CE Pro spoke to Ihiji CEO Stuart Rench about educating CE pros regarding network monitoring solutions, the ever-growing Internet of Things and trends in the almighty cloud that may be on the horizon.

The company recently announced it raised $1.8 million (£1.14 million) in capital funding for the next stages of growth in managing the Internet of Things. What are some priorities this investment will go toward?

The middle part of 2014 we were going to both current customers as well as prospective customers trying to understand the next evolutions of challenges that they were facing as the Internet of Things evolved – and to be clear, IoT has a lot of different meanings to different people; to us that is really just these non-traditional IP devices that have proliferated in homes for many years and in certain businesses.

At this point the residential market is leading some of that change, but we do see the pace picking up on the commercial side. It’s not necessarily that fabled refrigerator that tells you exactly when you need to buy your milk, even though that will be part of IoT.

So we had spoken with our customers and really just tried to understand the business challenges that were up and coming and we went into it with an open mind, we realize we play in a very unique space providing software solutions to these companies. We’ve had a lot of interesting opportunities and what evolved from that was the desire to build a platform that unifies all of the information and all of the data and knowledge that’s required for a business in this industry to truly provide a high level of customer service.

We’re not releasing at this point the details of what those individual modules are; probably late summer is when we’ll start talking about the specifics of what’s getting replaced, but it’s all coming back down to providing a single pane of glass much like what we did with device management and monitoring, we’re taking a step further and allowing people to come to one place to see the things they need and pull all the data in from the right sources.

We’re continuing the evolution of our device monitoring and management platform, but we’re moving into the ancillary pieces of data and knowledge required for a technician or business to provide the service – so think broadly about a technician being handed a challenge; one piece of the puzzle is what’s the device and what’s its status, but then having the context of who’s the customer, what are they doing, what’s been happening with this customer and other customers in the area; it’s really about putting all of the information into the context and helping them to be more efficient.

What are aspects of IoT that Ihiji is most excited about?

I think the pace at which things are changing, it really keeps us on our toes and allows us to provide a lot of value. Businesses are really starting to understand these challenges and they’re actively seeking out solutions and through our position in the market we’re a natural source for people to turn to and ask for solutions.

We’ve been in business for almost six years now; we started being the crazy people in the corner shouting that you needed to monitor your solutions and over time that perspective has changed and the market has really come and met us where we were and continued to evolve along with us and I’m just really excited to see what the next five or six years can bring.

What are some cloud-related trends you see coming to the fore in the next year or two?

I think, primarily, more is going to go to the cloud. There’s a twofold acceleration trend that’s occurring right now: content is being desired by customers and being consumed by customers at an increasing speed and bandwidth is being provided to the customers which then allows them to consume more content, is also increasing. By the end of this year all analysts predict every one of the 50 states will have at least one gigabit Ethernet provider.

That proliferation of bandwidth will allow a more seamless experience with more content and more functionality being shoved up into the cloud and being accessed by much thinner devices, the trend of things like Chromecast, or Nest, which is really a classic example of pushing intelligence to the cloud so people can enjoy the intended function of whatever the device may be.

If you look at Silicon Valley as a bellweather, the number of startups that are playing in the automation or entertainment space, these connected spaces that CE pros and the like live in the middle of, five, 10 years ago there were a handful of companies and now there are start-ups popping up all over the place. While many of those will fail or be rolled up into Google or things like that, there’s going to be a lot of innovation because there’s going to be enough bandwidth to suffice for everybody. That’s going to allow some of these services to be really creative.

How are custom integrators doing with remote management?

It depends on where they are. When we founded this business six years ago, the concepts were kind of old hat to me and the other co-founders; we’d been doing a lot of these things in-house at our own integration firm, well ahead of the market. We’ve watched companies … some got it, some talked to us for three years and finally figured out where the value was. The ones who are successful all start with one basic premise and that’s start with the basics – no customer experience is going to be good unless the network is good.

If the network is throwing weird anomalies or intermittent hiccups, the customer is going to notice and they’re going to be reporting problems that are going to seem like ghosts. When we talk to our customers, once they put in a solution like ours that gives long-term visibility and trending [analytics] … we’ve been told by most dealers that they’ve avoided about 90 percent of their service calls as a result of using our tool. It doesn’t mean necessarily that there are 90 percent less problems, but they’re able to resolve them efficiently and remotely

What do you mean by ‘ghost’ problems?

The scenario that’s common, the customer calls and says, ‘My Netflix is buffering.’ When you start with that type of a symptom it’s really hard to figure out where the problem exists, especially when you couple that with the fact that by the time a technician shows up onsite everything seems to be just fine so they end up chasing these proverbial ghosts trying to figure out whether it’s the Apple TV or whatever end device it is, is it the wireless network, is it the core network, was it Time Warner, Comcast or whoever their ISP might be … there’s so many pieces in the functional chain that if you’re trying to inspect things at the time of problem and you don’t have any kind of history or concurrency of that visibility it’s really hard to understand where that problem is and people were reporting they’d spend days, weeks or even months rolling trucks going back to the site trying to really understand where problems were.

Since our tool gives them that kind of reporting history, they’re now able to click that report and see what’s different today vs. the last two weeks and hone in their troubleshooting.

How is Ihiji supporting dealers?

We have built our company off of education. We’ve been teaching classes at CEDIA on networking and how to sell services and not just sell boxes. We teach a lot of those classes internally as well; we have an ongoing three-part series — Networking for Basics, Intermediate and Advanced classes; our support staff works with new members when they come on board to teach them what they can, what they can’t do, what they should do and things like that; and with some of this funding as we’re growing we’re building out a larger library of self-help educational video series and things like that that will continue to evolve. We house one to three webinars a month now, but one of our goals is to have an on-demand university, for lack of a better phrase.

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