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Smart Industry 1/2018

Smart Industry 1/2018 - The IoT Business Magazine - powered by Avnet Silica


Smart People Behind the scene Behind the Scenes Smart people All over the world, brilliant individuals are hard at work creating the technologies and solutions that will one day make the Internet of Things come alive. We visited a few of them and listened to their fascinating stories. David Politis of BetterCloud Building a better cloud How do you build a better cloud? That question has nagged David Politis, founder and CEO of BetterCloud, ever since he first grasped the concept of distributed computing. In the early years of this century, buzzwords like SaaS (software as a service) had been around for some time but the concept was struggling, essentially because businesspeople didn’t trust it. “The rise of the SaaS-powered workplace is transforming the role of IT,” Politis said in a statement. “What was once a behind-the-scenes department is now becoming deeply integrated into the business. But the explosion of SaaS offerings from thousands of providers brings a new and significant set of challenges for IT, including a lack of visibility across applications, manual processes that don’t scale, and lack of awareness around operational risk. “BetterCloud empowers IT with the solutions it needs to operate and scale today’s SaaS-powered workplace.” The rise of the SaaS-powered workplace is transforming the role of IT David Politis His idea is to create software that lets IT departments manage employees’ cloud-based applications at a glance. At first, BetterCloud focused only on Google’s productivity suite. In 2015, Politis decided this was proving to be a cul-de-sac so he decided to start over again. The company laid off much of its customer-facing staff and spent $35m retooling over two years. Politis rebuilt the product so that it could manage any software used in business, from Salesforce to Slack, from Dropbox to Zendesk. The resulting SaaS management platform now allows users to monitor any SaaS application connected to its dashboard via application user interfaces (APIs), thus enabling IT to monitor usage and user privileges and to create custom rules to automatically perform actions if specific conditions are met. The idea caught on among investors such as Accel and Flybridge Capital Partners, who provided more than $47m in seed financing. The company has now turned the corner, Politis asserts, and in 2017 BetterCloud reported revenues of $21m. Growing up in Salt Lake City, where he attended Brigham Young University, Politis is the son of an entrepreneur and this probably made it more or less inevitable he would become one, too. At least that’s what he believes. “My dad had a lot of different businesses, including real estate development 6

in Harlem and the South Bronx, and project finance in emerging markets like West Africa. “Because he was working and traveling so much, he often would take me with him. From the age of eight, I have memories of going to Harlem and going to building sites. He taught a real estate class at NYU [New York University], and he would take me to the class when I was nine years old, give me a pad of paper and say, ‘Just take notes’.” Simply creating an innovative product isn’t enough, Politis maintains. “There are a number of things we do in terms of transparency that are crucial,” he told The New York Times recently. “I share everything I can with the whole company. And, when we discuss it during company meetings, everyone can submit questions beforehand, anonymously, and I’ll answer them. We also send monthly emails that explain what every department is working on that month, and what they achieved the month before.” People want to make a difference, he believes. “When you give them an area of the business that they can affect, the amount of stuff that gets done and the pride in their work is amazing. People make mistakes, but they learn from them and they continue to improve.” Giving people ownership of certain areas in the business is the key, he says: “It’s amazing what happens when you do that.” Politis has also managed to convince some pretty heavy guns in the analyst community that he can improve the cloud. Influential analyst firm Gartner, in its first-ever market guide on Cloud Office Management Tools, wrote enthusiastically: “BetterCloud is the only vendor uniquely able to provide all functions, support multiple SaaS apps, and offer IT workflow automation for SaaS apps.” The future for BetterCloud, it seems, looks bright and sunny. Ryan Petersen of Flexport FedEx for freight Package tracking has been around for years and generally involves small parcels, so keeping tabs on them with barcodes or wireless-emitting RFID chips is fairly straightforward. Global logistics companies have to do much more heavy lifting, and the systems in use today are, to say the least, slightly antiquated. At least, that’s what Ryan Petersen believes and it’s the reason he founded his own company called Flexport. It all started in San Francisco back in 2013 with a deceivingly simple goal: “We want to do for freight shipping what FedEx does for small packages.” Five years later, Flexport has become a $9bn business and one of the fastest growing companies in the world of freight forwarding – but it still relies mainly on faxes and phone calls to coordinate its delivery chains. Petersen describes how the process works: “Freight forwarding involves lots of different companies. The freight leaves a factory in China, gets picked up by a trucking company, it’s routed to a warehouse, loaded into a container where it gets combined with other Before we came along, there was no tracking. It was a relay race of paper document hand-offs Ryan Petersen people’s products. Another company transports it to the port, where it clears customs. Then it’s put on a ship that’s owned by yet another company and brought to the US where the whole thing happens again, with a customs clearance, a truck to the warehouse, and another truck to a customer. But often stuff gets delayed along the way. Twenty phone calls later you find out it isn’t where you thought it was.” That was the problem he set out to solve. “Before we came along, there was no tracking. It was a relay race of paper document hand-offs.” His first step was to found a company that sold data about imports, which he called ImportGenius. In the USA, shipping manifests are a matter of public record. “We took all of the government data, organized it and sold subscriptions to our database for $200 a month,” he recounts. It was then Petersen had a legendary run-in with none other than Apple’s boss Steve Jobs. It turned out that Apple’s shipping records were also stored in the government database, and Petersen noticed the company was shipping something described in the manifesto as electric computers. “I decided that had to be some kind of a code name, I did some research. This was just before Apple launched the second iPhone.” Petersen wrote about it in his blog, and the news went viral. “There were more than 100 newspaper articles about it, and us,” he recalls. 7