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Breakthrough Case Study
Hitachi High Technologies America, Inc. (“HTA”) is a privately-owned global affiliate company that operates within the Hitachi Group Companies. HTA sells and services semiconductor manufacturing equipment, analytical instrumentation, scientific instruments, and bio-related products as well as industrial equipment, electronic devices, and electronic and industrial materials. The Systems Products Division (SPD) of HTA focuses on design, development, and manufacturing of IoT systems, in-flight entertainment tablets, and medical computer devices.
HTA’s SPD team in Greenville, SC developed innovative IoT products that allow users to remotely monitor the temperature and humidity in restaurant equipment, such as freezers, coolers, and overnight smokers. The HiQ eSystems® Remote Monitoring Systems reduce food waste which, by the US Department of Agriculture’s estimate, comprises 30 to 40 percent of the national food supply, and save money in the restaurant and food service industries. More importantly, the products can improve food safety for the consumer, which is a major problem in the food service industry—each year, an average of 48 million consumers get sick as a result of foodborne illness.
The HiQ eSystems® products address this problem proactively, giving restaurant owners and other food service providers a way to monitor, visualize, analyze and alert users before temperature breaches become a concern.
After completing their engineering prototypes to prove the portal concept, the SPD team decided to test the products through common use cases with a few initial clients in order to improve the user experience. One key area where they knew they needed to focus in the next phase of development was to iterate back through the user dashboard. So many important actions are triggered by the monitoring systems through interactions with the dashboard. The dashboard lets operators know when to reduce traffic into refrigeration systems or take more drastic action to properly cool or heat their food— steps can act to prevent either food waste, or worse, foodborne illness.
“Our search for a tech partner began with feedback we received from one of these initial customers,” said Kyoko Roberts, the SPD Director of Sales. “The dashboard prototype had a very technical look, like an engineering table. We thought we would need something more user friendly, and the testing phase confirmed this for us.”
Keith Brown, the SPD General Manager and an HTA Senior Director, agreed that the product dashboard needed an update.
“We had designed an intelligent sensor and a gateway for our IoT products. Our temperature monitoring system is one of very few IoT full-stack solutions currently in the market that start at the edge and go all the way up to alerting and dashboarding.” Brown said. “From an engineering or large corporate overview control and monitoring perspective, our dashboard was fantastic. All the information was there, but it can be complicated and give too many options for the many end users. Our customers didn’t want to check under the hood and see everything that was going on. They wanted a simplified, clean visual dashboard that presented the whole picture at a glance.”
Fortunately, the solution was relatively simple since SPD already had all of the major components and moving parts in place.
“Our team had all the data, but we weren’t able to use it or present it in a meaningful way,” said Roberts. “We had the database ready to go; we just needed to change how the information was used.”
SPD decided to bring Kopis in as a partner to help develop the dashboard piece of the products rather than hiring a full-time developer.
“Our software engineer is an embedded software specialist, and he’s amazing at what he does. Anything that’s inside a device, like a phone, a tablet, or a smart refrigerator or thermostat, embedded software is what makes it all work together,” said Brown. “But those skills are very different than the skills needed to design a consumer-facing dashboard. We have no need to hire that kind of consumer-facing skill set full time since most of what we do is embedded software. Our team had connected with Kopis, specifically through Bradley Smith, at several IoT conferences, and we quickly realized that Kopis was a natural fit to bridge the gap that we had internally.”
Working in partnership with Kyoko Roberts and the rest of the SPD team, Kopis created a mobile-friendly user dashboard that presents a live view, simplifying the data into easily digestible, intuitive, color-coded blocks: green when a unit is in the acceptable range, blue when a unit becomes too cold (below the acceptable range), and red when a unit is too hot (above the acceptable range).
The dashboard that Kopis designed also gives end users the ability to monitor multiple sites remotely from the same device and allows users to click on the icons for individual units to see temperature history from the past 24 hours. Finally, the user interface sends alerts directly to the user’s mobile device when the temperature hits the red zone.
“What we love so much about the dashboard that Kopis designed is the simplicity,” Roberts said. “Our customers can open the dashboard and get a quick visualization of all of the major equipment at all of their locations in real time. It gives them incredible peace of mind.”
The dashboard was beta-tested with one customer, and, about a month ago, released to all customers.
“The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Brown. “We’ve released it with many different customer types, and they all love the look and the feel, the fact that they can pull up the data remotely from their mobile devices, the drill down capabilities, and the alerts. Customers can always go back to the tech dashboard if they want more data and more capabilities, but most customers will never need to and are perfectly happy with the live-view dashboard.”
According to Roberts, the SPD team is pleased both with the results and with the process for creating the dashboard.
“Working with Kopis was a completely smooth process and one that I completely enjoyed,” Roberts said. “The whole project was managed professionally, and it felt like a true partnership from beginning to end. The Kopis team was able to collaborate with us, match our work processes and timeline, and complete every step of the project on time.”
Now that the new live-view dashboard has been released, HTA’s SPD team is seeing it as a major selling point for their products. Russell Kerman, the Corporate Chef for Sysco, even credits the alert feature with preventing a costly kitchen fire.
“The feedback we’ve gotten from Sysco is the same feedback we’ve gotten from every customer,” said Roberts. “The dashboard is clean, simple, and so easy to use. Every customer has loved the update. As Sysco says: it seems ‘foolish’ not to invest in this technology.”
Brown agrees that the dashboard has helped HTA’s SPD in their sales efforts.
“I was meeting with a customer this week who is a food distributor. We’re now in discussions about using our new dashboard as a demo with marketing associates, which will get us in front of a lot of potential customers,” said Brown. “Overall, developing the final piece of this product in partnership with Kopis has been a rewarding experience and a sound investment.”