“How to implement new technology within a company is the difficult part, not the technology itself.”
Having worked in IoT technology before it even gained the name IoT, Sam Colley CEO of Pod Group couldn’t be more well-placed to chat with us about some of the fascinating use cases of IoT. He discusses the importance of planning and education for IoT adoption and Pod Group’s mission to help companies digitise and onboard connectivity.
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Nathan Anibaba: Sam Colley, is the CEO at Pod Group. As CEO based in San Francisco, Sam is responsible for all divisions of Pod Group in the US market. His expertise in enterprise data solutions for IoT are helping to expand Pod Group’s presence globally. Sam is currently CEO of Pod Group, and leading an initiative to establish the world’s first ENO, Enterprise Network Operator. Empowering enterprises to take ownership of their networks and achieve scale, as mass IoT becomes a reality. Pod Group provides enterprises, manufacturers, and systems integrators with a complete suite of IoT connectivity technologies, via their intuitive and agnostic system. Sam Colley, welcome to ClientSide.
Sam Colley: Thanks, Nathan. Thanks for having me.
Nathan Anibaba: Thank you so much for being on the show. So, let’s start with your background and history, because it’s absolutely fascinating. When you left university you had no plans to get into the connectivity and IoT business. How did you start your career at Pod Group?
Sam Colley: Sure. Yeah. So, I guess, no one really grows up dreaming of going into TELCO. But how I ended up at Pod Group, is after university decided to move to Spain, mainly to try and learn the language. And after a year and a half, I met the founder, Charles Towers-Clark, and got to chatting with him. And he was looking to start expanding the company there in Spain itself. So, fell into IoT. But immediately, this was back in 2010, 2011, and it was clear that it was going to be an exciting industry. But back then it wasn’t even called IoT. It was just a standard M2M. And then, from there just evolved through the company into the UK office. And then, in 2014 moved out to the US to open and run the business here in North America.
Nathan Anibaba: So, let’s talk about that in a bit more detail. Because, the evolution of IoT has been fascinating, as you said, the early days it wasn’t even called IoT, it was M2M. Maybe talk us through the evolution of IoT over the last five to 10 years. And maybe give us a snapshot as to how the ecosystem has evolved where we are today.
Sam Colley: Yes. IoT, it’s gone from really just being one machine communicating with another machine, to every device, deploy, potentially communicating with other… Well, still with other devices. But also, then the big change is the decision-making behind it. And the automation of that decision-making to make things much more efficient. And back five years ago there was a lot of hype around IoT, and the connections that were going to be achieved. And a lot of that hype was driven around the potential consumer applications of IoT. But where it’s really come into its own, and really started to get traction, and people are talking about it, you see it on billboards these days when you’re driving around. So, when I say I work in IoT, people don’t just give me a blank face, or a blank stare. They kind of have some inkling as to what it is.
And really the industrial IoT piece, the manufacturing piece, the supply chain pieces, is what’s really driving a lot of the adoption that will actually get us to the numbers that were hyped five years ago, that maybe haven’t been achieved to date. Because, from the consumer side, there’s still a lot of question marks around security, and people’s willingness to give up their data. Whereas, on the enterprise side there’s a clear business value for it. People understand how it works and the value it can bring to the company. And so, that brand awareness and then Industry 4.0 is really enhancing adoption. And then, also just the evolution of technology, and ability for people to deploy their own networks, be it on cellular, or with using things like LoRaWAN or Sigfox. And then, also the cost efficiencies now, and availability of hardware, and those technologies, is also encouraging a lot more people to consider it as an option within their business as they digitize.
Nathan Anibaba: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, why do enterprises generally adopt IoT? Is it for cost efficiencies, as you say? Is it to find new sources of revenue and growth? What are some of the main business cases for enterprises adopting IoT?
Sam Colley: I think the two you mentioned there, operational efficiencies, and also trying to find new revenue streams are important. There’s also mistakes that are made by companies who adopt IoT, and don’t really think it through properly, and doing it because it’s fashionable. I think that happens in every industry. There’s also those who are adopting it to simply make the world a better place, or developing applications to make the world a better place. And there’s some really interesting things going on out there. Particularly, one of our customers, they do solar panels that generate clean drinking water where that’s not available, either in rural areas, or in countries outside of the US. And there are applications that are genuinely just being generated to improve the world that we live in, and make sure it’s more fair and equitable. And the main reasons are obviously operational efficiencies, and new business opportunities to generate revenue, recurring revenue for companies that maybe previously didn’t have access to that. But there’s a lot of nuances to it.
Nathan Anibaba: Really interesting. Could you give us an idea of some of the applications that you’re most excited about, as far as IoT is concerned? And then, maybe talk about some examples how your clients are using IoT. Maybe share a couple of examples there.
Sam Colley: In terms of, I am excited about, or interested in, we don’t necessarily play too much in that space. But I really think that smart agriculture and environmental monitoring applications are really interesting. And also, that comes into that, is also supply chain management. And that isn’t as glamorous as some of the applications out there. But, for me, the benefits for the greater good of the planet. What excited me about those, in terms of making sure that the supply chains are efficient, we’re reducing waste, we’re not overusing chemicals in the agriculture, or over-watering things. And just trying to make sure that we can optimize the way that we’re producing to sustain the population we have around the world, and do it in an effective manner. And therefore, hopefully, prolong the existence of us humans on our planet, which would be ideal, obviously. And then in terms of…
Nathan Anibaba: That’s the goal.
Sam Colley: Exactly. Yeah. And in terms of some ways in which our customers are using IoT. We don’t necessarily work always with it with the end customer. We work with a lot of system integrators. So, the people who are building the applications, who are then selling them to be used by the end user. One I mentioned before, I find is really interesting in terms of using technology to generate clean drinking water is fascinating to me. And then, we also have a lot of customers now in the medical or telehealth space where remote monitoring of patients, I think the pandemic’s really helped, but removing a lot of the red tape that’s pre-existed, and allowing people to recover from home. And make sure we’re preventing any relapses. And that preventative medicine is really interesting as well. And obviously, hopefully, again, will be of benefit to us all.
Nathan Anibaba: Really interesting. So, let’s talk about Pod Group in a bit more detail then. You mentioned that you sell, or you work mainly with SIs, Systems Integrators. Talk a little bit about who some of your clients are? What problems do they have? And how does Pod Group solve them?
Sam Colley: Yeah. It’s pretty broad, to be honest, in terms of our client base. We work with a lot of different SIs, doing a lot of different things. And also, there are some end users as well. Some of the problems they’re trying to solve are regulatory problems. If you look in the US, the electronic logging mandate here, where now it… When drivers log their hours, et cetera, that has to be done electronically to ensure the safety of the driver, and obviously those around them. And so, those sorts of problems they’re solving. There’s also the problems, that are more aspirational, the ones certainly in the environmental space are interesting.
And then, other problems they’re trying to solve a more internal problems. And that can be… Particularly, with the pandemic, for example, everyone working from home, like, “How do you connect? How do you stay connected? How do you have a reliable internet connection?” And so, the problems that our customers are trying to solve, are very broad, to be honest. And that’s what makes working in the connectivity space interesting, because you do touch a lot of different parts of IoT, instead of being stuck in one specific vertical.
Nathan Anibaba: As soon as you start talking about revenue generation opportunities, and cost cutting. The ear of the CEO and the senior leader generally picks up, because they’re very interested in having that conversation. But it’s not as simple as that when it comes to implementing IoT. Talk about some of the reasons why IoT is difficult to implement across the enterprise, and how do companies overcome some of those challenges?
Sam Colley: I think a lot of what makes it difficult to implement IoT at the enterprise level is probably experienced, today. There’s a lot of technology out there that exists that enterprises can either take something off the shelf, or pull together the application themselves. But the idea of digitization is new to a lot of companies. We’ve moved, in the last 10, 15 years, very quickly in terms of technological advancements. And a lot of companies maybe didn’t have experience with that, and they’re still working in the ways they did before these kinds of technologies came along. And so, how to implement a new technology within a company is the difficult part, not the actual technology existing. And the planning around that, strategically picking the right things to try and optimize, or save money on, or where to generate new revenue streams is a challenge. And I think a lot of companies get that wrong.
A report that we participated in before, basically said about 78% of projects within a company are deemed to have failed, or IT projects are deemed to have failed, at the first attempt. Having that expertise internally, or picking the right partner to help give you that expertise, in the short term whilst you’re implementing things, is really important. And there are companies who’ve done a really fantastic job with it. John Deere, in the agricultural space, they basically have created a whole slew of different applications around farm machinery that, essentially, you’re adding value beyond the actual equipment itself. Adding value to the whole agricultural ecosystem, and it’s a real ecosystem play.
And how they’re all interconnected, and communiqué has been planned, and it’s not just stand-alone applications. And so, each application can feed information to the other one, so that the end user can make a better decision about what they’re doing. With anything, sometimes you underestimate the experience and knowledge needed to do it. But certainly the technology is there. So, there are opportunities for every company to adopt IoT. But certainly pulling the resources into planning, and then managing that adoption is really the key part to being a success.
Nathan Anibaba: And I imagine also selling it to all of the stakeholders is challenge as well. I imagine that it mainly sits in the house of the IT director, or the CIO or CTO. I imagine that they are the ones driving the adoption across the enterprise. But I imagine that they would also need to get support from procurement, sales and marketing, even, a number of other divisions within the business. Talk about how you’ve seen IoT being sold into other functions within the enterprise to get that cross-functional support.
Sam Colley: Yeah. It’s a good question. And I’m not sure I have any direct examples as to where I’ve seen it. But change is always the challenge, right? And, certainly, one person’s idea may not translate into everyone else being happy about the idea. And there’s a lot of reasons. I think fear of change is one of them. And what does that mean for any individual stakeholder within a company? Does it mean that if they make these changes that their job will be on the line? Or they won’t be needed anymore? The buy-in needs to come from education, and that comes from planning and strategic implementation. And there’s a lot of people who aren’t used to working with technology, and in some respects don’t always trust it as well to make the right decisions. And that can be a challenge.
And the more examples that we see in the market, moving forward, the more people will be less fearful of adopting IoT, in general. And that could be all of the stakeholders. Because, if they see it operating in another company, or a competitor, then they’ll be more likely to be open to it. And certainly if they’re starting to get left behind, because they’ve not adopted it, then that will obviously initiate more adoption in IoT. And manufacturing is one of those verticals where if manufacturers delay the onboarding of IoT, they’re likely to lose out, just because of some of the technology that’s been developed. And the idea of a digital twin ecosystem where you can basically preplan changes to your manufacturing flows for new products, virtually without even having to do anything manually on the floor. And those sorts of operational efficiencies. Obviously, every company would want to adopt eventually. Otherwise, as I say, they just become uncompetitive.
So, it’s an interesting question. And it is a challenge. And I would say getting the buy-in really takes a lot of time. And we have an internal example at Pod, unrelated to IoT, where a few years ago, we shifted our culture here to be more decentralized in terms of decision-making. And have a lot more transparency in terms of company financials, in terms of wages, and giving people the power to almost pick their own salaries as they progress through their careers here. And, initially, there’s a lot of fear. But now if you ask any of the employees, they’re unlikely to want to go back to what we had before. So, you don’t know the benefit it could be for you until you’ve experienced it. That was the biggest challenge, and the mistakes were made certainly, and the biggest mistakes were probably around education and planning. And that transcends any business decision.
Nathan Anibaba: You said earlier that a lot of the fear around IoT exists on the consumer side, because there’s a lot of fear around security and data privacy, et cetera. But that fear also exists on the enterprise side as well. Talk about how enterprises can overcome their fear of data breaches when it comes to IoT. Because, if for whatever reason, hackers were able to get access to sensitive private information, that can really damage the enterprise’s brand and credibility, as well as their overall business model. Talk about how enterprises can protect themselves.
Sam Colley: Yeah. With the enterprise they have a bit more control over how that IoT device or service is being used, and how it’s being implemented. If you’re at home and you buy an Amazon Echo off of Amazon, and it comes to your house, you have no idea what was built, what firmware’s on it, or how it could be working, or listening in your home. But with an enterprise, often they’re working directly with an SI, or they’re doing it themselves, where they get to control what hardware they’re using, what security they’re putting on it. And so, for me, it should always be security first at every single layer of the application, be it hardware, connectivity, or software. And that should always be the question that an enterprise is asking their partners.
And if they’re not, then obviously they’re exposing themselves to possible liability, possible breaches. And therefore that fear is real. But I do think they hold the cards in that scenario, and to the best of their ability they can control the level of security they have within the application. And therefore reduce the risk they have of being hacked. But for an enterprise obviously being exposed, or losing that data can cost them billions of dollars, depending on who to who the enterprise is. And that is something of a concern. But I do feel that there are solutions out there that they can easily pick up and control, that minimize those risks. And some of the early breaches haven’t been super detrimental to companies, but obviously have raised some red flags, because they could have been a lot worse. And no one wants to be the first company to have a breach that essentially destroys their business. So, as I say, I think they have a lot more control over it, and therefore the fish should be somewhat less. Although, obviously, it’s still a concern.
Nathan Anibaba: Really interesting. Last couple of questions about Pod Group before we end the interview. You became CEO in 2019. What were your objectives when you first took over the role, inherited the role, and how prepared did you feel?
Sam Colley: Yeah. The objectives were basically to really consolidate our vision and our mission as a company. And focus on our strengths, and not become too broad of an offering. And essentially really focus in on how we can start delivering services for the enterprise, which has evolved into the ENO, or Enterprise Network Operator concept that we’ve launched this year. So, really it was about consolidating our offering into our platform. And then, expanding that global reach that we already have today, to make sure that we can help those companies digitize and onboard connectivity. But in terms of how prepared did I feel? I’m not sure. It’s a difficult one. How prepared can you be for anything?
And then, within six months we had a global pandemic, which basically threw most of our plans out of the window, which was a real challenge. And I think I’ve learned a lot through that process as well, in terms of… Obviously, prior to 2019, you know you don’t have control over everything, and obviously, maybe things you would have done differently from the get go. But it’s learning to adapt to any situation is really one of the biggest things I’ve learned from it. I know that wasn’t really part of the question. But we’ve managed to continue through and achieve what we’ve wanted to achieve up to now. So, it’s been interesting.
Nathan Anibaba: So, as you think about the growth of the business over the next few years, imagine that the business five or 10 years from now is double the size, what would have happened? What would have had to have happened to enable that success?
Sam Colley: Again, it’s a tricky question. But I think IoT, and particularly the industry we’re in, has proven to be relatively COVID-proof. But if we can avoid another pandemic that would be ace, in terms of achieving that success.
Nathan Anibaba: Right.
Sam Colley: But a lot of it is about getting the right people, and also having the right technologies. And, as I say, not trying to do too much at once. And if you can onboard the right technologies and provide a very specific service to a large part of the IoT ecosystem, whilst also engaging with the rest of the ecosystem, and having new partnerships around new technologies, and basically trying to stay as relevant as possible. And 80% be looking forward, 20% be looking back. There’s no reason in an industry that’s booming where, hopefully, within five to 10 years we’ll be far beyond just doubling our business size. And I think that the market size is certainly big enough to accommodate much larger growth. And so, for me, in terms of the things we need in place really are people, and planning. And I know it’s not an overly exotic answer, but that’s probably the reality of it.
Nathan Anibaba: Really interesting. Now, Sam, I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you, and giving us an insight into the current ecosystem in the future of IoT. I know that you’re joining us on a webinar in a couple of weeks’ time. So, I’m excited about that as well. We can dig into this in more detail. Final question, before we go. What advice would you give to other aspiring technology CEOs, specifically, on how best to navigate their careers? And operate as a highly functioning CEO?
Sam Colley: That’s a good question. Don’t know if I’m a highly functioning CEO yet? But it’s really just to take opportunities as they come to you. And also then never be scared to ask questions, or ask for help, because the technology landscape is vast. And, for me, it’s impossible for me to know absolutely everything about every single technology out there. And therefore I’m generating partnerships, be it… Less internally, but more externally, with people who have more experience. And really leaning on them for advice, and feeding off them. And not being too blinkered in your approach to any business.
And be open to ideas that aren’t yours, and making sure that you support those ideas, and the implementation of those ideas. Because, essentially, you’re never probably going to be the smartest person in the room. That’s one of the biggest tips, is always assume that you’re not. And, hopefully, then you’ll be able to make much better business decisions. And, as I say, something that our previous founder introduced, and I fully believe in, is really that decentralization of decision-making. Giving decision-making power to others within the company, and allowing them to really thrive is the biggest piece of advice, probably, as well. As I say, because it takes a team really. That’s really it. It’s not profound by any stretch, but that’s the advice I would give.
Nathan Anibaba: Great place to end. Sam, thank you so much for doing this.
Sam Colley: No worries. Thanks for having me.
Nathan Anibaba: If you’d like to share any comments on this episode, or any episode of ClientSide, then find us online at fox.agency. If you’d like to appear as a guest on the show, please send email firstname.lastname@example.org. The people that make the show possible are Chloe Murray, our booker/researcher, David Clare is our head of content, Ben Fox is our executive producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba, you’ve been listening to ClientSide. [Inaudible].
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