Cloud Computing

Innovating Fast in the Cloud

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When my co-founder, David Le Breton, and I started our solar energy business six years ago, we had plenty of engineering experience but little knowledge of software. (I was a marine engineer and he was a manufacturing engineer.) Our idea was to combine solar energy collection and solar charging in single physical structures. We contracted out the software programming for our “smart” charging stations for automobiles.

That’s not necessary anymore—thanks to the cloud. We developed our second wave of products, smart charging stations for electric bicycles, in just a few months, and we didn’t have to hire another firm to do the programming for us.

We were able to do this because we worked with consultants in IBM’s new Bluemix Garage in Nice, France, which just happens to be in the same building as our offices. I think of the Garage as a guided journey through the innovation process.

Solar charging station for electric bikes

Solar charging station for electric bikes

We are currently piloting the new products in 12 locations—hotels, resorts and other tourism-oriented businesses that offer electric bike rentals as an amenity. I know that electric bikes are not seen much in America yet, but they’re a hot new trend in Europe.

Our new offering opens up a whole new dimension for us. It extends our reach beyond our clients to their clients. Now we understand the ultimate consumers of our products and services better, so we can provide added value to our clients.

Here’s the story of our guided journey:

Last summer, during the August holiday season in France, we had time to think deeply about where we wanted to take our business next. We came up with the idea for the bike rental charging stations. Shortly thereafter, IBM consultants began to set up the Bluemix Garage in our building. We met them and discussed our idea and they suggested that we participate in an IBM Design Thinking workshop. That’s a process where you learn to innovate in a new way.

During the workshop, the IBM team walked us through the process of developing the software management system for our new stations by first evaluating the needs of our clients and tourists.

After we completed the workshop, we entered into a three-month development process using Bluemix—ultimately producing our first-generation charging stations for bikes. Within Bluemix, you can assemble an application quickly by choosing pre-built software components from a catalog and splicing them together. And you don’t have to be a coding genius to use it.

I credit the Bluemix Garage with enabling us to get into the market quickly at the right price. We gained access to the expertise of IBM consultants and to Bluemix—which demystified the software development process for us and enabled us to be more ambitious with technology than we would have been otherwise.

The AdvanSolar team has grown to 10 people. I recently added a software engineer. But, these days, thanks to the cloud computing model and new development platforms like Bluemix, a small team can pack a mighty punch. We’re doing our part to produce new ideas and advanced technology to change the world.

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