Once a manufacturer begins creating connected products, the information tendrils grow like ivy. Businesses that adopt technology powering the Internet of Things (IoT) can create connections to devices, use that data to create new products, and often create ecosystems that cross company boundaries.
The story of All Traffic Solutions shows how the IoT can transform the way a company serves its customers and create new sources of revenue.
In 2010, All Traffic Solutions—the leading manufacturer of signs used by police departments and local governments to help understand and manage traffic—took the bold step of connecting all of its products to the Internet, shipping each with an active cellular modem. This was the beginning of a new service called SmartApps, where each connected device sends back data to All Traffic Solutions’ cloud infrastructure.
Ted Graef, president of All Traffic Solutions, says that several layers of benefits resulted from these services and connected devices. “Once data started flowing from the devices to our cloud infrastructure, we could do a better job of understanding how customers are using our products. In turn, we were able to offer our customers more benefits and help them utilize their resources more efficiently.”
Connecting signs eliminated the need to visit devices to collect data, and devices could report on battery levels, tampering, and other aspects of their condition.
The signs quickly became important data collection devices. They could take photographs and trigger alerts when cars travelled at excessive speeds. According to Graef, the data helped police and municipal officials analyze complaints about speeding and other traffic problems. Data-based decisions led to more effective remedies and better deployment of resources.
The biggest impact, however, came from the SmartApps used to examine the data being collected. “Now, anyone with a computer, an Internet connection, and the proper credentials can get access to the data from the devices,” Graef says. “With cloud-based access, other users in the organization can quickly and easily make use of the data.” SmartApps allows customers not only to use the data generated by the signs, but to make changes to the signs without going out to the location to reconfigure them.
All Traffic Solutions had to reinvent itself as a software and services company to support its connected products. In 2006 it introduced its first line of connected products, but because the connectivity was optional it was rarely sold. The second generation, introduced in 2010, was built using programming languages and components such as Microsoft Silverlight, but the company found that progress was slow and the system had limited flexibility.
For its third generation of connected device services, All Traffic Solutions used ThingWorx to create the software to support its TraffiCloud Industry Ecosystem.
“ThingWorx is a model-driven, cloud-based system for managing and creating applications for connected devices,” Graef explains. “The data flows into ThingWorx and we can quickly create software to allow our customers to make use of it. We don’t have to be in the software business at a low-level. We can use ThingWorx to describe what we want our apps to do, and it streamlines the implementation.”
All Traffic Solutions is able to use the ThingWorx Dynamic User Interface technology to create one application that changes based on the role of the person using it. In addition, the ThingWorx database is flexible and can adapt as new types of data can be collected from devices and new capabilities are added.
The cloud-based architecture of ThingWorx has helped All Traffic Solutions create an ecosystem for connected devices called the TraffiCloud. Other devices, such as those from TomTom, can provide data to the TraffiCloud, which in turn powers advanced applications that can, for instance, display time to destination with no sensor infrastructure.
“The TraffiCloud has allowed us to become even more valuable to our customers,” Graef says. “We are not just offering apps, but are providing an ecosystem for getting the most possible value out of connected devices for traffic management.”
All Traffic Solutions has had to grow new skills to become a software and services company, but the adoption has been tremendous, according to Graef.
“About 75 percent of our customers take advantage of SmartApps. At first, they didn’t know they wanted our software,” Graef says. “We’ve had to learn how to demonstrate the value of SmartApps to our customers. Now it is clear that our applications save our customers time and provide a substantial amount of value.”