Newer, better, faster, stronger. That is the mantra of innovation that fuels most industries today, especially tech-related industries. Everyone is always focused on the challenges of tomorrow, the latest trends, and putting developments “on the fast track.” It’s a motto that can be seen featured in many, if not all, of the largest industry conferences. The thinkers of today are focused on creating solutions for the problems of tomorrow. Intertraffic Amsterdam is a great example with their new Innovation Awards and the ITSUP startup event, which saw 46 global startups demonstrate their solutions, motivations, and drive.
“It was encouraging to see the whole world moving towards innovation,” says Bill Malkes, Founder and CEO of GRIDSMART who recently attended the recent Amsterdam conference. “There was a lot of the same old, same old, but an impressive dose of new and innovative as well. Perhaps nothing was more impressive than the Intertraffic Innovation Awards. It was a great way to bring the new into the light. Technology from Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Portugal and Canada, as well has a handful more, were represented. Traffic is an international opportunity to change the world for the better and this part of the conference highlighted just that.”
The concentrated push for innovative technology is amazing. We certainly wouldn’t be where we are now without the out-of-the-box ideas of big thinkers. But in all this hustle of “What’s next?” what happens to Average Joe, the small-town transportation engineer that can’t worry about tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles because he’s still solving the problems of his human drivers? He’s lost in the shuffle, that’s what.
“Sometimes, in the gold rush mentality of a new space like this, companies forget about the man on the street, the smaller, but very relevant opportunities. People focus on the top 20% and not the whole,” says Malkes.
And the more focus we put on innovation, startups, new ideas, “the next big thing” the larger the gap between the engineers, creators, designers, makers and the on-the-ground, man-in-the-bucket-truck blue collar workers grows.
“That realization was the seminal moment for GRIDSMART,” says Malkes. “People have been implementing great ideas and solid products in this industry for years, but in my mind, to be truly great you have to be fully accessible. I go up in bucket trucks to test our products. Our CTO, Jeff Price, goes out on installations to test what his team designs. Our software engineers take help desk calls. Too many times products are implemented by the engineers who can design a power train and not change a spark plug. The man on the street knows what it takes to keep his or her city running. No one is going to care more about their city than them. Our job is to listen and learn from him or her and always strive each day to support them better than the day before.”
Innovation is important and the benefits of the focus on solving tomorrow’s problems are amazing, tangible pieces of technology or ideas that truly change the way we live and advance us as a society. But innovation doesn’t always mean “new.” Sometimes it just means improving the current system. Making the product they have work better for the customer, instead of making them buy a new product. Forty-five percent of the world’s population still lives in rural areas, with no access to, the latest, greatest technological advancements. What they do need is an affordable result to an immediate problem. No more complex, futuristic solutions, just simple, on-the-ground solutions that can be accomplished with real people in the real world.
“Urbanization is real and strongly trending,” says Malkes, “but there is still an overwhelming desire for ready-to-use solutions for hard working people who don’t have a huge network of resources supporting them. I don’t see that happening at the pace it should in our industry. It is disappointing for me personally to see that many companies respond to this market niche with lower cost, but also lower quality products. Anyone can discount a poorly designed product or even make a hard-to-use product with broad functionality; however, the magic comes in making things easy to use and cost effective. Then you are providing real value.”
GRIDSMART aims to bridge this gap, to walk the line between those on-the-ground blue collar workers and the big thinking, C-level, new-product-every-year people. All the processors are capable of being implemented into connected vehicles and are fully ready to make the next step, but there is also a big push to make sure that the field technicians, installation engineers, and blue-collar people aren’t left behind.
“I believe that is what separates GRIDSMART from a lot of things at Intertraffic or anywhere,” says Malkes. “GRIDSMART does release whiz-bang products, but, we never, never ever quit just trying to make it easier.”