Ken: Good day, and welcome to episode 187 of our Momenta Digital Thread podcast series. Today, I'm pleased to host Girish Naganathan, CTO of Technicolor Connect Home and SVP of the Broadband Product Unit. He is responsible for directing the company's technology roadmap while identifying industry adjacency opportunities for Technicolor Connected Home offerings. He also leads the operational transformation and execution of the company's Broadband Product Development and Management. Over his 11-year tenure with Technicolor, Girish has played an integral role in the organizational evolution of the company through the frequent and often dramatic shifts that have taken place in the video and broadband segments of the industry. Girish has a Master of Mechanical Engineering from Purdue, and an MBA from the University of Colorado Boulder, Leeds School of Business. Girish, welcome to our Digital Thread podcast.
Girish: Ken, thank you so much, and I look forward to chatting with you today.
Ken: As well, and I appreciate you taking the opportunity to tell us what a very interesting space is you're operating from. I look forward to digging into that. We call this the Digital Thread podcast; thus, we always like to ask about one's digital thread. In other words, the one or more thematic threads that define their digital industry journey. What would you consider to be your digital thread?
Girish: For me, the digital thread starts with connectivity and connectivity of devices, connectivity of infrastructure, and in general, connectivity is the backbone of the digital trade, at least in the digital industry journey that I'm a part of. Suppose you look at it in a very real way. In that case, Connected Home is at ground zero for many people's exposure to IoT applications and services. It's their first foray into touching a nest thermostat or a connected device and then using that experience to embark on adjacencies, to embark on adjacent product lines to enhance individuals' lives, enterprises, productivity, and beyond. The second piece for me is the combination of hardware and software, meaning the full stack. Not just the embedded piece but also the IoT, Cloud platforms, and the connectivity to the Cloud form the second axis of this digital thread and the backbone of this transformation. Finally, as I talked about, the experience in Connected Home plays a big role, and the human centricity, the ease of use- whether in-home or an enterprise or industrial digital transformation- is critical. That's the third axis that runs through this digital thread. I know you asked for a single digital thread. Still, a combination of these axes makes the digital transformations and the digital thread phenomenon a successful one.
Ken: Yeah, it's what I love about asking that question because it's purposely meant to be very open-ended because it's how somebody answers it, gives you a good perspective of their own, if you will, individual background coming up to that but also where they built their platform effectively. When you talk about conductivity up to ease of use, you've built up a very strong platform- which we'll discuss briefly in a moment. With that in mind, not all our listeners may be familiar with Technicolor outside of the logos at the end of many movies if you stay around to watch the credits. Tell us a bit about Technicolor and your specific role there.
Girish: Technicolor is a 100-year-old company. Color by Technicolor is what most people can relate to, but Technicolor has got multiple divisions. One is The Creative Studios, which most people are familiar with the name Technicolor. The biggest division of Technicolor is Connected Home, and Technicolor is undergoing some significant changes. At the end of the third quarter, Technicolor will become VANTIVA due to the strategic spin of the Technicolor Creative Studios. VANTIVA will be an independent, standalone company and a leading provider of consumer and customer premises equipment that provides video and broadband access to the home. We'll also continue to focus on this core business because today, Technicolor ships 35 to 40 million devices to different operators in every corner of the world. Operators like Comcast, Spectrum, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, or Telstra in Australia are a core part of our business. But as we get closer to September at the end of the third quarter, you will also start hearing us talk about our branching out into the IoT applications across the vertical industry segments. Expect to hear more about VANTIVA and our work in the IoT sector after September; there is a lot of exciting stuff happening, and I look forward to sharing it with the wider audience at the time.
Ken: Excellent. Wow. The timing of doing this podcast is great regarding you guys' launch. You mentioned specifically the IoT opportunity, and I must say that is what compelled me to approach you around the podcast because I think it's a very interesting value proposition to utilize the home Edge, if you will, as the basis for some of these IoT opportunities. Connected Home has not been a core topic in many past podcasts. Still, again, we were intrigued to see your announcement about exploring industrial and commercial IoT opportunities. Tell us a bit about this opportunity space.
Girish: I mean, Technicolor has worked to create a seamless and intuitive experience at home. The home is an area that we understand. We know how to connect to different networks, how security is an important part of these networks, and how the robustness of the hardware and the software solutions we provide becomes an essential part of the device offerings. I'll explain that in a second. The adjacency of addressing the IoT for the vertical markets is based on a Connect, Collect, Compute and Create a strategy. Connect is connected devices, which we know how to do. Collect is collecting data through sensors, radios, and computers to work with IoT and Cloud platform providers and creators to create a service, either through independent software vendors, platform companies, or ourselves. In all these cases, Technicolor can position and is positioning itself as a leader, leveraging its experiences from the Connected Home.
I provide that leadership as part of my role as the CTO of our Connected Home division. Technicolor is doing that with the entire community by building partnerships, a user base, and the user community. Now, the ready applications of homes to connected spaces are not that apparent. But with the right partnerships and ecosystems we have built, we believe we could offer something meaningful in the space. We can bring our experience and Connect and Collect to work with Compute and Create partners. And these could be spaces such as smart buildings, smart spaces for multiple dwelling units, retail facilities, warehouses, hospitality, and building management. All in all, the fundamentals of being able to develop rock solid hardware that's enterprise-grade and at an affordable cost and value proposition and to bundle it up with investments of tens of millions of dollars that we've made on software over the last decade can all be adapted to the different vertical markets to meet the needs of these vertical markets. That's all we are talking about in industrial and commercial IoT opportunities, and that's how our expansion happens.
Ken: I like that model, Connect, Collect, Compute, Create. I like that you've identified where your core and trajectory are in terms of how you're driving that. In a recent article, you discussed the- what you call the merging opportunity spaces for IoT Greenfield implementations for Brownfield ones. What is the difference, and how do you see these creating greater demand for your services?
Girish: IoT is a term that's used very widely. There is no right answer to IoT and no wrong answer to IoT. Almost every organization, in some shape or form, is involved in some IoT journey by itself. One should not be in a judgmental position with what is defined as an IoT. For me, I look at this transformation as driven by three different axes. One is reducing the operational expense of enterprises. The second one is to provide greater customer intimacy, closeness, and customer proximity. The third one is to create additional monetization and mechanisms for revenue generation after a product or a service has been launched. And these three fundamental principles govern whether you're in Brownfield or Greenfield situations. In that context, the Connect, Collect, Compute and Create paradigm positions us in terms of providing devices and sensors, along with the user-capable IoT and Cloud platforms that can offer service to the consumers with these goals broadly defined and in perspective.
The Brownfield development could look at buildings that have already been constructed that are not digital native buildings, that are not Cloud native buildings, that are not IoT native buildings, or hotels, hospitals, and different such confined spaces. Now, you could retrofit all these cases with these devices and sensors and offer them the platforms and services to completely transform how operations and transactions are conducted in that confined space. Greenfield development refers to the software and applications that are developed ground up. The hardware and the devices that are developed ground up for digital native, IoT native, cloud-native buildings, warehouses, or energy management devices, or even in smart retail. Examples could be you could take an existing air conditioning, a dishwasher, or a smoke detector, and retrofit it with sensors and make the digital transformation of those devices. Or you could also look at smart locks or smart thermostats being designed ground up natively to serve these different enterprises' digital transformation. Those are the differences I see between Brownfield and Greenfield.
Ken: Perhaps drilling down on that, what are some key use cases and wins you've enabled with your clients?
Girish: I talked about different applications and different verticals. We've worked with many of these clients in many of these cases. We have deployed as part of our field trials with them, learned from this experience, worked with many Cloud and IoT platform partners, learned from this experience, and we've had successes in the different verticals I talked about. We have seen successes initially, and those are the cases where we have been able to delight our customers. There are also other verticals like the medical device industry, there is automotive- that are also going through digital transformations and are hungry for such devices. But they have different requirements, different endpoints, different solutions that need to be catered to, and one size doesn't fit all. But the general theme where we've had success is when we can bring a solution that is not readily available in the market. It's not for the do-it-yourself market, but truly the ones that need a solution that can scale a solution that is robust, and a solution that helps in the digital transformation of their industry and to create the three things that I talked about with the goals of reducing their operational expense or creating intimacy with their consumers or customers. The third one is finding new ways of monetization.
Ken: In the setup for this, in your bio, we talked about the evolution through the frequent and often dramatic shifts that have taken place in the industry. With that in mind, many of the shifts have taken place in this space of last-mile connectivity. Of course, you have 5G Starlink, which I'm happy to use for this call- crowdsource communication platforms like Helium. It seems that last mile communication options are significantly increased since the traditional telco operators. How are you seeing this landscape emerging, and what are the implications for your forward-looking direction?
Girish: One of the most interesting aspects for me is we are the largest broadband device provider in the world by a wide margin. We are in pretty much every operator around the world that is significant. In all these cases, they have different means of connectivity. One could be cable, or the other one could be fiber. The third operator could be with fixed wireless access and 5G. You see copper as connectivity with twisted-pair, still very popular in Europe. There are also agnostic wireless extenders and wireless routers that run inside the home on the land side. In all these cases, our proposition is that we can serve the needs of these different operators today in our core business, independent of how the data reaches their premises. But the challenging and the most exciting part for us is once the data reaches the home, what do we do with that data? That's where our true expertise comes in. In this case of the adjacent markets of the enterprise markets, the data could reach in many different forms. It could be Starlink, which we've investigated, 5G, which we are working on today, or any Helium-type crowdsourcing network. But once the data reaches the premises of a confined space, whether it's an industrial warehouse, cold chain, or smart retail, or if it is what you call building management, multi-dwelling unit apartments- in all these cases, inside the device, you have what we call as a unified experience of software that runs in these devices.
This is why we have developed our software stacks over the last ten years based on open source, based on open WRT, and based on some open-source standards that provide lifecycle management. We look at our devices truly as platforms. Think of the iPhone as a platform on which you have multiple running apps. Our devices are the platforms on which you could have multiple containers running multiple apps and Cloud agents running to connect to the Cloud. Independent of the delivery mechanism of data to the device, the customer experience of connectivity to provide the Wi-Fi connectivity to provide a Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, BACnet multiple protocol connectivity's that are using the same device, and to provide the software experience of and being comfortable that the software has security built in. Because we are typically very concerned and aware of the security implications of the devices, cybersecurity and otherwise, we are very focused on ensuring the hardware performance of connectivity is rock solid and robust with the software driver integration, and the adaptation of these radios and connectivity solutions to perform mission-critical applications seamlessly. This is the seamless experience we provide once the data reaches the home- in the agnostic to the mechanism by which the data reaches these premises.
Ken: In your paradigm, moving from Connect and Collect as your traditional core platform to now extending, as you say, to compute, and in some cases, it sounds like Create in the sense of full stack solutions. It makes a lot of sense and certainly decouples you from the proliferation of last mile connectivity options while maintaining a common, if you will, solution at the Edge, which makes a lot of sense. What impressed me about your role, Girish, is certainly you are forward-looking in terms of how you're taking this business forward, and you must stay close to trends. Arguably, some of the most disruptive technology trends are happening in the home space and not necessarily in the industrial space. In some sense, the industry gets access to those after they've been proven. I'm curious, what trends are you watching these days?
Girish: There are two trends that I am primarily watching. One is regarding connectivity. When you look at the home space, the connectivity is typically Wi-Fi connectivity with a couple of IoT protocols. In some cases, Zigbee or Bluetooth and Matter starting to come in plays a big role in uniform, standardizing the way connectivity happen inside the home. These industries have grown organically over many years- they have their proprietary connectivity standards in the industrial space and outside the home. They're not necessarily the same standards in all the cases as the homestead. There is some overlap, but there are some proprietary standards as well. I'm looking at how the connectivity standards are going to converge, both within the home and outside, and if there is a role for Technicolor and VANTIVA to play a role in that, to create that standardization of connectivity because that simplifies the way devices communicate, talk, and identify amongst themselves. The second trend that I see is that of hyper aggregators. Big Cloud platforms are starting to become interested in the space where the Cloud and the IoT platform companies- there is a consolidation that's happening.
You could see the trend in the last five years, how this transformation has happened, and how this trend will continue in the future. There'll be niche Cloud platform companies that will have solutions, but they're also the hyper aggregators; if they approach this right, that could significantly impact these types of transformation. I want to go back to the previous topic that we discussed. Our core competency is still in Connect and Collect. We do Compute, and we could do Create, but we believe this is a team sport. We need the right partners for Compute and Create that can bring in the scale, sense of concentration, and ability to execute in that space of Compute and Create. I see these two trends in the context of Connect and Collect, but I also work very closely with the Compute and Create partners we work with today.
Ken: Yeah, it makes sense. IoT is, first and foremost, an ecosystem. With that in mind, we've always made the big bet that there are 'no winners take all,' specifically on this thing's B2B or industrial side. I think it's apropos that you maintain a strong core. You certainly look to go AppStack with your partners in providing solutions because that's what people truly are buying in terms of the value proposition. You mentioned partnerships, so your position must give you an interesting perspective across the industry. As you know, we're avid venture capital investors, so I'm curious, what are some of the innovative startups that you see these days?
Girish: For me, I was looking at many companies in this space, including some innovative sensor companies and others that are very innovative when it comes to Cloud platforms. There are small, medium, and large companies that do a lot of good work in these Cloud platforms foregone. You will have read the news recently, but they've done some interesting work. Some IoT database companies like C3 IoT are doing some interesting work in the space. These are different partners that we look to work with. They're also partners that specifically are addressing the retail markets, and they're partners that address the multi-dwelling unit apartments. The big names are very familiar to everyone, like the GCPs, Azure IoT, and AWS IoT, and these platforms are very well-known. They do a lot of interesting work. There are differences among these, but each one of them has its own value proposition there. Finally, I see many of these independent software vendors doing some interesting work in niche segments. They don't have the skill but good delivery mechanisms and means to create this digital transformation worldwide.
Ken: Given the forward-looking work you're doing, when you find time for personal inspiration, I'm curious, where does that likely come from?
Girish: I look at different people from different walks of life, and inspiration stems from the simplest of things, in many cases, reading some books, which is another source of inspiration. But an unusual place where I find some inspiration is I've young kids, and they're watching cartoons. They watch different kinds of cartoons on the TV, and every time I catch some of these shows with them, one of them is Curious George. If you look at Curious George, he's very inspiring. You don't think of it as inspiration material, but Curious George is curious by nature. 'Stay hungry, stay foolish' is the motto of Curious George to a big extent. You'd see Curious George trying out something. Initially, it never succeeds. Then eventually, he figures out how to get this right, and it's always a learning experience. For me, that's very inspiring, and if you step back and think about it, to all walks of life, especially business or personal, taking a risk, doing something foolish initially, trying out without the fear of failure, and then course correcting it with the lessons you've learned- it's inspiring to me.
Ken: It's perhaps what we refer to as the Agile method these days.
Girish: That's true. We have a scientific name for these things now. Yeah.
Ken: There you go. As an aside, since you mentioned a cartoon and George, at the time we're recording this, we are- let's see. George Jetson would be four days old today. As you guys remember, in the Jetsons cartoon series, George supposedly was born on July 31, 2022. If you think the future is far out, think about that as a potential model of how close some of this is. Soon, we'll have the little jet cars and the robot nanny. Girish, thank you for sharing this time and insights with us today.
Girish: Ken, thank you so much. It was a wonderful conversation and exciting for me to share my thoughts with you. Once again, thank you so much for this opportunity.
Ken: As well. It's been very interesting, especially the work you guys are preparing to launch. I think it's very timely given where we're at industry-wise. It sounds like you guys have a very solid platform of value proposition going forward. We look forward to great things coming out of VANTIVA and your role beginning at the end of September. This has been Girish Naganathan, CTO of Technicolor Connected Home and SVP of the Broadband Product Unit. Thank you for listening, and please join us for the next episode of our Digital Thread podcast series.
Connect With Girish Naganathan
What inspires me?
Reading books, meeting people from different walks of life, and watching cartoons with my children all inspire me. Curious George, for example, is a fantastic source of inspiration. George has an insatiable curiosity, and his mantra is "Stay hungry, stay stupid." George is an excellent role model. Taking a risk, doing something stupid at first, and then changing your path with the lessons you've learned inspires me since I believe it applies to many aspects of life, particularly professional and personal.
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