A decade ago, strategies for knowing when to fill a tank typically involved either estimating based on usage patterns and degree days monitoring or customers having to go outside to read the gauge as they didn’t have direct access to tank level data through a computer or smartphone.
“In about 2008, Otodata was just getting started with the development and sale of tank monitoring products,” says company President Andre Boulay. “We started out as an IoT company with a focus on a variety of technology offerings.” IOT (Internet of Things) is a term involving the collective network of connected devices and the technology that facilitates communications between devices and the cloud, as well as between the devices themselves.
“Our most rapid growth has been in the past 36 months, and it is only growing faster!”
Over time, Otodata had to update its mission when they learned that tank monitoring had more uses than previously thought. “Initially the concern with tank monitoring was about helping companies avoid run-outs, but as time has gone on, tank monitoring has been used more for maximizing efficiency through a detailed understanding of each customer’s consumption,” Boulay said. “In the early days, interest in tank monitoring was stronger than we initially expected; we met with 12 retail propane companies to identify the precise needs and levels of interest. We soon made a shift to focusing solely on various aspects of tank monitoring and efficiently fulfilling needs with the best possible delivery plan for customers.”
Boulay pointed out several factors that led to more widespread use of tank monitoring. “We developed an offering by innovating a more cost-effective price point with hardware under $100 per unit and integration with a computer software program for less than $1 per month, per unit,” he said. “Four other factors that have sped up demand for tank monitors include the cost of logistics with an average drop cost around $65, up sharply from $35. The high cost of diesel is also a factor, and most companies are dealing with driver shortages. In addition, many retail customers like having access to the tank information via a mobile app. These factors have made it more important than ever to deploy a strong tank monitoring process.”
Otodata is now operating in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Israel and Poland in addition to the United States and Canada and is selling products in over 30 countries around the world. Under Boulay’s leadership, the company has grown to 200 employees with approximately 150 in North America and the rest in various locations around the world. “We’ve made several acquisitions and are expanding our presence around the world,” Boulay said. “While the company is based in Montreal, Canada, we have a strong presence in the United States. Approximately 75% of our devices are in the U.S.” A couple of years ago, Otodata acquired Pittsburgh-based Wise Telemetry, a leader in the industrial gas industry in North America, which allowed the company to open a facility there. “This new location will further improve our ability to serve our US customers”.
Boulay has observed that as propane companies transfer to the next generation there is more and more interest in deploying technology to maximize efficiency. “The technology with level gauges in tanks is improving and we are enhancing and improving our offerings as well,” he said. “The days of using technology to just avoid run outs have passed for the current generation of retail propane company managers. They also want to strategize a plan for all aspects of improving efficiency. They want to create a strategy for periods of very high demand with tight supply, a strategy for handling the shoulder months, and a strategy for filling tanks during the low demand of the summer months. We help them strategize for all of the above and take into account their territory, customer types, weather patterns and more.”
“Customers are also more and more interested in controlling the process,” Boulay said. “But the customers are more interested in monitoring their tank via an app rather than going outside in the snow to look at a gauge. Customers have become savvy about buying things online through companies like Amazon and monitoring their orders and service through an app.” He said the days of customers checking tank gauges and calling a propane company or flagging down a propane driver are numbered if not over. “Initially, our key benefit was the return on investment for the customer; now it also includes the benefit of upping the level of service and communication with the retail propane marketer. If the retailer can offer a higher level of service and communication through our technology, that may be the selling point that convinces the consumer that the company will be the best in the area to take care of them!”