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Thought Leaders in Internet of Things: Colin Sutherland, Co-Founder of Geotab (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Jan 4th 2016

There’s a ton of data being  generated through vehicle telematics that need apps to make sense of. Entrepreneurs looking for problems to solve – please read on!

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to you as well as to Geotab.

Colin Sutherland: I’m the Global Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and one of the Founders of Geotab. This is our 15th year of being involved in what’s called the telematics industry, which is a technology that essentially moves the data from a vehicle’s location over a wireless method, and into the cloud, to enable fleets to better understand how their assets are being used in order to improve.

Sramana Mitra: What are the trends of the telematics space as it pertains to vehicles at this point?

Colin Sutherland: The industry reached a major milestone six years ago when, as a total collective, the industry became a billion dollar industry. That was a big milestone. Industry researchers have projected tremendous growth for the business. Overall, the industry has been growing 15% per year, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. By about 2019, four years  from now, the industry is expected to represent a $34 billion industry. Obviously, it’s pretty dramatic in a short period of time. It’s a global industry. A business like ours, which is essentially a technology company with software developers and firmware engineers, has to look at our potential for maximum penetration in this business segment whether it’s in North America, Latin America, or Southeast Asia.

Sramana Mitra: Are you selling to the car manufacturers?

Colin Sutherland: While our technology is installed in vehicles, in the early days of telematics, you had to decide who you want to be as a business. What was your unique selling proposition going to be and how were you going to take your product  to market? Back in 2000, we decided that we would be an engineering company. We hired software developers and we developed intellectual property on how to collect the data and move the data. We chose to go to market through sales channels and not to sell direct. Back in the day, we really looked at Microsoft’s go-to market strategy and thought it looked pretty strong.

On the other hand, Microsoft is a company you can’t just buy software directly from. They have certified partners and retailers and they sell their products through those channels. We decided that we would build our business on the same success model that Microsoft had back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In going to market with sales channels, in some ways, it actually frees up your capability to develop products. On the other hand, you don’t get to be as close to your end-customer as you would be if you were a direct sales organization. Automotive manufacturers are only now beginning to learn the benefit of telematics and collecting information from cars. The people that value the data and spend money on telematics technology have been businesses themselves. They want to improve how they go about their decision making.

Consumers are all familiar with insurance reduction if you have something installed in your vehicle and you allow an insurance provider to know how you’re driving. You may be offered an insurance discount. That’s a terrific use of telematics technology. However, it’s not pre-installed by the car manufacturers. It was an after-market retrofit. The consumers themselves don’t value paying money upfront in order to possibly get an insurance discount.

Like any small business, when you’re getting started, we had to go where the money was. We knew early on where the profit and the revenue would be generated. That was be in commercial businesses that need to have more tools at their disposal in order to grow. We haven’t really focused on growing our sales and distribution through car manufacturers themselves. We rely on touching businesses themselves. We identify which companies might be good channel partners of ours to service those businesses and then make sure that we have those companies aligned with us in selling our technology.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders in Internet of Things: Colin Sutherland, Co-Founder of Geotab
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