5 Mins With ... Pilgrim Beart at DevicePilot
Tell us about DevicePilot, how long you've been in business and objectives?
We started DevicePilot in 2015 to solve a common problem with connected devices that I had experienced during my time at AlertMe and my cofounders had already solved in the telco world. Essentially, there is a universal truth in connected devices that once you hit more than a thousand or so devices in the wild, it becomes almost impossible for a human brain and spreadsheets to monitor and manage them effectively. You need a tool for that, which is where DevicePilot fits in.
As the years have gone by, we have become more and more focussed on the energy sector, as there are a huge number of use cases for connected devices emerging. In the home, everything from your energy meter to your radiators, water boilers, cars and car chargers may all be connected these days. For industry there are heat pumps, sources of energy such as solar panels and wind turbines and a huge number of other processes that have come to rely on the internet. So, this is where we believe Service Monitoring is needed the most.
What are the key developments in Service Monitoring Platforms for Connected Devices with utility companies?
A really important aspect of our service is automation, specifically business process automation. Take Smart Meter service providers as an example. In the early days when they have a few hundred devices in the wild, it is relatively easy for spreadsheets and human brainpower to keep on top of installation and day-to-day operations. When one Smart Meter loses connectivity then discovering that, triaging it and finding a solution can all be done manually. However, once they have more than a few thousand Smart Meters to manage, this quickly becomes overwhelming as trouble tickets go from occasional clicks on a Geiger meter to a growing roar of incidents that need resolving.
There are many ways in which a Smart Meter can fail to deliver the service that the customer needs, ranging from installation and software problems, to configuration and network problems. Automation can be used to deal with the majority of issues by creating rules. An example might be 'If a Smart Meter is sending back data at the wrong rate, send a message to reconfigure it, as well as raising a ticket so that the operations and engineering teams can track it'. Dealing with perhaps 80% of problems in this way lets the team spend their precious time focusing on less common problems, rather than just being swamped by unnecessary alerts.
Explain how you were among the pioneers of 'Smart Metering' and what are the key challenges now?
In 2006 I founded AlertMe, which was one of the early players in the smart home energy space. Eventually we were bought by British Gas (in 2015) and what was AlertMe now forms the basis of the HiveTM Smart Home platform. During that period, the UK went from Smart Meters being something that was talked about, to huge numbers being rolled out across the country.
Right now, is a really exciting time for Smart Meters as they finally have a slew of other smart energy products also hitting homes, which Smart Meters can help to manage. Couple this with a shift towards renewable energy which will rely on Smart Meters to monitor supply and demand to optimise tariffs, and it really is the Smart Meter’s chance to shine. But this is only half of the story – the really difficult part is ensuring that Smart Meters actually work, which is where Service Monitoring enters the picture. A Smart Meter that isn’t behaving as it should turns out to be not so smart after all.
What role will DevicePilot play in the transition to renewables?
We will play an indirect, but crucial role. Again, let’s look at Smart Meters as the example, as they are the great enabler of so many other energy products. The wind might be blowing very hard in the middle of the night, meaning there is a surplus of off-peak renewable energy. A Smart Meter might then tell a boiler to heat water that can then be stored for use later in the day, delivering cheaper hot water to the customer. However, this all falls apart if the Smart Meter or the connected boiler are offline or misconfigured, which can happen for myriad reasons.
The service quality is the biggest blocker to the success of connected devices and is something we see falling short time and time again. Without these products all working at the right time, we will never be able to harness the power of renewable energy properly, as renewable energy requires demand to be controllable. DevicePilot really helps with this challenge as we provide a single-pane-of-glass view of entire fleets of devices, enabling a far better, more proactive approach to service quality.
What is the one bit of advice you'd give companies to improve their service delivery?
Discover and fix your problems as early as possible. Too often service providers forget what they actually are, and service gets swept under the carpet whilst product development and rollout swallow resources. But they quickly become unstuck as any small problems that begin to emerge in the early days of rollout will become amplified as they scale, by which stage it is often very difficult to fix as the issue is so widespread. This often leads to damaged reputation, customer churn and teams spending their time fire-fighting instead of creating processes to enable rapid growth.