one of your workers has his or her.
I'm trapped in a piece of machinery. Very often that's something you can only analyze through video and you need to be able to react really quickly and stop the machine. And for those sorts of scenarios, you need something like Farje. You need a you need a high bandwidth, high dependency solution, then you not really care so much about the power and you don't really care so much about the cost. But for everything else in your production chain, you've got some assets that you can monitor using existing techniques.
So using skidoos systems, for example, but you have a lot more assets moving through that production process. And these are smaller items. The product perhaps where a wired connection is impossible because it's moving a wireless connection needs to be able to survive on a battery for years in some instances, because you track that product through the production cycle, into the warehouse, into your supply chain and ultimately to your customer. And that indoor outdoor component requires a technology that works in both areas.
If you're simply focusing on product inside the environment and sometimes Wi-Fi is good, sometimes it's good. But really overall, I think the comparison between law and other technologies is that law does a specific set of things really well, but it's a complement to other technologies that are used. And I actually think one of the mistakes that we collectively as an I.T. system have made is not to fully appreciate the implications of that, not to fully appreciate that these tools are part of the toolkit and they must work together in order to do what developers and ultimately the customers of those developers want and need.
So I think the answer to your question, I so I don't so much see a difference. I see much more of a compliment. And how these bits fit together to comprise the total solution is the.
Yeah, that's a great breakdown, because I think that that that is one of the key questions. Right. Is like, how do all of these, you know, interoperate with each other? How do all these things add to the increased need for for compute with Iot and Edge and all that stuff? So I'm curious and I know you wrote a you wrote an article last year about the city of Calgary using or maybe you could, like, walk through an example like that of how this could work in practice.
Calgary is a good example of what we see more broadly, which is in a smart city environment. One of the challenges is really it's generating data and being able to integrate that data into a single backend through multiple sources and being able to rapidly deploy a network that covers the kind of everything else, the everything else that you you can't afford to connect over cellular of which, Senator, isn't a good technical fit. Wi-Fi doesn't work too well. So what Calgary did was really great and network infrastructure that was then used to support a variety of different use cases.
And in the case of the city and those use cases, they range from things like trash collection, the maintenance of the physical environment to food, which monitoring and understanding the nature of that physical environment and do you need to go and clean up is the main driver of cost. If you can understand what's happening well enough and tailor your reaction, you save an enormous amount of cost. And that's very much the angle for that type of application all the way through to more, I would say, environmental concerns around the consumption of resource, energy, water, etc.
up to the other end of the scale, which is much more about visitor experience, if you like, the experience of individuals living within that built environment. And that can be to do with access to services. It can be to do with consumption of resources like parking spaces. And actually now it can be increasingly to do with things related to our current circumstance, with covid-19 tools that help us both monitor environments for footfall to make sure that we're maintaining a level of cleanliness through to tools that can assist in social distancing capacity management.
As we start to go through this process of opening up the world around us and I think increasingly cities. Los Angeles is a great example of this as well. Increasingly, cities are seeing their role as being the managers of that environment, that the responsibility is the city to the businesses that reside within that city is to provide. Tools and services which facilitate the experience of the visitors of people coming into those areas and spending money and spending that time. So I think was was earlier perhaps than others in realizing their responsibility and the opportunity to improve the lives of city residents and visitors alike.
But we're seeing that same realization, I think, growing and and being triggered honestly by by the demands placed on cities by covid-19 response. Yeah.
When I go into that a little bit. So how how could something like Laura help with with covid-19 what we're seeing?
I mean, I think the whole perspective on our ecosystem, it is worth mentioning, I mean, we see our job centers as providing tools. You know, we make things that make it easier for other people to go and do incredibly innovative things. And the reason I mention that is I think it's it's it's very important to maintain humility or understanding a price for one very simple reason. Iot is littered with examples of companies trying to build end to end solutions in a way where they're saying to customers, oh, this is great, know all we have to do is stay on my island and everything's going to work fine.
It's all going to work. It's going to interact perfectly. I think covid-19 really puts into sharp contrast how that how broken that approach is, because in covid-19 it is the ability to understand how different systems interact that is critical to to to figuring out how to minimize risk. So what we say in our ecosystem doing is coming up with a whole range of different innovative solutions. The first wave in response to the onset of the beginning this year, very much true on existing products.
It takes a while to build functioning senses, after all. And so we saw the application of asset tracking devices to people and to assets in in hospitals, to respirators. We saw the application of simple push button triggers to field hospital deployment to give patients a button that they could press that that didn't require any physical cabling infrastructure that could be delivered from one gateway deployed in the near vicinity. And we've also started to see more tailored approaches to Code 19, using sometimes two four technologies to determine range, sometimes using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi within that space and then using backhaul over over when the network to a central place.
And those devices really would allow me and you to determine, well, if Alistar was diagnosed, was he in place and our facility to air and decide when to determine whether or not you are you have been exposed and need subcounty. And those devices tend to be a little bit more sophisticated in nature. But we're seeing very significant interest. We're using them ourselves, in all honesty, as we open our own facilities in our own factories, we're implementing these solutions.
So as responsible employers, we can make sure that we're doing what we need to protect folks that currently goes deeper into the world of monitoring and understanding health care at a wider scale. So there are a number of companies developing wearable products that use the low power characteristics of Laura and either a small coin cell or printed battery to produce essentially a bandaid that comes with sensors that the sensors vary from respiration rate, heart rate, et cetera. There are varying data points that you can utilize to determine if he is about to get sick, is again sick, or is he in and recovery.
And I'm really excited about that area because this is that opens up a much broader area than the immediate challenge created by covid-19.
And again, it comes back to better utilization of resources and ultimately reducing and managing the impact that we have on the environment. Because if I can use health care that's proportionate to my physical well-being and I take away the guesswork of I feel or do I not Talil, making data driven decisions is, to my mind, at least the best way of driving greater efficiency in society. Utilisation of scarce resources and right now 19, obviously, we have a very specific set of challenges as a human race to address, and those technologies are proving useful.
But I do think there's a longer term need as well. Yeah, definitely.
I mean, and I think that having certain types of redundancies is obviously important. And I think, you know, to your point earlier, with smart cities or about cities and about kind of the rise of smart cities like Calgary, trying to figure out how to how to do some of these things. You know, it's important for. The stakeholders to like, look at. All of the options on the table, and I think that, as you mentioned, kind of the, hey, we're just going to do this end to end or we're going to do X, Y, Z, and then supply chains get messed up or this happens or this happens.
And there's just all sorts of complexity that goes into it. And so it's clearly looking looking at the problems from a holistic view is is more important. And I think it's great to see, you know, cities and companies starting to look at that because because of the extra pressure.
But it seems like there will be kind of a new a new risk management profile that I think leaders look at going forward to figure that stuff out.
And I do think that the examples like Calgary, one of the challenges in Iot is, is this the sheer cacophony of alternate solutions. And having spent most of my career actually in the development space, the platform inspired choice is just it is just an insane amount of choice. And once you filter through, you know, the PowerPoint from the real and last time I checked, PowerPoint is an executable. So there's a lot of stuff out there that maybe not as close to to to production as it might be.
It's phenomenally difficult to have confidence that you're making the right set of choices. If you add to that the the, I think, somewhat cynical and somewhat deliberate attempt to design independency that you see in a lot of solutions, it becomes a very, very difficult decision for anyone to make and for municipal authority. A city responsible for spending residents money. It becomes a near impossible challenge. I think examples like where we focus on real world examples specifically for that reason, because if you're a city manager, if you can't say you can't be it, and if you can't look at someone else solving a set of problems with a set of technologies and you can't observe those technologies working together and being easy to support, et cetera, that's a very quick way of understanding whether or not something's real.
And so we we tend to to shine a spotlight on cities like Calgary and numerous applications just to say, hey, look, here's an example of how someone did this. How do they solve the problem? Because if you don't do that, number one problem in Iot is the business case. The technology technology does what you make it to do in the end of the day. And there's plenty of options and plenty of choices. The struggle in Iot is very often, well, how much how much is it going to cost me to do it?
And how much money am I going to say? How much resource am I going to say? What impact am I going to have on people's lives? And being able to look at an example is the surest way to quickly get to understanding. Well, for my city, you know, what could I do? Could I use these solutions to address the needs of my residents?
Yeah, and like you said it, you know, it's a lot of the things that, you know, like water and and like water usage and different sort of things. You know, you mentioned in the article that you wrote about golf course, things like that, like there's so many different uses and use cases to be able to deliver something like Laura that, you know, I'm sure it's about kind of like the education of of just learning what the different use cases are in some cases.
Right. I do think many authorities, you know, you've got to have confidence.
You're spending your taxpayers money wisely and you've got to know that something's going to be deliverable. And the path of Iot is littered with failed projects. And, you know, there isn't much more important, more important than water, actually, to take that example, know in the future, the scarcity that we will face as a human race is going to be water is going to be one of the main raw materials that the lack of which will very negatively impact a significant part of humanity.
And when you look at uses of water, golf courses and almond trees, and we see very extensive use of Laura in those agricultural situations because I've got 20 thousand almond trees to monitor and I need to be able to deploy a solution that I can I can I can give to to buy my plantation manager and he or she can go and drop a sensibility. I need something that can be deployed easily, quickly and effectively that I can have confidence in before I move forward.
And as I said, that that comes back to the business case because it's in the cost column of the business case. You have a big question mark in the Time column, you have a big question mark. It's not a business case. So there's a there's a real, I think need that to help show. By the way, I'm show show what's possible. Yeah, there's a there's a great info graphic on on the site. If people go to some tech dotcom slash, Laura, that kind of has the X and Y axis where it says bandwidth on one side and range on the other.
And it kind of shows that like where Laura fits in compared to Wi-Fi and cellular. But like you said, it's about a business case. Right? It's about trying to figure out the low cost option to be able to do what you need done.
Yes. And I always maintained it, which is maybe ironic for someone who's been the life and technology. Technology is the easy part. You can you can come up with a technical solution to a problem. The difficulty is understanding that problem and being able to translate understanding of that problem into a solution. The world is. The world is. And I won't say it's populated by but brilliant engineers, but there's quite a lot of brilliant engineers in the world.
We're lucky enough to have many of them. We are working in Centex, but it's the translation, it's the understanding, the problem and being able to determine how do I fix this in the best way. That's very often the struggle. So you mentioned the lawyer alliance. But you know, and I'm curious what is kind of like the state of law where what is the future look like? How how much use is happening right now and then where are we going?
It's I mean, in many ways, we're we're just at the very beginning and, you know, come out sounds a bit odd given how quickly the ecosystem around law is growing. And honestly, one of the things I noticed first when looking into that ecosystem from the outside, I come across laws. A solution that we used whilst I was a top chief for a particular install was just how big the ecosystem was in such a short period of time or being available for five or so years.
It's the technology and the ecosystem is five hundred plus companies. And that number is a numbers that names are more interesting. You know, you'd expect to see in a in a relatively early stage technology, lots of lights and heat in the startup space and new companies. And for sure, we have plenty of innovative companies working within the alliance and inventing all manner of things. The ranges is stunning, but we also have a number of very large companies moving into the to the ecosystem to take advantage of the benefits of law.
And it's the the Googles and the the Amazons and the Intel's and the Ciscos of this world moving in as well. So so from a from a different point of view, there's a great deal of energy around the technology. And again, going back to what I said earlier about us being the provider of tools, you know, our job is to provide tools and stand back and watch what folks do with those tools and then figure out what we do next.
So that energy is really very important to drive our own innovation more broadly as a network technology, you know, to the degree it's about network availability. And we've now got to a point where I think one hundred and forty operators globally and we've got we've got networks in 90 to 100 countries at this point, I'm starting to see really wide area public network coverage in some key geographies in Europe and Asia and starting to be in the US as well. One of the things about Laura and I decided that the level of energy is is also very encouraging, because if I don't have to install the network and my my Sensage works, my dog track, it just works.
My my own body health, it just works. But there's also a great deal of energy sparked around Laura's private model. One of the things that the one of the characteristics of Laura is it uses the Isambard, it uses the industrial sun to the medical bend, which means that unlike cellular operator, to be a lower or lower one operator, you don't need to buy spectrum. What you do is need to buy Gateway the gateway, and then you're a network operator straightaway.
And it's that flexibility that's driven really wide scale deployment of of private networks that are factory level or city level or even home level networks that connect to a backend. And the introduction of roaming that we've been working on with the ecosystem over the course of the last few months kind of really starts to knit together all of those virtual networks into one whole. So private public doesn't really matter. It's. It's a network and I can provide it that I can run from networks, networks, it becomes the same.
So, I mean, overall, in answer to your question, we've got we've made a massive amount of progress in five years, but I still think it's just the beginning. We've got one hundred and forty and 30, 40 million endpoints deployed just the beginning. As far as the overall opportunity of Iot is concerned. One of the reasons I say that is also that's what we've managed to do with with a set of products, not just more but more broadly in Iot, a set of products that we're actually quite hard to use.
And, you know, an embedded developer and you're not used to writing tiny, tiny bits of code that work efficiently on an tininess. Microcontrollers, if you're a cloud developer, then you kind of out of luck. What we've been doing in Centex over the course of the last couple of years is really focusing on that problem and saying how do we make this great technology accessible to someone who is starting in the cloud, starting with the cloud platform and starting to build an application on top.
And so as we start to address that and we've recently released a product called Lura Edge, which is really our first integrated hardware, software and services product designed to meet the needs of the non embedded developer as we start down that path. The world opens up and that's when I think the real potential of the authorities is going to start to be realized. When a computer science college graduate fluent in Python, not much else can take networking and sensor tools and use that easily to form part of the solution.
I think that's when we really unlock the potential here.
And the other things that you're particularly excited about going forward, I'm excited about a lot of things. But I think the main thing honestly is, is the first thing that attracted me to Iot and it sounds really simplistic, but, you know, in the old world, my success. However, I define it as a business, better product, more customers, more revenue, more margin. Most of that boils down to more from less. It means consuming less of something to generate more value for those on the receiving end and.
That's fundamental to this, to our future, I think, as a human race, which has a very grand and all encompassing style, the right is, I think if you look at how human beings are interacting with this finite pool of resources that we have, we're not doing that in an efficient way and that's going to run out sometime soon. The promise of Iot to me has always been the ability to replace guesswork in that equation, because historically we've kind of been guessing.
Know, if I did it this way, maybe I'm going to use less oil or maybe I'm going to use less water. The promise of it is to replace that guesswork with data. To make better decisions about everything, that's what really excites me, and so when I come across solutions in the ecosystem and not just the ecosystem I see in general where you think, well, is a real smart way of solving that particular problem, that's a real smart way of using information to determine what's happening.
And it ranges from from our ecosystem partners to drill holes in the homes of rhinos and put trackers in the homes of rhinos and use the data generated to determine whether the rhino is distressed and therefore is being chased by poaching. I mean, really innovative solutions that, for example, I mean, if you're a rhino that matters a lot to much broader questions, whether it's everything around water management systems, energy management systems, I think that's a hugely exciting to see the innovation that, yeah, it's just really exciting to see the physical world kind of give us those those secrets that are out there.
I think that that's one of the things that for so long, we just didn't really have enough, you know, devices or we didn't have, you know, the cameras or we didn't have the technologies to be able to figure out some of these things. But to understand the physical world better. Like you said, I love how you put it. To stop doing the guesswork and actually start getting to the answers is super exciting. Definitely matters for the rhinos, that's for sure.
It does. That's a big test. That's exactly right. Awesome.
Well, let's get into our lightning round. These questions are fast and easy, just like the Salesforce Customer 360 platform. You can go to Salesforce.com slash platform to learn more about the number one cloud platform for digital transformation of every experience.
Salesforce.com slash platform. Lightning round questions. Alistar, are you ready? Let's go. Yes, I'm ready for it.
Number one, what app on your phone is the most fun?
That is a great question. My wife would say signed by my son. I would probably say sadly, Zoome says a lot.
But probably what is a hobby or habit that you picked up in shelter in place?
I would say a habit that I revisited in a hobby I revisited making pasta. So I make pasta from from scratch and I bake things and and I think my waistline speaks to the impact of that. If you weren't in this job.
What's something else you might be doing? I would be a dive instructor. There you go, what is your best advice for a first time, GM? Focus on what your customers are trying to sell for and filter out the noise that any organization inevitably has. If you focus on on what your end customer is trying to do and drive everything from that understanding, you won't go far wrong. And the other thing I would say is assume that pretty much everything you think is wrong and work to build systems that allow you to identify how you're wrong and what you need to do about it.
What question do you never get asked that you wish you were asked more often?
Dad, can I clean my room by my kids to get one?
Awesome. Sir, this has been great. Thanks for stopping by. You're welcome. Thanks very much. Pleasure to talk to. It visionaries is created by the team at Mission Dog and brought to you by the Salesforce Customer 360 platform, the number one cloud platform for digital transformation of every experience, build connected experience, empower every employee, and deliver continuous innovation with the customer at the center of everything you do. Learn more at Salesforce.com platform.