Icing the Competition with IIoT Custom Development

The cold-chain industry refers to companies and technologies entrusted to deliver goods across thousands of miles while maintaining extreme temperatures within tight tolerances. Failures within the chain result in losses of revenue. No company has been more at the forefront of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) innovation within the vertical than Sensitech. When they needed to add new features to their platform, they turned to Ascendle for IIoT custom development.

Owned by the Carrier Corporation, Sensitech has been a market leader in the cold-chain space since their founding. Today, they leverage cloud technologies and an ever-increasing array of sensors. In early 2021, the company launched their first foray into the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) space, with sensors that use GPS to provide temperature updates every fifteen minutes.

But by mid-year, Sensitech executives determined that additional capabilities were required to position the SensiWatch platform more attractively to their life sciences customers.

While the food services industry has obvious temperature-control requirements, the sensitivity and critical nature of life sciences products requires far more customization. Specifically, clients within this sector require real-time alerts to those within the logistics industry. Moreover, since who would be contacted when varies by product, shipper, and more, these real-time alerts have to be highly programmable.

“It’s been said that all companies are becoming technology companies, and that’s incredibly obvious for an organization like Sensitech,” says Ascendle CEO, Dave Todaro. “These organizations have manufactured some amazing hardware. Coupled with the power of the Cloud as well as new machine learning capabilities, we’re really seeing the promise of the IIoT come to fruition.”

While customizable alerts are already part of “Cold Stream Select,” another Sensitech platform, they weren’t currently offered within SensiWatch. And if replicating the feature from one platform to another wasn’t enough, the existing architecture presented some challenges of its own.

Though the desired feature set was already active on Cold Stream Select, the data structure, language, and security meant that it would need to be rewritten specifically for the SensiWatch platform. Not only that, but the tech stack needed to be optimized for more frequent deployments, as well.

“With greenfield development, you deploy best practices right away,” said Ascendle Product Owner Tom Schwendler. “But with IIoT custom development, you’re often tasked with upgrading existing code. Here, we needed an improved testing environment to rapidly test and deploy code.”

The Sensitech team had long favored the use of microservices, each customized for a given use case. But these multiple environments frequently failed when communicating with one another. To overcome this challenge, it was decided to use Terraform, an open-source infrastructure as code software tool that provides a consistent CLI workflow to specifically manage many multiple cloud services. Short-term, this decision decreased sprint velocity, but long-term Terraform set up the team for more rapid deployments in the future.

While many firms that purely provide software development might not have suggested the use of products like Terraform, Schwendler points out that Ascendle isn’t simply a development shop.

“We’re here to provide business value,” he emphasized. “To maximize software velocity, you need to have your people, processes, and tools all optimized for peak performance. Getting the tools properly stood up will provide massive returns in the future. Without them, you’re placing a limit on the velocity that your people and processes can achieve.”

After the early schedule disruptions related to the Terraform deployment, sprints progressed in a more consistent manner, culminating with the deployment of the desired customizable alerts. Today, there are more than twenty different customizable alerts available to clients, depending on the needs of the client and their logistics partners.

Thanks to the IIoT custom development, a logistics manager in one location will know about undesired temperature changes the moment they happen, potentially providing the opportunity for disasters to be averted.

And while the developers were hard at work improving the client’s code, other Ascendle team members were upskilling the people and processes over on Sensitech’s side.

Upskilling for Success

Early on, Sensitech was aware that the solutions available from Ascendle went beyond software development, and often include training and coaching. It quickly became apparent that Sensitech was ripe for Ascendle’s Velocity Multiplier.

“Some companies hire us because we deliver code faster,” Todaro said. “But because our clients also do agile development themselves, they often ask us to help coach and train their employees to do it the way we do it. These companies end up getting a marked advantage over their competitors because they’re not just getting code swifter from us; they’re also learning how to produce faster code themselves.”

In this case, a variety of training was established for the Sensitech team and delivered over several sprints, so that attendees had the opportunity to deploy their learnings in the field.

IIoT Custom Development – the Next Steps

Agile organizations emphasize the business value that should accompany every story within a sprint. However, this means that platform upgrades that offer little benefit to users are often relegated to the bottom of the backlog because the perceived value is so low.

In the case of Sensitech, however, the project with Ascendle helped their team realize that explicit effort was needed to ensure the continued viability of their code base. When the newly upskilled team members set out to refine their backlog, they decided to carve off a portion of each sprint specifically to address needed platform upgrades.

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In addition to those necessary changes, Sensitech is already envisioning how their solution will evolve with so much data being captured by their sensors in real-time. New dashboards, predictive analytics, and risk scoring are already on the backlog for upcoming sprints as the company continues to support their customers in the cold-chain industry.