SAN MATEO (06/28/2000) - The Internet is on the way to a vending machine near you thanks to software from Salt Lake City-based emWare Inc., developers of Emit technology and EmMicro, software code that can take up to as little as 1K of space. Leading emWare's charge into Europe, the Middle East, and Africa is newly appointed managing director Jurgen Stranghoner. A former Eastern European general manager at Microsoft Corp., Stranghoner talked with InfoWorld reporter Dan Neel about adding intelligence to everyday devices by deploying emWare technology into low-power micro-controllers that already exist in familiar hardware such as vending machines.
InfoWorld: Describe emWare's Emit technology.
Stranghoner: Well in short, it's a kind of complete networking infrastructure that allows you as a manufacturer to add Internet connectivity to your product very easily and very cost effectively.
InfoWorld: Can Emit technology be deployed in devices that weren't originally intended to be online?
Stranghoner: Well the focus is certainly on devices -- let's say home appliances -- that you can connect over the Internet, or any kind of industry automation or building controls. Let me give you an example: One device could be a refrigerator that you put on the Internet that basically tells you when you should reorder some food.
InfoWorld: So in a sense, this technology heads towards Bill Gates' vision of the converging, interconnected world where the toaster calls home to its manufacturer for upgrades, if there is such a thing as a toaster upgrade.
Stranghoner: Exactly. The idea is to bring the Internet to all kinds of electrical devices that you can think of. And use the Internet to not only exchange information, but to control and manage the devices which you use. And these devices might range from the refrigerator to the lamps which are in the ceiling of your office.
InfoWorld: Does emWare offer the management tools for this level of connectivity?
Stranghoner: Yes. We do offer basically all the software tools that you as a manufacturer in your special device need in order to get your device connected to the Internet or to any other network.
InfoWorld: What is one of the biggest obstacles in getting these intelligent devices communicating with one another?
Stranghoner: Well I think it's a brand-new idea on further expanding the Internet to a new functionality, and I think the biggest obstacle today is to introduce this new idea to the market. It's more a perception that the world is changing to a more connected world rather than anything else. I think we just have to do some education in the market, as we did when the PC was introduced.
When the PC came to the market 20 years ago, it was also a new kind of technology that people were not used to and it took some kind of education to make them understand what this thing could do for them.
InfoWorld: What's emWare's education strategy?
Stranghoner: Well, that's a tough one. You have to teach the consumer what this kind of new connectivity can do for them. Let me give you an example. If you're a company that has some vending machines installed in different cities and you want to know which products that you have to fill into these vending machines, it basically saves you a lot if you know, or if you can see on your computer, which product is missing or a shortage of supply in any of these machines, instead of sending somebody out to these machines with maybe the wrong product.
So the issue is really to teach people who are in the service business today what kind of advantages they have and how much cost they can save by having better control on the installed machines, or in this example, the vending machines that they run.
InfoWorld: With Europe already way ahead of the U.S. in wireless communication, do you feel that Europe, the Middle East, and Africa are better prepared to embrace this type of embedded technology than the U.S. is?
Stranghoner: Well, that is hard to say. I hope yes. The companies that I've talked to were very much excited about the whole thing, and I would say my gut feeling is yes.
InfoWorld: What do you feel will be some of the biggest challenges as you take over the Europe, Middle East, Africa operations?
Stranghoner: Well, the challenge for me is it's more industries that I will work in than I used to work in before. I was very much familiar with the software industry and PC hardware manufacturers. Now we are expanding the technology to industries which didn't have any exposure to high-tech technology before. Teaching these guys what the technologies can do for them is maybe one of the biggest obstacles we have, and the biggest challenge. You know, a guy like me who knows software and PCs is now trying to talk to people who are in this vending-machine business or washing-machine business, guys that did not have very much exposure to high technology before.
InfoWorld: Your former employer, Microsoft, has been pretty good at acquiring huge market share. What did you learn from Microsoft's European presence that may help you in this newest challenge?
Stranghoner: What I learned was certainly how to introduce new products into the markets. I started with Microsoft back in 1984, and when I started in Germany, I was the seventh employee there. You see, technology wasn't known there and we kind of introduced it there. And I certainly learned how to do this and how to educate the market and how to educate companies to build a business on that. And the way that was done back in 1984 or 1985 I think will give me the kind of advantage I need in order to introduce this technology there as well.
InfoWorld: Do differences exist between European and American technology markets?
Stranghoner: No, not really. I mean there are differences if you go country by country. For example, the Germans are sometimes not the forerunners when it comes to the new technologies. But that also has changed because, well, over time I think they have learned that technology can improve the productivity of their people enormously.
InfoWorld: emWare technology is basically a software upgrade on a legacy device which doesn't have to be thrown out and replaced. Do you believe that software upgradability is the wave of the future?
Stranghoner: Yes, definitely. If you look at the technology which is available right now from emWare, I think we have made big progress in that regard already. You can upgrade those devices that we just mentioned over the Internet. And it will save a lot of cost and a lot of energy doing that. We offer a product which is called SDK [Emit Evaluation SDK], which basically opens all the utilities and tools in order to build [the code] necessary in a device. So the vendor or the manufacturer just has to put this little piece [of code] onto his machine and it's done. Piece of cake.
InfoWorld: Is this technology one-size-fits-all?
Stranghoner: Basically yes, one size fits all.
InfoWorld: What's emWare's European, Middle East, and Africa strategy?
Stranghoner: Well, No. 1, emWare has set up lines which basically consist of a couple of big companies, starting from AT&T Corp. And these lines will basically allow us through the strategic work that we have in place with these companies to aggressively promote the Emit technology in Europe. So the strategy is on one side to use the existing lines and further extend that by European market players, and on the other side to build up a distribution channel for the European markets and also extend the technical support that emWare wants to supply or provide to its European customers. So the strategy is really to extend partnerships, build a distribution channel, and set up technical support.
InfoWorld: What do you see three years down the road?
Stranghoner: Well, the vision is certainly to make emWare's technology the effective standard for connecting devices on the Internet and other networks.
And the Emit technology should be the way to do this.