In this episode, Clue CEO, Oded Ran interviews Mike Branch, VP of Data & Analytics at Geotab, a Fleet Tracking & Management platform. Oded and Mike discuss Geotab’s product and service offerings, construction telematics, and how Covid-19 has impacted construction.
Mike on LinkedIn
Oded Ran (Clue) (00:09):
Hello and welcome to another episode of the full scoop. My name is Oded Ran and I'm co-founder and CEO at Clue, the host of this show. And today we have with us Mike Branch from Geotab hailing from Toronto Canada. Hey Mike.
Mike Branch (Geotab) (00:23):
Hey, how's it going Oded?
Oded Ran (Clue) (00:25):
Yeah, really, really good. So, Mike, for anyone who, for any reason, haven't heard yet about Geotab, please tell us more about the company and about your role.
Mike Branch (Geotab) (00:34):
Yeah, sure. So yeah, I'm in charge of data and analytics at Geotab. And for those of you who aren't aware, Geotab, we're a data and telematics company. So we have an OBD device that plugs into the onboard diagnostic port of vehicles, ranging from passenger cars all the way through to class 8 heavy duty vehicles, vehicles in construction, yellow iron equipment across the board. And we're the world leader in commercial telematics right now.
So we're connected to just over 2 million vehicles across the globe with a very, very strong market penetration in North America. So U.S. being very dominant, Canada, Mexico, and then a lot of, growing presence globally. So on a daily basis, we're collecting about 40 billion data points per day, across the globe. And that ranges in everything from your GPS location through to windshield wiper activation, PTO usage on different vehicles, you name it. So, very much the connected ecosystem for a commercial vehicle. So we've got about 50,000 customers across the globe, leveraging the platform and the solution. And again, across many, many different verticals ranging from government fleets all the way through to rental cars, the construction industry, you name it. And what we're doing for our customers for the most part is providing solutions as it relates to safety productivity dashboards that enable our customers. And we do this through an ecosystem approach. We've got a number of different partners who are building solutions on top of the platform as well, too, and helping to really enable our customers.
Oded Ran (Clue) (02:13):
Brilliant and with all this, a vast amount of data, no wonder they need the VP data and analytics. I like you to be in charge and we get to speak much more about that. What can you do with that data? But before we start, tell us a bit more about your journey. It's a really interesting journey, right? You've been in the company for four years. How did you end up in Geotab and how did your life lead you there?
Mike Branch (Geotab) (02:34):
Yeah, no, I mean, it's an, I think it's an interesting story. So I'm an engineer by trade computer engineer. So as soon as I graduated from engineering school started up my own software business with my business partner and lab mate there, Bob. We ran that company Inovex for about 13 years and, we did a number of different things. So we work a lot in the custom software world, right? So we would develop purpose-built software solutions for organizations ranging from folks in the oil and gas industry. So real time data acquisition systems that sat on oil and gas rigs through to healthcare platform. So secure data collection platforms that allow people to collect personally identifiable information in a secure way, and then report on that from an analytics perspective. And one of the things that I found that we did really well was develop a lot of dashboards and visualizations. And that was a common theme across every single piece of software that we develop, whether that be in the oil and gas industry or the healthcare industry.
So what we decided to do is take that core competency and then develop a software as a service package. And for those of you familiar with power BI or Tableau, it wasn't too dissimilar to that. So it had kind of this geographic tilt to it. We called it maps BI. So as you would zoom into specific area on the globe, you'd see all the metrics related to that area. It was very, very visual. And so we, we pushed that out back in 2013 is when we launched that product had never, never heard of Geotab or telematics, before then, which is kind of funny. And at that point in time, my marketing director played squash with Neil Cawse who's the CEO of Geotab and said, you guys should really talk. I think there are some synergies there. So, we did, and we became, a marketplace partner with Geotab.
And for those of you who aren't familiar with our marketplace, it's not dissimilar to an app store kind of feel. So we became partner, working a lot with the Geotab resellers and partner network to provide a value added solution on top of the Geotab platform. And after two years of being a partner with Geotab, we decided to, take that next step. And we were acquired a small team of us and brought into the Geotab ecosystem. And that was four and a half years ago. So January, 2016 is when I started my journey at Geotab. And at that point in time, we had very, very small, big data team. There were five of us in total and we grew that team. So now we're just over 60, just in data and analytics at Geotab and, a number of different talented people that I'm working with. Some of the most talented people I've worked with in my life, data scientists, data engineers, software developers, visualization experts, and the folks who can kind of do that bridge between a software development AI and the business realm. So we've certainly grown the capacity and the acumen at Geotab, but that was really from our days of visualization and really understanding data. And I think that notion to be able to understand it and what you can do with it, how you can help your customers. That's what we're really all about.
Oded Ran (Clue) (05:50):
That's great. So, looking now four years after joining Geotab and 13 years plus after you started your first company, that was really a massive success. Well, what's the one thing you wish now you could have told yourself, we wish you knew when you started your career.
Mike Branch (Geotab) (06:09):
The people who I may be offering some contrary advice to people who've done it the other way around, but I wish that we started with a kind of a product first scale mentality from the get go. We, we started very service oriented, right? So we were with Inovex. We go contract to contract, to contract and to build a business and to scale it, to decide certainly the Geotab has been, it was a very platform based approach where you start off with a product, obviously it's a little bit more challenging, more capital required to do that from the get go. And the journey tends to be a little bit slower, but then you reach a critical point where you're able to scale really well. So that focus on a solution that will scale really well. One of the things I think that the Geotab does well, and I will say if I could have built my company to the size that Geotab is right now, it would have that same culture.
So, I mean, that's a really good feeling. I think having the, the culture is really important, but that ecosystem approach, right? And so we go to market through a number of different partners and resellers, and it's really that ecosystem and that marketplace that we've created, which I think is so successful. So putting my hat on now and telling Mike from 20 years ago, what he would have done, is to really build out that partner network, focus on core competencies that can scale really, really well, and always do the right thing. And it sounds kind of corny, but I mean, that's truly what we believe in. Some things may take us longer to get to market, but we believe in doing the right thing to build for scale and build, solutions that our customers and our partners can actually use as well.
Oded Ran (Clue) (07:49):
So Mike tell us a bit more, really about a Geotab from why you're happy to share by the side of the company revenues and so on to get up, to give us a bit of a sense of your success.
Mike Branch (Geotab) (07:59):
Yeah, absolutely. So when I first started at Geotab four and a half years ago, we were a company that was tracking 400,000 vehicles across the globe, for commercial customers, just under 200 people in size at that point in time, again, that was when my data team was about five. Since then we've grown to over a 1,200 people in the company right now, global expansion has increased, as well. So while we're dominant in North America, we are expanding in other areas across the globe. And, again, over 2 million connected vehicles right now. So from a growth perspective, it's been amazing to be part of a company that is growing at that pace. I remember, five years ago, it was a challenge to find the right data science talent and engineering talent to come on the team, the university system hadn't caught up quite yet.
You had data scientists claiming to be data scientists who knew Excel, right? And now things have changed quite a bit where we're seeing that acumen quite a bit stronger, but I think, and to the point where we have to turn away so many people at this point in time, and I think it's a combination of not only the university systems catching up, but also, I mean, the sheer interest in the types of data that we're working with. I mean, we always say that, data scientists come to Geotab for the data, but they stay for the culture, right? Because the good way to attract people to the company, for all the interesting use cases, data scientists, that's what they love to work with. But if you don't have the culture, you can't retain them. And some of the interesting things that we're doing that we're looking at are certainly around data for our customers and helping them be more productive within their own organizations, be more safe whilst on the road.
But we're also looking at angles at the smart city angle. So we've got a number of government customers, but as a result of having vehicles moving around the city, we can now look at things like, at an aggregate level, right? That's very important. So we take privacy and clients very, very seriously at an aggregate level. I can look at corridor analysis and look at, I'm a traffic engineer, I can now look at the average amount of times stopping at different intersections, just based on vehicle movement patterns. Right. We can look at everything from hyper-local temperature. These little vehicles are sensors on wheels that tell us something about the world around them. Windshield wiper activation gives us an idea if it's raining or snowing again at that hyper local level. So in addition to providing a huge amount of value-add to our end customers, we can provide that much more value-add through aggregating all of this big data and providing them with really, really valuable insight.
Oded Ran (Clue) (10:46):
So if I'm right now, a customer, obviously I have access to my own data. Can I access that data in aggregate from all companies in my area? What, what can I learn from that?
Mike Branch (Geotab) (10:55):
Yeah, you, can say in a few different ways, and again, very clear, it's always aggregate. We have data privacy and governance specialists on our team. We do motivated intruder attacks and risk re-identification determination. So we do make sure that data is aggregate, and not identifiable to any customer at all, but there is a lot of value in that aggregate data for our customers. As an example, so we've got an ignition portal, ignition.geotab.com. And in that portal, we provide access to a number of different aggregate data sets, everything ranging from dangerous driving areas and cities, right? So if I'm a fleet manager and I want to uncover potentially where there's some dangerous driving areas, we normalize where people are slamming on their brakes consistently, right. And highlight these areas.
Oded Ran (Clue) (11:42):
And what about, for example, fuel economy and utilization?
Mike Branch (Geotab) (11:45):
Yeah, absolutely. So fuel economy is something that we look into quite, I think, differently than most organizations that are there. So we take a true artificial intelligence and look into that because when you're looking at fuel economy and benchmarking, it's not enough to do it by industry. You have to understand the movement pattern of the vehicle. So we've got a number of different models and dataset generated from our big data ecosystem where we can look at - is it better to drive a Ford F 150 for delivery in the Rocky Mountains than say a Chevy Silverado? Or what have you, right? Because we've got the models that look at the movement patterns and look at the geography and these important things and give you the real world fuel economy for a very specific purpose of the vehicle.
Oded Ran (Clue) (12:30):
Great. That's really interesting. So, Geotab competes with a bunch of other companies and how, what do you attribute your success t o? How do you differentiate when you come to pitch to a company looking for a solution? What do you think sells Geotab the best?
Mike Branch (Geotab) (12:45):
So, I think it's a combination of a few things. I think it's our open API and ecosystem, whatever we've built in our, my Geotab product, which is the product that our customers get. And they can do all of their setup, all of their trips, their vehicles, all this, whatever they get in that system, you can do all of that through our APIs, right? So if you want to rebuild our full platform, you could do it, leveraging our APIs. And, why that's important is because now our partner base can feel free to create. And we've created these building blocks for people to build on top of. So it's not uncommon for customers to exclusively pull our data via the APIs and they create their own front end. So I think that kind of openness with the data is kind of, item number one, item number two, I think is around our marketplace and our go to market strategy around our ecosystem that we've created.
Right? We've got people building on top of our platform, everything from video telematics through to we know, driver scorecarding and gamification. So you get this rich ecosystem of partners that are building on top of an application. Am I going to choose a full ecosystem approach when I'm choosing a vendor or one where an ecosystem isn't there, right? And then I think the third thing is everything around data, right? And what we're doing the future really for the company is looking at data and how we can use it at scale to help our customer base and, help drive, important decisions for it. So those three areas I think, are what kind of differentiate us. And again, like I said, we built for scale, we build it securely, right? And we create these building blocks for people to really build on top of.
Oded Ran (Clue) (14:35):
That's. Great. Thanks. Thanks for that. And for elaborating on that. So what, what's the biggest challenge you and the team is facing right now?
Mike Branch (Geotab) (14:45):
So I think some of the biggest challenges that are going on, revolve around privacy and data residency. And it's something that I think the whole world is really grappling with right now, because it's in constant flux, right? We don't know when new legislation will be imposed. We don't know how it's going to vary from state to state, which it is right, CCPA and GDPR legislation. So we're following that very closely and implementing strategy as needed on these different requirements. So I think that's one of the challenges that we certainly face. And I think every organization in the world is probably looking at it from that same angle what's going to happen. Nobody can really predict what the future will hold and what new legislation will pop up in different areas of the world. So understanding that and understanding the challenges inherent within and how you implement strategy and product, to be able to do the right thing. These are things that are, are certainly challenged.
Oded Ran (Clue) (15:48):
Have you already had customers that tell you we'd love to use Geotab, but we want our data to just be our data. We don't want it to be shared with anyone else, or in these cases, you just tell them we might not be the right company for you.
Mike Branch (Geotab) (16:00):
Our positioning is that the ecosystem approach is where you're going to get the biggest value out of the data. So, and where I think we positioned that very strongly is that the data remained the individual data is that customer's data. It is never ever shared with anyone, but wouldn't you benefit tremendously if you had access to data that can help drive your business forward from a benchmarking perspective, right? Recommender systems that can tell you how you should be navigating your business to get it to that next level. And if you want all of that comes with that ecosystem approach. So oftentimes it's while we do certainly get that perspective coming from customers, usually when we do explain the positive benefits that come out of it, and the fact that their data is held very, very private and is theirs, that usually is, enough of a persuasion to allow them to see the positive results that can come from such a system.
Oded Ran (Clue) (17:04):
Right. Which is the direction that I guess the world is going any case in terms of openness and leveraging the big data.
Mike Branch (Geotab) (17:11):
Yeah. But it is so crucial important. And the two need to be in balance, right? You need to balance data privacy with innovation and doing the right thing by your customers. And these are things that we wholeheartedly believe in. Good.
Oded Ran (Clue) (17:26):
So you've been involved intimately with both engineering and product for years now, and I'm guessing that comes with success as well as mistakes and failures. So do you mind sharing with us one failure that you had in a product launch and what did you guys learn from it?
Mike Branch (Geotab) (17:42):
I think the word failure sometimes is hard. So I would classify it not necessarily as a failure, but not as successful as I would've hoped. Let's put it that way, so we initially launched our portal data.geotab.com a couple years back, I would say. And it, again, this was an aggregate portal where all of his data was housed, right? And you could go on there. You could look at again, dangerous driving areas and cities. You could look at intersection insight metrics. You could look at location analytics on fuel stations and service centers, and some really, really good data. Problem is it was, it was just data. So the acumen, it would take somebody to, first of all, realize that it existed to figure out what to do with it and how to leverage and use it. It wasn't there. And you'd have to go through an inordinate number of steps to extract the value, even though we've done the work, the heavy lifting to get the data in a place where it can be leveraged in use. Oftentimes leading the road down to that use case was very challenging. So having stepped back and looked at, okay, well, what could we do better here? We felt it was better to give an avenue for people to explore the data, right? So that's when this, earlier this year we launched a ignition and now that wraps that those datasets in a, in a way that allows people to visually see what's the meaning behind the data. So if I'm looking at cellular coverage, dark spots and the Appalachian Mountain ranges, I just click on that and it visualizes it for me. And then that allows business people and technical people like to have that conversation around what the data can be used for. And so there still will be stepping stones towards data utilization and this kind of thing, but at least it allows those conversations to, be easier and I think the tip of it was some of the challenges that we face that anybody, I think in the data science world faces is, trying to understand when an AI problem is done.
When is it good? When is it good enough, to push out there? So oftentimes I have those discussions and where you spiral into months and months and months of unending research, right? And the research is good and it's, it's really powerful, but you need to get something out to production as well. So I think as we're all learning how to work in some research, intensive data science and AI based teams, we've now developed methodologies around how to move things more quickly to production recognizing when an AI problem is going to take you two years versus two weeks. Very important things too. So those are some of the challenges and kind of failures that, I've had along the way.
Oded Ran (Clue) (20:26):
And what excites you, what are the opportunities you see that in 2020, there is still not a good solution and you think, yep that's what we should be working on.
Mike Branch (Geotab) (20:37):
Well, I think everything around the means for smart city applications, there's so much potential there. Everything from a vehicle to infrastructure communication, right, is not where it needs to be. There's been many kind of segmented pilots in different areas, but I think more standardization around that, but that also is a function of the technology, but then also the standards and the adoption by the city as well, too. I sit on a Board, the open city network with a few other Canadian companies, and it's geared at helping cities understand what some of the impediments are going to be in this data-driven city, this digital twin, if you will, of the city and how we can combat these from a policy perspective, right? I mean, there's data, privacy challenges, there's technology challenges.
So it's across the globe. And I think so whilst it is a super interesting technical challenge, and I think that we'll get there. It's not just a technology that's going to, enable that. So yeah, so those are some of the things that excite me though, everything around that smart city realm with vehicle to infrastructure communication and what these data points can tell us organically, without somebody having to go in the city and do a speed test and all of these kinds of, we should be able to operate our cities much more efficiently than, than we have.
Oded Ran (Clue) (22:03):
And lots of the people listening or watching this, work in the construction industry, which obviously Geotab has a lot of customers in that space. What specifically do you think companies in construction space can get today if they started to use your products?
Mike Branch (Geotab) (22:20):
Yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, at Geotab we had, we have a lot of customers, certainly in the construction space, I admittedly not construction expert. My focus is certainly on data and AI, but I think a couple of the relevant areas that do touch on the construction industry, A, on the predictive maintenance as a standpoint. So making sure that my vehicles don't have as much downtime as they should. Right. So I'm making sure that they're capable of being used at any point in time when you need that vehicle. So we've done a lot of work on predictive maintenance, and this is where I think telematics and a measurement of this data is crucial to allow you to understand, is this vehicle going to experience downtime? What's the likelihood of that happening? How important is that to my business and to give you a parallel use case, we did a lot of work on electrical systems and creating a predictive models around when we think a battery is going to fail in a vehicle. And if a battery is very cheap to replace, but it's the downtime whilst on the side of the road that is the huge cost driver. And we did a number of different case studies that we've published. Did a lot of work with Pepsi on this as well too. One of our large customers and have some phenomenal results. Now you can imagine, being able to predict which vehicles will likely have that downtime and what that will do for your business and making sure that you have them up and running as much as possible. So within the construction industry, you can take a similar approach, right? From a predictive maintenance perspective. And the nice thing with the Geotab ecosystem as well is that it's not only the data that's driven from necessarily the device itself, but you can hook up other sensors to that device as well.
So if I'm running a machine learning algorithm to predict whether something's going to fail or not, I need as much data as possible about that vehicle. And that might come from the device, might come from connected peripherals as well too. And I may also use big data for that, right? I may want to know hyper locally at that point in time, what was the temperature, does this temperature impact the system failing and in some cases it does with battery, it certainly does. I think certainly on the predictive maintenance side is, is one area huge impact to construction from a productivity perspective and then also utilization making sure all my assets are utilized as much as possible. And if I've got a number of different locations throughout the United States, Canada, or the globe, how are those different areas being utilized are some underutilized, are some over utilized. Do, can I reposition my assets? So that capacity to extract that value from there is great. And then we touched on fuel certainly at the beginning, right? Fuel is a huge, huge expense. I might idling too much in certain areas is that wasting fuels are a better fit for me from a vehicle perspective. So understanding these benchmarking, then we always say our mentality is you can't manage what you don't measure. So you better start measuring something so you can manage and improve the productivity of your business.
Oded Ran (Clue) (25:30):
One of the things we're seeing is that a lot of OEMs manufacturers of equipment are starting to now have their own telematics systems. Do you envisage that affecting where the businesses going with Geotab in the next few years and how are you adapting?
Mike Branch (Geotab) (25:45):
Yeah, great question. So we actually work very closely with a number of the OEM. So, in addition to getting data from our go device where we are also pulling in data from a number of the OEMs. So we've got an integration with Ford and integration with GM and more and more coming online. So where the huge value is, is in these mixed fleets and in normalizing all of this data and allowing a system to be that connected vehicle platform, that's where Geotab really plays, right? Oftentimes people don't understand is the amount of downstream processing and analytics and BI capabilities and rules that you need to set up downstream from just the data is, is this big getting the data in there is that big, right? So that's where we pride ourselves is on the downstream applications of this, the ecosystem that we've created, the APIs that we've created that allow for the extraction of this data so that it can be used a frontline for the business. And that's our huge value add where the data come from is almost irrelevant, right? As long as the quality is good and we spent many, many years ensuring that the quality of the data coming into our ecosystem is very strong. As long as that it is maintained it's about the downstream applications, what you actually do with the data at the end of the day.
Oded Ran (Clue) (27:13):
That's fantastic. So, and I'd love to get your opinion. One of the things we're doing at Clue is connecting the data from construction equipment as well as adding the data from the operators, the people themselves. You see that as a trend, increasingly people want to track not only their equipment, but also their teams and people and job sites. And that's that piece of information.
Mike Branch (Geotab) (27:37):
Yeah, all the time. And, I mean, multiple assets being tracked of, it is a nice thing that a lot of our partners do, they'll take the data from the Geotab APIs. A combination that whilst working with an end customer with their other line of business systems, whether that be a people management system or another asset management system, and combining that data to provide the requisite KPIs to a business, to help it run. So we've seen more and more of that happening. I would like to see more and more happening because where you get the real power in the data is when you start combining with all of these other data sets. And I almost talk about making sure that we can elevate the importance of these data, not only to fleet and fleet managers, but also to the boardroom as well, right? This is powerful data. It's telling you something about your business, right? And when you can combine that with other data sets, it's so strong, but often times it does get locked in fleet, right? And I think we need to do a better job in general, taking it out of fleet and making sure that other lines of business can see the value.
Oded Ran (Clue) (28:44):
Great. I wish I was in your war room looking into the impact of COVID-19 on all the type of movements and data in the last few months. What can you share with us that is obviously in an aggregate level, are we out of it? Are you seeing, the same changes that we're seeing elsewhere? What does the data tell you about the impact of COVID-19 in the USA.
Mike Branch (Geotab) (29:07):
It's been really interesting. When this whole thing struck in middle of March in Canada here in the U.S. certainly everybody has worked from home. And it's, I mean, easy for data professionals to work from home. Right, so we stood up these daily meetings every 15 minutes at the beginning of every day, combined data and marketing and privacy. And we said, how can we, what can we do here that can help the industry right and help our customers figure out where we're tracking. And at the end of the day, it came down to, we kind of took some inspiration, the Johns Hopkins, dashboard. That shows us country by country, what this curve is looking like, how am I flattening? So we wanted to look at how has the commercial transportation sector been recovering?
So we looked at pre COVID baseline activity by geography, by industry sector. And then we looked at what's happening, and we have this longitudinal trends. So if you go to our website, you'll see the dashboard there that gets updated every day. Construction industry actually started picking up earlier than most. So we all hit that kind of lull around Easter weekend. In April. There that's when everything kind of dipped, but construction was probably one of the first industries to start slowly picking up again. So we're seeing slow pickup across the board. And in many cases, we've actually started to hit North America at a hundred percent of where we used to be that didn't start hitting until probably end of May. Beginning of June, we started to see Canada is cycling a little bit higher to recovery at this point in time, than the US but we are still seeing a weird weekend to weekday anomaly.
So weekdays are pretty much more up, weekends are still, considerably down. So you'll see these little dips as so we normalize utilization based on days of week. But construction sector certainly started to pick up, sooner against slow recovery freight and logistics manufacturing. Those were pretty consistently good across the whole time. And then the one that took the biggest hit was non-freight transport. So these would be things like school, busing, rental car, the typical industries that you would experience. And we haven't seen any recovery there quite yet.
Oded Ran (Clue) (31:24):
Wow. Thank you for sharing that. And for anyone who wants to see this information, like you said, it's all available online on geotab.com, correct?
Mike Branch (Geotab) (31:31):
Yeah, geotab.com. And then you can just look up our, blogs or search there, just look up COVID-19 recovery.
Oded Ran (Clue) (31:38):
Great. So we'll finish with a couple of last questions, but one question I ask everyone that comes on the show. If you had a fun day operating any piece of construction equipment, which one would you choose?
Mike Branch (Geotab) (31:51):
I think I was telling you Oded on this one. It was interesting because I didn't even know this one really existed until I was reading my four year old, his book on construction vehicles. Oh my God, this is amazing. Then I looked it up and what it can do is phenomenal. So the bridge builder, it would be, would be mine. I think it's phenomenal what it can do in terms of building out a whole span that quickly, and I've seen some of the videos online, just phenomenal. That would be my first choice.
Oded Ran (Clue) (32:20):
That's awesome. So I'm really, really grateful that you joined us in the show. If any, one of the people listening or watching wants to follow up with you directly, what's the best way to speak with you online.
Mike Branch (Geotab) (32:31):
Reach out to me on LinkedIn, Mike Branch on LinkedIn Geotab. I'm pretty easy to find and happy to engage in any conversation. Please do make mention of this specific podcast so that I know where you came from.
Oded Ran (Clue) (32:44):
Fantastic, so, Mike, thank you again so much. And as always, you can find more information about this conversation and everything we discussed on the resources section in the podcast. Mike, thank you so much for being with us. I look forward to speaking with you again before long and here, how are you doing and what are the next steps? The next adventure is for Geotab. Thank you so much.
Mike Branch (Geotab) (33:05):
Pleasure to be here, Thanks!