Mobility matters
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:
?Carl Rodrigues, SOTI's founder, CEO and president

Working on the move is increasingly business-critical, and enterprise mobility management solutions are often used to reduce the headaches associated with managing large fleets of devices. SOTI founder Carl Rodrigues speaks to Sam Fenwick about what his company is doing to make things easier

Carl Rodrigues is the founder, CEO and president of SOTI – an enterprise mobility management (EMM) company with a strong focus on R&D. The company started out in his basement, when the urge “to build something” made him stop consulting and create a system for remotely controlling mobile devices. “While the first version I created was more for consumer devices, enterprise players started to get really interested because they wanted to use that technology to support people out in the field. We then started to offer enterprise remote control and troubleshooting capabilities, and then added other features, and now we offer EMM services,” Rodrigues says.

To Rodrigues, there are two very different types of EMM: “The first is managing mobile devices for the white-collar space – employees with desk jobs – and then there’s mission-critical mobility, where mobility is very strategic for the company’s operations. Where mobility is business-critical or mission-critical, that’s our sweet spot, that’s where we play. Sometimes people don’t understand the difference.”

He adds that part of the reason for this focus is that the latter is where companies are willing to pay for EMM. “Because they need it to keep their business running, with white-collar EMM some companies like Microsoft give it away for free – so it’s not a very profitable business.”

For those who might be new to EMM – perhaps they have recently bought a fleet of new devices with PTT-over-Cellular functionality – Rodrigues says they should first try to understand “what they’re trying to do and educate themselves about the type of management and control they need for their business”. He adds: “An EMM solution that might be suited for the white-collar office space might very well not be suited for mission-critical operation.”

Because of SOTI’s focus, Rodrigues has plenty of anecdotes in which the company’s software has allowed police to listen in on stolen devices and even take photos of the thieves. This recently happened with one of SOTI’s customers in the US, Dominium, an affordable housing developer. “We can figure out when the device is being used so we don’t have to be waiting to snap a picture. We can detect activity, and then set an alert or run a script to do something at that point,” Rodrigues adds. In addition, SOTI can allow users to set up geo-fences around devices, so if they move to a location where they shouldn’t be, they can be wiped automatically.

Similar functionality can be used to lock down specific functions within a pre-defined area. “A soldier is at a military base for six months; we could say ‘lock the device down, don’t let him take pictures or access social media so he can’t send military information outside’. We can tune that device to satisfy military regulations; when he leaves, we automatically detect that he’s out of there and can give him all his data back or unlock [the functions we’ve been suppressing].”

We last featured SOTI in Kate O’Flaherty’s piece on EMM in June, with a quick look at the work it is doing for McDonald’s. SOTI is managing the anchored tablets or ‘kiosks’ that the fast-food giant has deployed in its UK and European stores (and will soon roll out in North America). In addition to ensuing that the kiosks serve only the content specified by McDonald’s, Rodrigues explains that SOTI provides the company with analytics and data, allowing it to “optimise the real estate inside each kiosk to make sure that they’re delivering the right content to pull people into stores”.

Another company that is using SOTI’s technology to solve a long-standing problem is Prohotech, which is supplying hotels in Dubai with touchscreen-operated mini-fridges and vending machines. These do away with the headaches that minibars have long posed for hotel operators – having to send people up to each room to count all the items, despite only relatively few guests availing themselves of their minibar, and sometimes having to rely on the guest’s honesty. “With this service, they know exactly when something is about to run out. That allows them to never have empty shelf space, they can optimise their routes and use the data to stock more of the products that guests have previously consumed,” Rodrigues says.

One of the things that Rodrigues is keen to stress is that there are many different facets of EMM, and because these are often produced by different companies or engineers working in silos, their full benefits often aren’t realised. He gives the analogy of a steering wheel with integrated volume/infotainment and air-conditioning controls – that kind of user experience simply wouldn’t happen without engineers and designers for both systems and the steering wheel working together. SOTI has taken a similar approach in that it has a suite of products that are designed to work together, with each addressing a different business need.

One of the pain points that Rodrigues and his colleagues have recently tackled is the cost and time needed to create and deploy form-based apps. SOTI Snap is an app development solution that allows such apps to be created without knowledge of programming and to work across all mobile platforms without any extra work required.

SOTI is also active in the IoT space – understandable given that like their mobile counterparts, IoT endpoints are devices and need to be managed. Again, the emphasis has been on making it easier for the user and reducing the need for expensive and time-consuming custom programming. As we have seen earlier in this issue, the low-power wide-area (LPWA) side of IoT remains fragmented, requiring developers to handle multiple protocols and creating headaches if the best device for a particular task requires a different protocol from the one that the bulk of one’s devices are using. This sort of situation creates the need for a system that can control and co-ordinate the actions of many different devices running on a wide variety of protocols.

“This is all doable, but it’s expensive, there’s a lot of custom programming that costs thousands of dollars,” says Rodrigues. He adds that SOTI Connect, the company’s protocol-agnostic IoT platform, allows users to use a drag-and-drop interface and its automation controls so connected machines can perform pre-set actions in response to triggers from sensors, “so even with a big system, some parts can be done very easily, and you just write the [code for the] complex bits – or maybe you can do everything with our visual system”.

He also adds that the IoT space is one where solutions that address a single part of the technology stack aren’t designed with a common vision, so again the user experience isn’t optimised. Speaking of the technology stack, SOTI created SOTI Central, an online community and marketplace, to make it easier for up-and-coming tech companies to find the parts of the stack they need to complete their product or service.

Returning to PTT-over-Cellular (PoC), Rodrigues explains that EMM solutions such as SOTI MobiControl can be used to ensure that users’ devices automatically upgrade to the latest version of their PoC app and obtain information on how the app is performing across a fleet of devices; and if a company decides to swap its PoC app for another, it doesn’t have to pull its devices back from the field – it can schedule for the app to be replaced over the air, perhaps overnight.

Rodrigues doesn’t think people should look at PoC in isolation. “If it’s an app on a phone, very soon there’s going to be 18 other uses that [organisations] are going to have for that device.”

Rodrigues concludes by highlighting the advantages of taking a holistic approach to EMM: “By taking a unified design approach, you can deliver so much more, you can create features that weren’t possible – that’s good for mobility because it means the customer experience is the best, it’s easier to manage and support, and you can deliver much better services.

“We’ve seen great things emerge from cross-pollination in many other areas, and the same thing is happening in computing.”

CV – Carl Rodrigues
Carl Rodrigues is the founder and CEO of SOTI, a provider of mobile and IoT management solutions. After graduating with a BSc in computer science from the University of Toronto, Rodrigues began his career as a consultant specialising in software development. Prior to founding SOTI, Rodrigues was a software consultant for both NCR and Nortel, as well as a software development leader for Allison-Ross.

In 2001, he left his day job to create a software product in his basement, and after its success he founded SOTI. Rodrigues saw a gap in the market to help organisations manage the many devices being handled by employees.

SOTI now has seven major offices around the world, more than 700 employees, 17,000 enterprise customers and manages millions of devices worldwide.

SOTI’s clients include American Airlines, apetito, Lakeland and McDonald’s.

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