Artificial intelligence (AI) is in our blood in many ways; all the founders of our company came from the AI community. Each of us has worked independently on the concept of using AI to help solve industrial operational problems since the early 1990s.
As far as founding a company went, we kept running into roadblocks because conventional technology just wasn’t ready for what we wanted to do: Manage big, fast, rapidly changing and unforgiving industrial systems easily and quickly using a semantic modeling approach to unify a variety of technologies. (Ed. note: Semantics is a technology with AI roots used to implement data structures that represent real world things in an intuitive way and can scale dramatically, dynamically change and enable control of disparate systems.)
We’ve had a lot of ‘aha’ moments over the years but the biggest was when we realized that the wave of massive, interconnected digital capabilities in industrial systems would first occur in the world’s gas, electric, and water grids. These connected grids, or smart grids, are a prime example of what is being called the Industrial Internet of Things. The smart grids pose a challenging supervisory control problem due to their complexity and the need to constantly make and act upon decisions within seconds. For example an electric grid operator might have to decide what to do within seconds if a power plant unexpectedly goes offline, or is about to go offline, in the middle of a hot July day.
It took the arrival of the cloud as a truly viable and secure option to help us cement the concept we’d been working on for so long and create a real business around it. In 2009, SmartCloud, Inc. was born.
By using a Microsoft-centric approach, we’ve been able to implement an industrial-strength, cost-effective, hybrid, highly-available and multi-agent software architecture deployed on Azure. We made a conscious choice to base almost all our development on Microsoft’s F# programming language. This was a very important decision because, without F#, our semantic concept is just not achievable.
But with it, our proprietary platform – CRex – can leverage the cloud and Big Reasoning – big data plus industrial automation plus artificial intelligence – to handle all kinds of mission-critical environments. CRex unifies emerging information technologies such as semantic Web, stream processing, workflow modeling, software agents and cloud computing. This unification is used to create solutions that apply real-time reasoning and logic to improve industrial operations.
Our membership in BizSpark led us to the discovery that leveraging Microsoft Azure capabilities could give us the detailed technology we needed to quickly implement our solution.
Using Azure gives us elasticity on the public cloud side and, because Azure services have been made available to deploy locally, we can have a consistent data stack. Testing is easy; we can spin up simultaneous test labs to create simulations on both our system and a customer’s site.
We’ve also integrated Azure through our .NET platform. That was a critical move because the industrial world relies heavily on .NET. We use the Service Bus to connect Azure and on premise systems, which are used by our customers to meet security requirements.
BizSpark is absolutely essential for startups that want to develop production-ready cloud applications. We’ve had so many wonderful experiences through the program along with access to software such as F#, Microsoft.NET and the Office 365 suite of tools.
We’ve put our hearts into SmartCloud and it’s gratifying to see those efforts begin to pay off. One of our first successes was the launch in 2012 of the next generation application for situation awareness of the North American power grid. The application is used by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corporation. Our system displays real-time information to situation awareness staff members in multiple locations to help them more quickly identify problems that can lead to costly outages.
In 2013, we were confident enough in what we were doing that we launched an effort to raise our first round of funding. Prior to that, we were entirely bootstrapped. We talked to all types of investors and ultimately decided to go with Rockwell Automation for Series A funding. There was an alignment between our companies in terms of culture, vision and go-to-market strategy, which every startup should consider when looking for an investor.
Along with several great prospects in the U.S. that we’re excited about, we’re pursuing interesting opportunities in South America and Europe. And more good things are looming on the horizon!