Like many other product companies, Ascent Informatics (India) Pvt. Ltd began its journey as a captive unit, delivering services to a Germany-based Controllers and HMI manufacturing company. The seed for Ascent's product platform was sown when the company worked on a remote monitoring solution for its German customer in the mid-2000s, a time when the term ‘Internet of Things' had not even entered popular parlance.
The business premise of Ascent's flagship PlantConnect® platform is that "shop floor data captured in real time and topped with analytics can and should be used effectively for business decisions, and will be a valuable asset if leveraged properly", according to Sujata Tilak, Ascent's CEO & CTO. The control room was traditionally isolated, disconnected from the office world and top management and this was the gap that Ascent decided to bridge with its PlantConnect offering. PlantConnect is a generic, web-based platform that allows for real-time, remote monitoring and control of industrial devices. Ascent build the platform first, with the intention of creating specific apps down the line.
From Concept to Reality
A SaaS-based solution, PlantConnect acts as an aggregator platform that allows users to integrate multiple devices and machines. At the time of the product's launch in 2006, communication infrastructure within large industrial units was not very robust, with the result that the business traction remained slow in the initial years. The bigger issue however was getting customers to believe in the product, points out Tilak. Large industrial units were unsure of the new technology platform and had reservations related to data security and the company knew they had to speak to these concerns. "We evangelised about the benefits of convergence of IT and industrial automation. Through pilot installations, we demonstrated robustness, security and data integrity and slowly won trust", says Tilak.
While the company was clear that it needed to get into the apps space, providing solutions alongside technology, it took a while to identify a solution that offered both good market potential and was a fit with the PlantConnect platform. This happened in 2011 in answer to an air quality monitoring requirement. Ascent commenced building their very first app, was PlantConnect AQMS, a pollution monitoring system which has as its end users industrial plants emitting pollutants. To get customers on board, the company employed a partnership model, reaching out to analyser manufacturers and the pollution control board, where PlantConnect AQMS met with immediate acceptance. With regulators backing the product, manufacturers came on board. Ascent is now entering the water quality management space with its WQMS app. The company also has an app, PlantConnect MIS, that monitors the real time reporting from on-going production in the field as well as the newly developed, OEM-focused PlantConnect RAM that provides access to equipment in the field, checks the health of the machines and engages in remote diagnostics.
Getting the word out
The strategy, says Tilak, has been to work with large companies who take the turnkey contract and use Ascent's solution to provide the monitoring facility, thereby "increasing market reach exponentially, since by ourselves we would not able to gain such traction. We will be continuing our partnerships with capital goods manufacturers and analyser manufacturers, and are developing partner channels with system integrators. The roadmap is to build more specific apps based on requirements." The company is now developing partner channels with system integrators and large companies, as well as looking into private branding the product.
From just one client in 2006, Ascent today has over 40 clients in various domains and four apps in the market. The company has already spread its wings abroad. PlantConnect is now deployed in Europe for plastic domain and in the Middle East for air quality.
In many cases, Ascent has enjoyed first mover advantage. Scalability also comes from the fact that the environment monitoring space has global scope. To leverage that advantage, Ascent has chalked up plans to further expand overseas to markets through partnerships in the UK and Middle East.
The company also participated in the 1st edition of the NASSCOM product enclave held in Pune earlier this month, and was one of the five companies chosen by the jury for the company showcase, for its PlantConnect platform. Speaking about the experience, Tilak says they were unsure how the product would be received, since it has a very different end user base - "ours is a more brick and mortar product aimed at the shop floor, whereas these days it's mostly virtual products that are coming in".
It has been a long road, but Tilak believes that Ascent is now set to live up to its name. "What we had envisaged in 2005-2006 is actually happening now and it's an exciting time for us," she points out. Certainly, the company's patience and perseverance has paid off.