Imagine using kerosene lanterns to light your way into the evening, at home so you can cook, read, shower and the kids can do homework, or outside to keep a business or medical center open or play night games in a park or field. This is life in undeveloped nations. Not only is the light source insufficient, but burning kerosene is harmful to individual health and pollutes the air.
These issues are important to the team at BBOXX, a new generation utility company that develops clean renewable solar energy products for developing countries. Its team has developed its own “Battery Box,” a solar-powered battery box that powers lights and appliances for rural Africa—providing clean energy for numerous products and appliances including TVs, lamps and mobile phones and any other item that lights up or needs to be powered.
BBOXX describes itself as a service company, not a technology company, and as such focuses on being a data-driven company, capturing customer data, analyzing and manipulating it to provide better services and to continue to improve the battery box. Customer data is critical to its overall success: Knowing how and why customers buy and use the battery, when they use it, length of time … there are a number of data points that help BBOXX understand the customer. In addition, BBOXX needs to monitor the batteries to ensure they’re working properly, help maintain connectivity and disable units, if need be.
BBOXX’s development team captures data by remotely monitoring units. They are able to access data that is being sent from sensors via a 2G network and through the Amazon Web Services infrastructure into the cloud. Once the raw sensor data is in AWS, it is then stored in a database designed for metrics and events. From here, they are able to analyze it, provide business dashboards, generate predictive maintenance alerts and notifications and predict and find interesting business trends such as energy consumption spikes during soccer events, for example.
In addition, the team at BBOXX can also correlate and aggregate usage information, which helps them upsell additional power capacity based on upcoming events. For example, a football match between Kenya and Zambia increased demand for more energy to support extended viewing times.
Becoming a data-driven business meant that BBOXX needed access to real-time data at its core, which had another set of challenges:
- Securely monitor a distributed set of devices across low bandwidth 2G networks
- Provide real-time 24-7 monitoring to a distributed team who expects the data to always be right and available
- Provide the ability to monitor and react to high-speed time-series data
- Ability to remotely monitor and manage the distributed devices
- Ability to track usage statistics and bill based on these statistics
- Proactively monitor units so they could be repaired before the customer lost power
- Provide insight into customer usage patterns to develop compelling pricing plans
- Gather, harmonize and use three different sets of data from the various components:
- Raw telemetry data (voltage, current, temperature)
- Logs from the box firmware
- Derived data (power, daily energy usages, state of charge)
- Lack of staff to manage another solution
- Keep latency systems at a minimum – their systems were already hosted in AWS and the performance was meeting the needs of the company
BBOXX is now able to gain insight into its data and apply lessons learned from analyzing past data to develop new and exciting products. The company now uses data stored in a whole new way:
- Developers analyze the data for ways to create new data streams
- Analysts look for irregularities in usage and write algorithms to detect alerts
- Business managers look for customer usage patterns
- Technicians analyze time series voltage and current patterns for remote diagnostics
- Centralized call center operators reconcile more technical issues for customers by seeing the reason for the outage (hardware failure, over-usage, non-payment)
In addition, their investors are highly interested in their data collection and analysis as a marker for competitive advantages, reduced delinquencies, growth potential and decreased risk.
BBOXX uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) to receive store and analyze its steadily increasing portfolio of products. By designing its software architecture with scalability in mind, BBOXX takes advantage of a wide range of AWS’s integrated features including load balancing, auto scaling groups and code deploy to maintain fast, reliable and consistent access both internally and externally.
Without access to user data, BBOXX would not be able to offer the unique services it does today, which is a fully vertically integrated service, controlling every part of its customer experience.
About the Author / Mark Herring
Mark is a zealous marketer who believes that the road to marketing success always leads with the developer. Before InfluxData, Mark was VP of corporate marketing and developer marketing at Hortonworks, SVP of Products at Software AG, VP of Middleware, Java and MySQL Marketing at Sun Microsystems, and VP of Marketing at Forte Software. Earlier in his career, Mark was a developer and technical support engineer for Oracle. Mark holds a B.S. Degree from the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.