The Disrupting Force
Apr/May 2013
Mike Carrozzo, Chief Editor

John Horn wants to be a disrupter. For those who know him, this shouldn’t come as much of a shocker. But those who don’t are in for quite a ride. As far as the president of RACO Wireless can tell, there is a broad and brand new audience waiting to be introduced to the idea of M2M. After years of making the value of M2M known to those in its “inner circle” of tech and solution providers, Horn believes it is now time for formal introductions to be made to enterprises around the globe. So, who’s ready?

Those who are on the outside looking in might falsely label RACO Wireless under the generic category of ‘MVNO’ or mobile virtual network operator. Such companies typically provide bundled network services, in the form of radio spectrum or wireless network infrastructure, of which they do not own, to customers looking to network assets. Some of these MVNOs might even provide some type of customer or billing or device management service as well. In the world of M2M where a direct relationship with a wireless carrier isn’t always possible, or necessary, these companies have carved out a significant niche helping companies establish and manage data connections for their assets. Knowing this definition, you are now about to find out why RACO Wireless doesn’t quite fit this mold.

It comes back to Horn’s statement about wanting to be a disrupter. Or, to put it in his exact words, “We want to be the disrupter that constantly changes the rules.” To some, the concept of disruption may sound a bit unsettling. But to understand M2M is to realize that you will be forced to disrupt your business model, interactions with customers, and/ or your strategy in order to be successful. And businesses from Audi, to Delta, to Chevron—all RACO Wireless customers—can attest to the fact if you are going to give M2M a go, it needs to come with a fair share of disruption.

A Natural Fit

You could say the evolutionary path of RACO Wireless somewhat mirrors that of the M2M market in general. The company, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, began in 1988 as RACO Industries under the direction of Rob Adams, who holds the title of CEO to this very day. The company that exists today is vastly different than the one that launched more than two decades ago. RACO Industries came to market as a value-added reseller of barcoding hardware and data-collection services. With that business model in place, RACO partnered with a leading network operator to develop vehicle-tracking solutions.

With the knowledge and expertise gained, and understanding the difficulties faced as a solution provider trying to connect with a network carrier, RACO decided to shift its focus. “Seeing the challenges faced by solution providers, we saw an even greater opportunity as a data aggregator and so we set out to build the most robust data aggregation platform in the industry,” says Adams. In 2005-2006 the company was then approached by T-Mobile with the idea to become a data aggregator in the M2M space.

At the time M2M was merely a blip on the radar screen for most national wireless carriers. Yet, T-Mobile, who was viewed by most in the public eye as being behind the likes of AT&T and Verizon in the overall wireless race, had a clear intent to capitalize on this sudden demand for helping machines talk to machines. Voice connections were about to become old news, with the market for such connections reaching a point of saturation. Instead, the data connections were where the real value existed. And naturally, having millions of machines around the world communicate information necessitated some form of wireless connection. And this is where T-Mobile knew it could take a stronghold.

At the time this initiative was headed up at T-Mobile by none other than John Horn. It was Horn who was responsible for developing the M2M program at the carrier, along with its go-to-market strategy, both of which proved to be successful in catapulting T-Mobile inthe world of data connections.

“The goal on the T-Mobile side,” as Horn describes it today, “Was to take a message of being the easiest to do business with to a whole new level. We had taken a process that when we had gotten into the space many years ago took months, and were able to drive it down to just a couple of weeks. We wanted to simplify (M2M) as much as possible and drive as much complexityout of the business as possible.”

Along the way Horn and his team came across RACO Wireless, a company he classified as being “rock stars” in this new world of data connectivity. “No other company that I had worked with in my entire career, going back to wireline days and data processing and hosting centers, etc., was as solid operationally as they were. So if you take the operational skills they had, and couple it with the management, visionary, and product-related sales skills that we hadat T-Mobile, it was a perfect marriage.”

The year 2006 became the official founding for RACO Wireless. In June of that same year the company signed its first M2M agreement with T-Mobile and then its first M2M activationshortly thereafter.

Perhaps the most appealing piece to the RACO Wireless offering was its Omega Management Suite. This Webbased application was built to provide customers with one unified view when it came to M2M device management. In other words, companies only needed access to a Web browser and they wereable to manage all of their SIMs.

And as the company’s Vice President of Technology Chris Francosky recalls, the initial release of OMS—as it is dubbed—was limited to functionality such as basic management of SIMs andactivation services.

“We knew we needed to raise the bar and add features that allowed our customers to manage and monitor their devices more efficiently,” says Francosky, who helped direct the build-out of OMS. “We made a large investment to build out the systems and hired more software developers, putting more focus on providing value-added services to our customers in addition to the wireless data connectivity.” While competitors were still trying to figure out the model of providing the data connectivity, RACO Wireless was already on its wayto moving customers to that next phase.

In fact, RACO Wireless was on its way to the next phase itself. In May 2011, the company made huge waves when it announced Horn would be making the leap from leading the M2M direction at T-Mobile to become president at RACO Wireless. The market at the time was in a bit of a tumultuous state given the fact an announcement had been made two months earlier for AT&T to acquire T-Mobile. The deal proposed turning two fierce competitorsin the GSM world into one.

Although that deal fell victim to government ruling later that year, it didn’t stop Horn from going about business as usual in his new role at RACO Wireless, carrying on a promise he made from day one when he promised to help T-Mobile customers implement solutions “very rapidly andmore efficiently than ever before.”

It wasn’t long before the domino effect took place at RACO Wireless, with multiple members of Horn’s team at T-Mobile migrating over to join the team at RACO Wireless. Soon thereafter, the company made what some would consider a very bold statement in the M2M market by signing a contract to become the Preferred M2M Partnerwith T-Mobile.

Behind the Scenes

All the while Horn and his team had been busy elevating the name RACO Wireless in the market via closing new business and adding partners, the team behind the scenes remained steadfast inthe development of OMS.

And in essence, the development of OMS would be more crucial than at any other time up until that point. Large enterprises around the globe were starting to take notice of what data meant to their particular business. As profits turned south and customer relationships remained at a premium for many of these organizations around the globe, the idea of M2M (even if they had no idea that was what it was beingcalled) began to resonate.

More and more, these organizations were starting to realize data could be key in their next evolution in business. But such organizations are not in the business of data. Instead they are in automotive, energy, healthcare, and transportation, among others. Many did not want to be bothered with the idea of managing data connections. They simply wanted to benefit from it and needed a strong partner to handle the rest. The only problem was, no one could quite figure out what that meant. EnterRACO Wireless.

Suddenly all the big picture talk Horn and his team were espousing would need to come to fruition—like, real quick. The team behind the scenes needed to live up to that “rock star” status Horn had branded them with years earlier. Luckily the development team associated withOMS was ready to take the stage.

“Customers can go to the carrier and get connectivity, but they won’t get access to the types of tools that we provide. We make it easier to manage large deployments of SIMs and can integrate all of that functionality from OMS into any backend system,” says Francosky, who adds the company puts tremendous effort into developing its APIs. “We know a lot of our customers want to automate many of the functions provided by OMS and include device management in their existing systems. We offer a comprehensive set of developmenttools to make that happen.”

As he describes, with enterprises focused on the long-term visibility, RACO’s tools go well beyond just providing connectivity to the data. He says, “We are giving enterprise customers complete visibility into the network and providing the tools needed to not only drill down and manage individual SIMs, but also perform actions on a large number of SIMs with one request. For instance, a company could have a trigger set up that changes the rate plan on 1,000 devices as wireless data consumption changes over time.” This is oneexample of how OMS is raising the bar.

At the same time OMS was being refined, the rest of the technology pieces were falling into place, with new announcements coming fast and furious for RACO Wireless. In October 2011, the company announced its partnership to give its customers access to Everything Everywhere’s network for international operations, which meant they would be able to quickly launch M2Mapplications throughout Europe.

April 2012 marked the debut of the Omega Call Center Service, a state-ofthe- art call center designed specifically to support multiple M2M solution partners’ end customers. With the idea its solution partners can offer excellent assistance to customers during normal business hours, but cannot cost-effectively support their own call centers, RACO Wireless now made it so end customers were always able reach a trained professional 24 hours a day, sevendays a week.

The next month came word of a new multi-mode IMSI SIM that would help M2M providers expand their solution globally while still maintaining visibility into and control over which global networks were used or the transmission costs associated with roaming in different countries. With the multi-mode IMSI SIM, companies can keep one global SKU and the SIM has intelligence to automatically select the leastexpensive transmission rates possible.

Then came word early in 2013 of service agreements with both Sprint and Telefonica. In a way, such announcements shatter the impression from some that RACO Wireless is only tied to T-Mobile. In fact, Horn says such agreements epitomize his long-touted mantra of RACO Wireless being “theeasiest to do business with” as it allows customers to continue to select andmanage the appropriate technology fortheir solution using one single logon toOMS. This is important for companiesthat are perhaps working across multiplecountries or that want to combine GSMand CDMA networks, which is the casewith Sprint as the carrier offers nationwideCDMA and LTE coverage.

All of this became proof positive that Horn’s idea of being a disrupter was more than just hearsay. “We have regularly added new products and services to OMS, new products like call services, new partners with enterprise mobile for distribution services, and content packaging, and things like that,” says Horn. “We are trying to do everything we can to let people focus on their solution.”

But perhaps the biggest disrupting force came in October 2012 when private equity firm Inverness Graham Investments announced controlled recapitalization of RACO Wireless. The financial backing suddenly meant the company had, as Horn said, “no capital constraints to achieve its strategy.” With a four-board team that consists of Adams, Horn, and two members from Inverness Graham Investments, RACO Wireless now elevates to an entirely new level. After years of accomplishing such phenomenal growth based on organic growth, imagine what can be done now that it has the resources to perhaps acquire another company. And that certainly seems to be the case, as Horn described at the time of the announcement, “We hope to make some key acquisitions and we will take M2M and the company to a whole new level.”

The Next Disruption

It takes a special type of relationship to trust a partner with petabytes of data. But that is precisely the volume Audi has entrusted with RACO Wireless, which manages the automaker’s data connections for its in-vehicle information system Audi connect. This simply goes to show to what degree businesses like Audi are relying on the role of data. Anupam “Pom” Malhotra, Audi of America’s senior manager, Connected Vehicles, goes as far as to describe RACO Wireless as, “An unsung hero in the U.S. success of Audi connect.” He adds, “The expertise they bring to the table has greatly enhanced customer service, billing, and other logistics issues surrounding this first-to-market mobile wireless technology in Audi vehicles.”

And it is simply one example that reflects the nature of RACO Wireless’ growing business, which Horn says grew 300% last year.

It is that type of trust—with petabytes of data—that companies need when developing their strategy around M2M. When the discussion in the board room eventual turns to ‘what do we do with data?’ executives will be looking for partners that can help. Making it so that all this data can be processed without a blip and that the enterprise customer can simply focus on their business is what will elevate not only RACO Wireless, but the idea of M2M in general. It is the reason Horn believes the name RACO Wireless will be in all conversations with Fortune 100 companies when they begin looking for that right M2M partner.

“The natural inclination from an enterprise Fortune 100 customer is to pick another Fortune 100 customer (as their provider), logo-to-logo, so to speak,” says Horn. “So they need to understand that we have the capabilities that are rock solid on the backend, operationally, and with the security systems and tools that allow them to focus on their business and not worry about what we do.”

Reinforcing that latter point related to security, Francosky calls this a major emphasis at the company. “We have deployed intrusion prevention and DDoS defense systems in an effort to protect our network from today’s sophisticated attacks,” he says. “We have been adding more security focused network engineers to our support team to help us monitor our network for potentially harmful activity.”

It comes down to putting together the right pieces in order to help customers thrive with M2M. It is a mission Adams believes makes the company standout.

He says, “RACO Wireless has worked very hard to bring together the best team, tools, and network partners so that we can offer to our customers a great, reliable experience so they can focus on growing their business. Our job is to take something that can be very difficult and time consuming and make it easy. As we move forward with the resources necessary to grow organically and through acquisition, I am excited about the opportunity to positively shape the direction of this rapidly expanding industry.”

Naturally when you start bringing this to a large enterprise level, the competition doesn’t look familiar. In other words, RACO Wireless needs to prepare for competition outside the usual list of characters from the world of M2M and more to the likes of some big enterprise technology provider. In fact, it is something Horn fully expects to happen, but believes the company is well prepared to standout from the crowd.

“Having that credibility and delivering will continue to help reinforce our message,” adds Horn. “A lot of people are talking in the space, but we deliver. We are positioned to help with what comes in that next phase. We will have all the carrier relationships needed and we will have capital to go where we need to. And when it comes to M2M in general, the sky is still the limit.” The sky may certainly be the limit, but we all know the evolution of M2M won’t come without a bit of “disruption” in the process. To that case, you are speaking the language of RACO Wireless.

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