Successful collaboration in an IoT ecosystem
Industrial IoT solutions

Successful collaboration in an IoT ecosystem

Developing and testing devices for Eneco's large-scale rollouts - a fruitful collaboration

Rotterdam, 9 April 2024 – Based on the Article (in Dutch) published by AMIS Conclusion

Successful collaboration within an IoT ecosystem

How an ‘unplanned relationship’ flourished into a fruitful collaboration: Understanding how an arranged alliance can ultimately yield something very beautiful. We speak with John Tillema, CTO and founder of TWTG, and Frank Schutrops, IoT management consultant at AMIS Conclusion.

Can you tell us something about yourselves?

John begins: “As the co-the founder of TWTG, I have spent my entire career building smart applications with hardware. We have a long history in the energy sector where we develop products together with customers.” Frank: “I work at AMIS Conclusion as a solution architect, requirements engineer and in governance roles as product owner, and scrum master. In recent years I have been mainly active in IoT projects and have gained experience in embedded software and hardware.”

How did you get in touch with each other?

John: “Initially, after TWTG developed a connect module for Eneco, AMIS Conclusion was commissioned to realize the IoT data platform. The project’s goal was to achieve as many connections as possible via the module, limiting the cost per connection and implementing a multitude of use cases. So, in fact, it was Eneco that put us together to collaborate on their project.”

Frank: “During my vacation, I received an email stating that I had to report to Eneco on Monday for a kick-off. Suddenly, 15 people were there, most of whom saw each other for the first time.” John: “Yes, for me, it was about the same.”

An ambitious collaboration

John: “We had done hardware modules for Eneco before, but immediately we understood that this project would be big.” Frank: “We started by connecting equipment that could only use legacy protocols such as FTP and Telnet. This was a necessary intermediate step towards using modern communication modules to facilitate Eneco’s expansion and connect the communication module developed by TWTG. So Eneco could make optimal use of the data, it was important to convert the data and protocols into a generically usable format. It would allow the data user to focus on logic and not be distracted by protocols and translations.”

John: “Having started the project with a fair amount of uncertainty, we were lucky that Eneco had both a strong vision and an entrepreneurial spirit. However, the technical implementation of the vision was down to us. It is  great that our customer gave us such trust, but also set a clear guideline for quality and scalability.” Frank: “It was immediately clear that this was a big project and would be very dynamic. The size and ambition made it clear from the start that we had to work entrepreneurially.”

Trust and complement each other

Frank: “From the start, we had a lot of trust in each other’s competencies. There were still many uncertainties at the beginning, but we soon found that we complemented each other well in the white spots in the design and realization. John: “Working with the simulator gave us the time to deliver a product of sufficient quality without being dependent on the further processing of the data. Ongoing, we continuously engaged with each other to make the right technical choices.

It was impressive that a Dutch company gave us the assignment to realize both the hardware and the software, and that they were determined to implement this on such a large scale. The vision was that all kinds of assets could be linked, regardless of whether they were smart meters, charging stations, wind turbines, or solar parks. Everything can be connected seamlessly.”

How does the collaboration work in practice?

John: “We started with the frameworks. Like good neighbors, we first clearly set the boundaries, so that we could then arrange our own garden.” Frank: “We regularly sat together to coordinate mutual agreements, even at each other’s home to test our own prototypes. The most important thing is that we have written a very clear interface document that was very practical and directly applicable. There was a

lot of pressure on the process, because there was a legal deadline. Due to this time pressure, we had to make quick choices to make this planning possible.”

Agile collaboration and quick switching

John: “As TWTG, we understand that we are sometimes cogs in a far larger machine. We often never deliver the complete solution and rely heavily on others to realize a good use case. At the beginning of this project, we were uneasy about having to connect with a rigid platform. We had the idea that everything was already ready – set in stone.” Frank: “Due to the agile collaboration, we were always able to change directions quickly. At moments, there were necessary or unforeseen changes to be made, but we always worked well to find an effective resolution that worked in the best  interest of the customer.”

John: “Agile working with a hardware party always has some added complications. For example, you have to deal with issues such as delivery times or unforeseen limitations of the components. You can’t just add memory, if it physically isn’t there. You also have to understand the issues with hardware certification – these are simply processes that have a certain lead time, and there’s nothing you can do to alter these things.”

Frank: “Actually, we soon got into a mode where we realized that we would run into obstacles. Because we knew each other well by now, we quickly got used to finding solutions as we reached each other’s technological boundaries. It was certainly an advantage that our customer understood that not everything would be perfect from the very start, and they were empathetic that any collaboration took time to work successfully.”

Testing, testing, and solving puzzles

John: “Together, we were continuously busy testing whether things were working well. We made the decision to use Frank’s House as our first test location. This gave us 24/7 access to results and data, greatly reducing our feedback loop whilst allowing us to generate and test new use cases far more easily. Because we were already in production, all combinations had to work. So, for example, if there were 10,000 thermostats of different types and with different software versions – it could be that 10 of these weren’t operating well. Solving this was essential for our customer.”

What was the most beautiful moment of this project?

Frank: “Actually, we had many, but maybe the most beautiful moment was when an engineer came to visit us at home for an installation. He used an app that could immediately test whether the data was coming in. He explained that previously, he had to wait a long time before he was sure that the installation was successful. This time he had the results back within a few seconds. While this process went very smoothly for him, I knew very well how much work we had done to deliver this. It felt good to have achieved this”

John: “What I liked was that my brother-in-law sent me a photo at one point with the connect module asking if this was what we had made. It’s nice that people in your environment recognize it.”

More use cases and more data

John: “The next step is to implement more use cases. Increasingly more use cases occur that we had not foreseen in advance. it’s a challenge for us and the customer to explore the maximum boundaries of what is possible.”

Frank: “Many components are already present and can be easily integrated. If the customer wants to connect a medium-sized solar park, that is possible. All necessary protocols, security, and scalability are available; it is just a matter of connecting. Connecting different assets also offers the possibility of data exchange between different energy devices, such as batteries, charging stations, and heat pumps. By working together with other parties we can scale better. Many use cases can be implemented plug-and-play due to our experience, paving the way for more customers, both in the Netherlands and internationally.”

John: “Looking back, we can be proud of what we have achieved. We have a collaboration based on a shared vision and ambition in an ecosystem that works well.”

Square John and Frank at TWTG HQ
John and Frank at TWTG HQ