JBT Automated Systems and Robotics is a leading provider of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) for a wide range of industries, including automotive, food and beverage, healthcare and hospital, packaging, and consumer goods.
Built to efficiently move industrial loads around factories and warehouses, AGVs use a combination of heavy-duty machinery and sensor-based guidance systems. Since the mid-1980s, JBT has been providing manufacturers worldwide with customized and standard vehicles that match the demands of each application across very distinct industries.
In 2021, JBT’s executive team decided to further evolve their enterprise by building a new and more powerful reporting product to support their AGV line of business. Achieving this evolution would be instrumental in JBT’s quest for growth in size and margin.
The most efficient path forward when building products and developing the competencies necessary for these software solutions is to engage with outside experts with deep technical expertise. Collectiv stepped in to help the JBT team move forward with their product’s vision.
How Do We Get From Point A to Point B?
JBT’s interest in building a software product came in the wake of challenges realized while their Systems Engineering Manager, David Rabinovic, was running the Automated Systems division.
Since its launch in the 1980s, JBT’s Automated Systems division has maintained an on-premise (on-prem) architecture for its AGVs, housing a database on each client’s location and network. This database functioned as a core component of the automated systems’ management node.
The database was in direct contact with all the AGVs throughout their uptime and played a central role in defining each machine’s behavior. The database would issue commands to these AGVs and store historical data on their performances, malfunctions, and maintenance requirements.
To help its customers build useful reports for analysis and maintenance, JBT provided an Excel add-in to go along with its AGVs. These reports would also be used by the engineering team to ensure that their customers’ AGVs remained in optimal condition.
“If there’s a problem in the system,” David said, “we want to be able to identify the root cause of that problem and be able to put in solutions faster for our customers.”
While the Excel add-in helped its users to query servers and build reports, it didn’t offer the whole nine yards of functionalities needed for proper analysis. Additionally, because the servers were queried simultaneously by multiple users, they were prone to strain, and sometimes the automated vehicles would lag during query processing.
JBT pictured a radically new reporting solution that superseded the current Excel add-in. This product would not only be sold separately as a robust solution, it would also be a driving factor for client acquisition and development.
The vision was there…now David and the JBT team needed a strategy to get from Point A to Point B.
Bringing a Robust Solution to Market
To help JBT on their product journey, Collectiv recommended the Visioning Program to David and his team. Many of Collectiv’s clients find the Visioning Program beneficial as it helps them define the strategy and blueprint that will help them succeed in achieving specific goals.
For JBT, the Visioning Program focused on JBT’s business goals of increasing the value and reliability of their AGV line of business. By creating a superior reporting solution for their customers, they could tap into a new and much larger market.
When David and his team met with Collectiv, they already had the idea of creating a simple reporting solution in Power BI and selling the new product to customers as Power BI files. However, the team from Collectiv advised against following that route and to instead go with a managed service approach.
There is a lot that goes into building a modern and comprehensive SaaS reporting platform for a data-oriented organization like JBT that provides complex services to customers in such wide-ranging industries. It wasn’t just about building the product, it was about how to bring the product to market.
Collectiv provided critically valuable information for David and his team by providing market research and cost analysis, in addition to product design and testing.
“Collectiv brought in such a diverse group of individuals who were involved in various phases of our engagement—everyone was always quite knowledgeable,” said David. “I really enjoyed that we worked with people who understood the manufacturing industry and knew how we should market our product.”
Building a Comprehensive Architectural Map
The next phase of the Visioning Program involved a heavy focus on technology alignment.
Collectiv met with David and several team members from IT and engineering at JBT who oversaw and built internal systems. Together, the goal was to figure out which technologies would work optimally with JBT’s infrastructure.
David said: “Collectiv spoke to many different people on our team—both technical and non-technical—to understand what our customers needed and how much data needed to get up on the cloud to give us better estimates on the efforts that would be required to develop the product.”
Because data from several on-prem sources would need to be centralized, Collectiv needed to understand what elements would be used to achieve that but also explore the best options that wouldn’t be too heavy on JBT’s systems.
To help JBT incrementally achieve its vision for its SaaS reporting platform, a roadmap was provided. The roadmap included a comprehensive technical architecture primarily built on Azure that focused on the ingestion, storage, security, transformation, and visualization of client vehicle data.
For JBT’s reporting solution to come together successfully, Collectiv’s experts recommended a full Microsoft data stack that included:
- Azure Key Vault
- Azure On-Prem Gateway
- Azure Data Factory
- Azure Synapse Analytics
- Azure Data Lake Storage (Gen2)
- Power BI
“During the Visioning Program, we came up with some Minimum Viable Product (MVP) characteristics,” said David. “What are the different pieces of software that are going to be needed to be hosted on the cloud? What are the cost structures, and how are we going to then need to approach our customers?
The Visioning Program gave us an idea of what the different tools were going to be to roll out the solution. It helped us understand where the product could go.”
We Have Something That We Want to Bring to Market
Parallel to building a new software product for its customers, JBT also needed to improve Power BI dashboards. They incorporated Collectiv’s Consulting as a Service (CaaS) offering to achieve some quick wins while still moving forward with their product roadmap.
“We historically have been using Excel, which is a great tool for seeing lots of data, but it isn’t always the best for quick conclusions and root cause analysis,” said David. “In the analytics world, you might want to look at greater periods to identify trends in performance and understand if something is cyclical or if it’s a new pattern that’s happening.”
CaaS is a flexible framework that gives people like David instant access to all of Collectiv’s experts whenever he needs support.
“When you do a CaaS in parallel with the Visioning Program, it gives you more confidence,” said David. “It’s an easy way to do some development with experts in the field, and see results as well as the potential of the product before committing to a larger engagement in terms of a full product development, which obviously requires a lot more effort.”
Running CaaS in tandem with the Visioning Program not only helped David and his team build better reports internally, it also proved instrumental in helping them get better ideas on what to include in their MVP.
“It’s been a real pleasure working with the team at Collectiv. They all add a lot of wonderful qualities to the projects that we’re engaged in. I think we have a vision. We have something that we want to bring to market, and I’m looking forward to the next phase.”
With expertise in the entire Microsoft ecosystem, Collectiv has been at the frontlines of technical consulting, helping enterprises make highly profitable data-driven decisions through scalable, flexible, and proven methodologies.
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