In June last year, I wrote about how Samsara CEO Sanjit Biswas believes that the vendor has only “scratched the surface” of the vendor’s data opportunity. And as we approach 12 months on, we are getting a clearer idea of what this opportunity may look like and how the company is evolving - thanks to a conversation with Chief Product Officer Jeffrey Hausman, who recently joined the company from ServiceNow.
Speaking with Hausman, it’s clear that Samsara has much broader plans beyond what it has become known for in recent years.
By way of background, Samsara started out providing fleet management solutions to small and mid-sized trucking businesses, and then expanded this to include AI-enabled video software to help coach drivers to drive more safely. It has since broadened its offering to include a Connected Operations Cloud that uses data, machine learning and workflow tools to help companies with large physical operations to run more safely, sustainably and efficiently.
The vendor’s growth has coincided with a time when companies are struggling with macroeconomic uncertainty, soaring inflation, supply chain disruptions, and labor market volatility. In short, improving efficiency, whilst also tackling safety and sustainability, feels like a good sell at this current moment in time. And this is backed up by numerous customer stories we’ve heard in recent months.
But sitting down with Samsara’s Chief of Product Officer seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a deeper understanding of how Samsara is thinking about the future of connected operations, as well as how its customers are responding and adapting to the capabilities that are now available to them.
I note to Hausman that the world of physical operations has been slow to adapt to using digital tooling compared to other sectors of the economy - especially considering how we’ve been talking about the Internet-of-Things for years now. Hausman says that this is changing and is in part being enabled by the capabilities of technology now, such as faster communication speeds and the ability to analyze information at the edge of the network, but is also being driven by a change in the demographics of the buyers that Samsara is dealing with. Hausman says:
I have had the opportunity to visit, around the globe, a number of companies that are 100-plus years old - whether that's North America or Europe. And what you're starting to see is, I think, a generational shift in the leadership in the employee base. And I think there’s an appreciation of how data can actually help solve more problems.
And so we have more customers, who have employees themselves, that are eager to understand how they can apply relevant new data analysis and tech to solve their problems.
For example, I was meeting with a waste management company about three months ago in the southeast of the United States. They are going through a transition where their original founder and leader, who was running that company for 55 years, is handing over to his son, who is now mid-30s. That son really has a passion for technology and information and so is asking: “I want to be able to use information in new ways”.
And he is inviting companies, like Samsara, to come in and help him on his path to change how the company grows.
And whilst Samsara is evolving too (more on that later), Hausman is keen to highlight that the company is already operating in industries that extend beyond logistics and transportation. Whilst these are the sectors where it found its core customer base, it’s evident that there are other vertical industries that have huge physical operations and have also been underserved by the technology (with exception of some customer facing advancements) - I’m thinking healthcare, retail, hospitality, to name a few.
However, Hausman notes that the verticals that Samsara is having the most success with do have a few common attributes. He says:
I think it's a little bit of a misnomer that we are focused on transportation and logistics. The fact is, I've met with food and beverages companies, retail organizations, waste management companies, utility companies, public utilities, cities, municipalities, construction organizations, I could go on and on.
What do they share in common? They share in common the fact that they generally might have a set of vehicles that they are trying to improve the safety operations of; they also tend to have assets; and they tend to have physical facilities. And in those, our capabilities in our products right now can help you to improve asset utilization.
From workflows to marketplaces
As noted above, coming from ServiceNow, where he served as Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Operations Management Portfolio, Hausman brings with him a wealth of experience in workflow technologies. Samsara is pushing to become the workflow vendor of choice for physical operations, which was evident at their user event in Austin last year.
I was keen to get a better understanding from Hausman of what this may look like for a buyer in practice and how workflow tools play out for Samsara customers. He explains:
On the operations side of an organization there is often a more demanding set of environments and they're oftentimes in a situation where they have less to operate with. The margins are finer in these industries, than, you know, financial services, or others. And so I think there's more pressure on how do I make the most of what I've got, and how do I be more efficient with it?
So the workflows that we are looking at doing are, for instance, to help somebody, every day - such as when a driver goes out to a vehicle. What do they have to do when they have to inspect that vehicle to make sure that that vehicle is safe to drive? Historically, what would they do? They have a checklist, Kind of like when you rent a car and they walk around and they do a checklist of the dents, etc.
Being able to more easily do that, digitize it with a workflow and have that kickoff and route directly to the maintenance team that need to go work on something. It has so many parallels to what we would do in service management within operations of infrastructure, running applications, but now we're doing it in the physical world.
Closely tied to the workflows agenda is Samsara’s open API access to its data platform, which allows for companies to integrate and build their own solutions on top of Samsara’s technology. Some companies already signed up include General Motors and Free2move, but in the evolution of Samsara this is another area that is being fostered. Hausman says:
We continue to invest so much in our marketplace, where whether you're an OEM manufacturer who's trying to think about data and using that data in new ways, or whether you are some other systems integrator or software provider, there are going to be new ways of mashing up this information and solving new problems.
And what will become interesting, and increasingly apparent, is how Samsara’s operations tooling feeds into other back-office systems, as a result of the data being collected. We heard last year about how some customers themselves are using the data collected by Samsara to carry out more efficient audits to deliver tax efficiencies or monitor staffing - and these could in theory be built out into new solutions. Hausman adds:
There are a number of companies where you want to be able to use the information about who was driving, where they were driving, what jobs they were performing outside of driving, so you know what their work hours are and use that to improve how you're doing payroll.
And not only doing payroll, but also there are certain geographies where, the way you operate, how you operate, has financial tax implications…sometimes tax benefits. Needing to be able to document that accurately is critically important.
The fact that we know all of that helps to unlock something. You wouldn't think about us as a financial oriented system, but that's what we can do.
New business models
As previously mentioned, many of the organizations that Samsara is working with have been neglected by the technology industry for decades and are still heavily reliant on manual processes. This opportunity, plus the focus on building an open platform, poses the question of whether or not new business models may arise, as we have seen in other sections of the economy. When I put this to Hausman, you could see from his face that this is something already taking place amongst the company’s install base. He says:
I'm smiling because one of the things that you'll see next week, we are releasing our State of Connected Operations report, which is a survey of both customers and others in the industry, looking at what's happening.
And one of the things that will be maybe a little bit of a surprise to readers is that a lot of people are not only talking about shifts to sustainability, ways of improving how our drivers are driving for efficiency, ways of reducing carbon footprint, ways of driving that benefits their social good - but they're also now talking about, how does that open up new avenues of monetization?
And that is not something that people have necessarily been talking about in the past. But to your point, the fact that now I can digitize the ‘things’, I have access to new information. I can take and serve some insight directly to the person who needs it - whether they’re a frontline worker or backline worker - when they need it, how they need it.
That's going to change what they do, and I think it's going to start to spurn new ideas.
The thing about Samsara is that they’ve already got a bank of customers talking publicly about the significant money they’ve saved off the back of targeting very specific use cases, such as driver safety or fleet management. That’s just a slice of what could be a very decent sized pie, when considering how under-served the world of physical operations is.
That being said, platforms aren’t easy to foster and there’s plenty of culture change that has to take place at these organizations too - technology is just part of the answer, changing ways of working is always much harder.
But we will be at Samsara’s user event in Austin in June, where we look forward to diving into this further with customer examples.