Aaron Marsh/Fleet Owner
Omnitracs CTO Dan Speicher shed some light on the business culture and philosophies — for example, the 'NIHITO' concept — behind the company's aggressive new products strategy and innovative work being done.

Get those truck tech developers out of the office

Feb. 12, 2016
So what's going on with Omnitracs these days? Quite a lot, actually, but maybe not much sitting around the office. CTO Dan Speicher talked business culture and philosophies and the company's aggressive development work.

So what's going on with Omnitracs these days? Quite a lot, actually, but maybe not much sitting around the office. Chief Technology Officer Dan Speicher shed some light behind the scenes, as it were, talking business culture and philosophies driving the company's aggressive new products strategy and development work.

It's clear Omnitracs wants more customer engagement as products are developed. "We're trying to increase customer interaction on a regular basis. We've applied principles of product management best practices," Speicher said at the company's recently concluded Outlook 2016 user conference.  

One of those practices, he added, is the "NIHITO" concept — "nothing interesting happens in the office."

To that end, Omnitracs wants everyone on its product development team to visit with customers once a week, or 52 times a year. "That says something about our commitment. We're putting a process in place where we want to understand your every issue, so that our vision is aligned with the market, industry behaviors and technology trends," Speicher explained.

The fleet management and logistics technology firm is in the middle of a major transformation, he noted, which includes its headquarters relocation to Dallas last year but also setting up more collaborative environments and centers of excellence — essentially, the right teams of people — focusing on specific areas.

"User experience" is one center of excellence, according to Speicher, along with things like navigation, video, OEM products and support, trailer tracking and "big data" applications. Regarding user experience, Speicher noted that the Omnitracs developers "build prototypes of [application] screens and we sit down with the customers. We let truck drivers work with our user interface and tell us if it's going to work," he explained.

"If we have people that are afraid to use our apps, we have failed," Speicher said. "If we have to take 20 minutes to an hour to train on our apps, we have failed. If we're taking support calls because people don't know how to use our apps, we have failed."

Stepped-up tempo

On its roadmap for 2016, Omnitracs has some 39 new products, and you're not going to meet that kind of ambitious goal without investments in people. And Speicher said the point isn't just to put out lots of new stuff, explaining some of the longer-range end goals of the releases.

"We're changing more than just some software or adding new applications," he told listeners. "It's not change for the sake of change; we're increasing the tempo at which we take on new challenges."

According to Speicher, Omnitracs has added "about 10" new people in product management, "and they're sharp, they're aware, they're focused — they're doing great things for the organization." The company is also drawing from local talent: "We added another 85 engineers here in Dallas — people out of the local area that have graduated from local schools.

"They are the new guard as we evolve and move forward," Speicher said.  

That's the situation in Dallas, but the Omnitracs CTO also noted other pockets of the company's human resources "all over this country and into Canada and Mexico." He pointed to San Diego; Minnetonka, MN; Baltimore; Windsor, ON, Canada; and Atlanta.

"We're going to continue to invest in our centers of excellence and build a workforce second to none," Speicher said. And Omnitracs wants to get staff collaborating more, he added, by doing things like collocating employees with smaller cubicles to encourage communication.

"Everything in our environment is essentially a whiteboard: the windows, the walls, somebody's desktop," said Speicher. "We're sharing notes, we're planning, we're designing, and then hopefully we're executing."


There's also a big two-part plan going on at Omnitracs. The company is not only developing new apps, but beefed up its portfolio through significant acquisitions. "With the acquisitions of XRS [Corp.], Sylectus and Roadnet [Technologies], we really have a treasure trove of applications if they're available in one platform," Speicher said.

That will play into two projects going forward dubbed "Omnitracs Telematics Integrated Solution" — or OTIS I and II. The first part involves "a simplification of the hardware footprint for our enterprise services applications stack," according to Speicher, and centers on the release of the company's new Intelligent Vehicle Gateway, or IVG.

"It's the baddest telematics box ever built," he said of the IVG, contending it "blows away the hardware capabilities of the [MCP200, the MCP110 and the MCP50] probably combined" — a reference to earlier Omnitracs telematics hardware released under former parent and microchip designer Qualcomm. Speicher explained that the IVG also features much simpler installation than earlier devices.

The IVG boasts features like a quad-core processor, 16GB of memory, two USB ports, multichannel Bluetooth capability, a built-in microphone, and 3-watt speakers that are "not the typical tablet speakers you'll find — they're built to handle the ambient noise in the cab when the window's down," Speicher said.

Also regarding those speakers and microphone, IVG has voice prompts and voice recognition built in — the audience heard from "Ivy," the device's voice-interactive guide along the lines of Apple's Siri. The amped-up hardware is designed to be able to take on "all the other stuff we're going to be putting into vehicles," Speicher noted, with estimates there will be some 50-100 new sensors added to trucks in the next several years.

Thus IVG is intended as the fulcrum by which Omnitracs will leverage its technology platform. But also on the hardware side of things, Speicher pointed out that OEMs have been adding third-party telematics devices in trucks rolling off the assembly line. Omnitracs wants to bring together all its applications into a single platform that is "hardware agnostic," he contended, so it can run on those devices, too.

"If all those products can be integrated into a single platform," Speicher said, "we have the ability to route goods from the manufacturer through our long-haul software to the distributor, and then with our private fleet software package, we can then route from the distributor to the retail outlet and even the end customer. Collectively, we can have everything tied into one, big, powerful stream of applications."

Not just more; better

Meanwhile, with all the new products on the way, Speicher said the company wants to get them to the market nicely polished. "We're under the gun to deliver at all times. And there's one thing we can do that not only improves the quality of our product offerings, but also improves our time to deliver: Quality by design," he noted.

Explaining the concept, he said the company is doing more automated testing of software before it reaches the market. That not only gets more of the bugs out, it frees up developers to focus more on the user interfacing, feedback and "real world" elements of the software.

"We can identify as many as 80-90% of the defects that exist in that code via automated testing," Speicher contended. "Then the people that are doing the human-based testing can focus on feature functionality, usability problems and performance challenges.

"So we are getting products into the market with better quality."  

Staying "hungry"

Beyond the big projects and where Omnitracs is looking to go, Speicher spoke more on the philosophy and culture of the organization. He'd helped set the tone by describing Omnitracs' concept of innovation, pointing to two quotes.

One was from Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co.: "The heart and soul of the company is creativity and innovation." The other came from the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs: "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower."

"Together, I think that kind of captures our viewpoint," Speicher said. "We need to continue to be hungry. We need to survive and thrive based on innovation.

"We can't do that with a couple guys locked in a room making all the decisions. We need it to be part of our culture; we need it to be our heart and our soul. We need it to be in everybody's mind, talking about it every day, collaborating every day. We need to make it part of our DNA.

"That's what we're doing. We're aggressive and we're going to tackle and change who we are. We changed our location; we changed the environment we work in. We're evolving our team and adding to our technology resources. We're changing our processes," he continued.

And the intended destination of these plans, Speicher said, is "significant results that all of us can take advantage of."

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