A quick search on Alibaba will show you over 9,000 GPS tracker devices. And yet, Roambee, a startup based in Mumbai and Santa Clara, decided to make one more. The difference is that it’s a smart device, which does a lot more than tracking vehicles and packages.
Roambee’s IoT device is no bigger than two smartphones held back-to-back. It has a SIM card for GPS tracking. But it also comes loaded with sensors to capture everything about a shipment: temperature, humidity, shock, pressure, altitude, tilt, and so on.
All that combined with real-time big data analytics on the cloud provides unique value to enterprises in transforming their logistics, and cutting costs.
Founder and CEO Sanjay Sharma shares with Tech in Asia the example of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, which is among 300 enterprises currently using Roambee in the US, Europe, South Africa, and India.
Today it announced a series B funding round of US$4.1 million led by Deutsche Telekom.
For Glaxo, the integrity of its pharma products in transit is of paramount importance, because any tampering can have drastic effects on consumers and the company. Now, when shipments move out of Glaxo’s main warehouses in India at Bhiwandi and Nashik, Roambee’s IoT devices go with each of them. They capture a documented chain of custody data at all points of those shipments until their final delivery. Route deviation gets analyzed and unscheduled stops trigger alerts.
The device’s camera can transmit video to show any handling or shifting of packages. Its sensors can even detect spoilages by correlating temperature and other data with what happened in the past.
What’s more, Glaxo can cut its insurance costs by showing compliance with security requirements and reducing risks of tampering, theft, and spoilage.
Order-to-cash cycle shrinks
Sanjay points out a host of other benefits Roambee clients derive from the IoT product and analytics.
Ceat Tyres was able to pinpoint where its shipments were getting stuck and shaved a whole day off its delivery time. The IoT devices also transmit digitally certified proof of delivery as soon as the shipment reaches its destination. This reduces the order-to-cash cycle by a week in most cases.
Inventory can be reduced, too. Predictive analytics provide a reliable ETA, so enterprises can now safely take into account the inventory in transit.
All in all, Sanjay points out, even a 2 to 3 percent reduction in shipment costs amounts to huge value for large enterprises like Glaxo, Ceat, and DHL.
On top of that, the enterprise gets to make its supply chain, logistics, and backend systems more efficient with automation. For example, performance can be analyzed to identify the best transporters for specific routes, clients, and industries. Integration of digitized delivery data with backend IT systems quicken processes for payments.
All the smart factories in the world don’t solve the lack of visibility while products are in transit.
With the value of its product proven in multiple geographies and industries, Roambee is now spreading its wings to expand into new markets and scale up fast. Today it announced a series B funding round of US$4.1 million led by Deutsche Telekom. This comes on top of the US$2.5 million it raised last year.
More than the amount of funding, Sanjay points out to me, is the advantage of partnering with a telecom giant whose footprint extends across more than 100 countries where it has roaming deals with local operators. This is vital for Roambee, which operates in multiple countries and relies on telecom signals from its roaming IoT devices. It also ties in with Roambee’s plans to move up from road shipments to encompass rail, air, and ocean transport for international shipments.
Its global go-to-market ambition gets a shot in the arm as well, through its partnership with Deutsche Telekom’s corporate customer arm T-Systems. “Roambee’s fast-to-deploy-and-scale solution adds value to our IoT partner ecosystem globally,” says Anette Bronder, director of T-Systems’ digital division.
Until now, Sanjay has relied mostly on feet-on-the-ground sales for his IoT device and SaaS (software-as-a-service) analytics product. What helped him is the portability of the device and a user-friendly business model.
“When I walk into your office, carrying this device with me, and say that you don’t have to buy the hardware and you can deploy it straightaway with your shipments, there’s not much reason left not to try it out,” says Sanjay.
Most clients begin with a pay-by-shipment deal. Some like to pay by the number of devices they deploy. A Roambee device on a shipment from Mumbai to Hyderabad would typically cost US$15. For that, the enterprise gets real-time visibility as well as analytics to improve its supply chain and logistics.
Best of all, the client is spared the headache of buying, deploying, and servicing the IoT devices. Roambee provides the devices at the start of a shipment and takes them back after delivery. Its main play is in the software for analytics and not as a seller of hardware.
This is Sanjay’s third venture. The first one, Plexus, used web and XML technologies to integrate enterprise applications. The next company, KeyTone, used RFID to improve inventories and got acquired by UK-based Global Asset Tracking.
It was while interacting with KeyTone customers that Sanjay became aware of the missing link in Industry 4.0. You could have all the smart factories in the world and not know what happened during the transport of your products. The GPS fleet tracking devices do monitor vehicles, but give little insight.
Analytics is Roambee’s forte and it comes from Sanjay’s rich tech experience. After getting a master’s in electronics engineering from South Dakota State University, he worked on AI-based image processing at NASA’s Goddard space flight center. He later worked for EMC and Schlumberger.
The software fixation
Despite such an impressive tech and entrepreneurial background, Sanjay had a blind spot when he started Roambee three years ago. He was so fixated on software that he felt the easiest and cheapest option was to adapt one of the Chinese GPS tracking devices which were a dime a dozen. This backfired badly.
Early adopters complained of the devices failing. Most of the time, Roambee engineers could not even diagnose the problem, let alone fix it, leading to embarrassment with disgruntled clients. It was only after being in denial for nearly a year that Sanjay decided to make his own devices.
And he didn’t follow the herd to China to manufacture them. Chinese electronics device manufacturers look for massive orders, which didn’t suit Roambee. Sanjay set up a plant instead in Gurgaon, India.
His logic is that he’s not in the business of mass manufacture. The number of devices he needs depends on his enterprise clientele. The relatively smaller scale of the Gurgaon plant suits IoT players better, according to him.
Today, with hands-on control over both the hardware and software sides of his product, Sanjay can think of tackling the next problems to solve in logistics. For example, the dot pinpointing a destination with a GPS tracker is usually a bit displaced. This can be a real pain in India where addresses and maps are notoriously inaccurate.
Roambee is using the rich resource of its own IoT device data to find a better triangulation for a more accurate dot. This will again save time and costs of delivery.
The partnership with Deutsche Telekom has also opened up new possibilities. For example, if a device malfunctions, the telecom network can often use its signaling to make it self-correct. And if it were to fall in the hands of a terrorist, the device can also be made to self-destruct.
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