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The Right Focus on Success: A Conversation with Digi International's Ben Tucker

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The evolution of the Internet of Things is as expansive as it is exciting; this was certainly the case in 2023, and we’re confident it’ll grow in excitement this year and beyond.

Needless to say, news and events surrounding IoT are brimming with rising levels of excitement; especially after this year’s IoT Evolution Expo 2024, which took place from February 13-15 at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Learn more about future IoT Evolution Expos (and the overarching #TECHSUPERSHOW experience) here.

Today, we’ve got more IoT insights to share – I recently had the chance to sit down and enjoy a conversation with Digi International’s Director of Product Management for the company’s Infrastructure Management division, Ben Tucker.

Some quick context: Since 1985, Digi has pioneered wireless solutions. Before the Internet of Things became mainstream, Digi built M2M and IoT-esque devices. Soon, the company began adapting to network standards as they evolved, and it pursued the rigorous optimization of data communications around countless advanced protocols and emerging technologies. (e.g. RF modems to gateways, cellular routers, networking devices, embedded SOM, SBCs, etc.)

And in the present day, Digi has even more to offer.

Below, you’ll find coverage of my conversation with Ben Tucker:

Alex Passett: Let’s kick it off with the basics. In layman’s terms, what does Digi focus on today?

Ben Tucker: Well, it’s usually easier said than done to chop it down to layman’s terms. After all, the world is a complex place. At Digi, we recognize many complexities, especially for future-forward businesses. They need a lot of info nowadays to drive scale and efficiency (while they’re also reacting to things happening within their development and production environments, on top of supporting customers in the field, where applicable). It's a lot to take in, and a lot of equipment is typically involved; equipment used to gather, monitor, manage and maintain critical data that absolutely must be gathered reliably in order to drive success. Whether it’s equipment used for real-time monitoring, for ensuring that operations remain stable and within safe limits when it comes to raw materials or energy utilization, for whatever is needed – the point is, the data must be available for businesses, and IoT catalyzes that. Highly fit-for-purpose IoT equipment is necessary to ensure, among many factors, that problems with security and scale don’t arise. So, to really move forward, you’ve got to tackle the big challenge in IoT regarding getting the data from where it is to precisely where it needs to be. That, mainly, is what Digi is focused on today.

AP: Let’s dive deeper into this “big challenge in IoT.”

BT: Sure. For starters, we cannot understate the value of effectively getting data from where it is to where it needs to be. We talk with lots of people that have genuinely great ideas for what their businesses could do if they could meet this challenge head-on. But when there are broad geographies or a huge number of sites to consider, for example, the complications grow. That’s why we support people with their resources; we help solve already identified problems with data collection, and we take proactive steps to maintain quality and performance. I like thinking about this aspect of things through the lens of “implementing IoT/IIoT to lift routine tasks from workers’ plates,” especially ones that are basically “IoT housekeeping” chores. Then, they can dial in on the much more interesting parts of their jobs. Instead of going out and physically visiting each of their sites to measure supply levels, test aging machinery and so on, they should already know what they need to optimize their asset management, increase long-term productivity, and decrease operational stress, overall. We solve the hard IoT problems for them so they innately have what they need, data-wise.

AP: And I’m sure solving those hard problems takes weight off people’s shoulders.

BT: That’s the goal. We’d love it if, realistically, there was one kind of equipment that solves everything for them, but unfortunately there isn’t. There’s no single vendor that produces everything folks need. Do they need to set up sensors? Do they need to connect those sensors to existing equipment? To new equipment? And what about the network? That’s often a big part of the problem, as you don’t really want businesses’ critical machineries to be directly on the network. While the power of IoT/IIoT is rooted in harnessing and redirecting the flow of data, if the data is too available then you run the risk of embedded systems becoming exposed to greater security threats. So, Digi also focuses on infrastructure management; we provide gateways and other services between equipment and the network. By putting a layer in-between them, you can smartly control the data itself. You can prevent undue access to critical infrastructure and, at the same time, facilitate secure and manageable back-and-forth exchanges of data. This is necessary in civil infrastructure, manufacturing, avionics, environmental monitoring, you name it. We equip customers with what they need to keep all this working transparently and securely.

AP: This is really good to hear. So, when workers handle routine tasks or they encounter new issues, Digi has ideally already helped before something can even go wrong; before people become stressed or deadlines get messy due to unforeseen problem-solving needs.

BT: Exactly. Instead of a worker reporting in and saying “Oh no, we have a problem…” there’s already a solutions provider that has said “Hey, I noticed your levels are low,” or “Hey, your equipment needs maintenance between the following date ranges,” or “Hey, you’ve got great predictive systems in place, so I’m here to work on what you need before you’re out of stock/before anything breaks,” and so forth.

AP: Let’s wrap up with this question, then: It may sound like a super lighthearted way to word this, but what sparks joy for you at Digi? What genuinely excites you about your work, about IoT/IIoT, or about the industry at large?

BT: Sincerely, it’s when the simple things work for people; that’s what’s most interesting, in the long haul. It’s when a person walks into a work area to check on, say, canister levels or machine wear and tear and it’s already been taken care of because of the IoT/IIoT measures Digi has helped put in place. It’s when a customer gets a call from us and they hear “Hi, I noticed your equipment will require maintenance within a certain timeframe. Does next Tuesday work for you?” Then, businesses look forward to you showing up; everything’s already working and just needs to be checked or tweaked, rather than you pulling up to put out a fire. There’s less workflow disruption, and people enjoy and remember those interactions more fondly. That’s the kind impact with immediate value that I love about our work. We drive consistency and reliability through IoT/IIoT.

AP: Technologies evolve and proliferate rapidly, but the basic problems still need solving.

BT: Definitely.

For more information on how Digi provides the means of safely connecting and monitoring equipment, read here.




Edited by Greg Tavarez
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