Birdz has a central role in its parent company’s “raison d’être” to resource the world. Xavier Mathieu talks about the importance of having a job with purpose and why environmental IoT’s time has come.
Xavier Mathieu is the CEO of Birdz, a Veolia company and leader in environmental IoT for smart cities and utilities with more than three million connected devices under operation and over six million delivered. The company was created from the merger of Homerider Systems, a pioneer in remote water meter reading in France, and m2ocity, a joint venture between Veolia and Orange, which specialised in IoT networks operations.
Kurrant Talent: Birdz has announced the largest LoRaWan devices roll-out worldwide with more than three million smart water meters, confirming the position of Veolia as a leading smart utility. What has driven your decision to select LoRaWan over other IoT technologies?
XM: The choice of one technology over another is a matter of compromise between several parameters: cost of connectivity; cost of the chipset/technology; range – the availability of the radio network coverage; the data volume – how many bytes you can send through this connectivity; and the energy consumption.
Among all the technical benchmark criteria, the most important one for industrial and municipal customers has been forgotten and that is end-to-end quality of services. My belief is that there is no one technology better than any other but there is often a technology which is more suited to a specific use case. The most important goal to me is to design, operate and support a sustainable digital service offering for utility clients, based on Birdz’s expertise in environmental IoT.
In the application of smart water metering, we must have one technology that can be adapted to fit the needs of our customers. Utilities require a 10 to 15-year lifecycle for services and, for a market driven by cost, LoRaWan technology is probably the one that is most adaptable and has a pricing compatible with public investment. Building a business case is achievable with a LoRaWAN-based IoT solution, notably, thanks to a fast pace adoption of LPWAN technologies that has driven the cost of connectivity down quickly. In the past five years, LoRaWAN connectivity costs have been halved.
KT: Beyond smart water what are the other environmental applications you are rolling out in France and abroad?
XM: Birdz aims to be the worldwide leader in the emerging market of environmental IoT. To achieve our objective, we will focus, at first, on three main market applications. Beyond water metering, we are also helping to develop smart water networks that provide digital solutions to detect leaks, monitor hydrants and control water quality and pressure.
Birdz is delivering digital solutions that have a positive and meaningful impact and build a smarter environment
We are also focusing on the smart waste solutions market, mainly to optimise public waste collection. The third area is the global smart building applications market. This includes solutions that deliver energy- and water-savings and air quality control but also focus on occupants’ comfort, security and safety. We have these applications rolling out in France but are working in at least 10 other countries as well and will be making more deployments in these areas over the next three years.
KT: What are the biggest challenges you have had to deal with during the merger of Homerider Systems and m2Ocity.? And how did you make sure everybody was on board to achieve your vision and project for the company?
XM: The merger of Homerider Systems and m2ocity was quite challenging but I think this is common with all mergers and acquisitions. The first challenge was a matter of transformation because we changed the business model of both companies. Previously we were a pure IoT network operator in charge of financing, deployment and maintaining the radio infrastructure.
We wanted to become an IoT-VNO (Virtual Network Operator) in charge of providing quality of service by using existing infrastructure that we supplement with additional coverage to meet the requirements of our customers. We are now more like an integrator, using the radio network architecture provided by the telco or private networks to meet our quality of service aims.
The second was a talent management challenge. Homerider and m2ocity were two companies with renowned expertise in their respective field of competences. By chance, most of the competences from each company were synergic. This helped myself and the management team to focus on ensuring the talent from both sides worked well together. Building one identity under Birdz has taken time and focus but I am proud to say we are now a united and committed team.
KT: What is your plan to support your international growth and to make sure you attract the best international talent at all levels of the company?
XM: Birdz is a subsidiary of Veolia Group, which is the world leader in environmental services with offices all over the world, across all continents. For us, this represents an excellent opportunity to address the international market and find the right skills and talents that we need. Moreover, we have a dedicated team to promote our digital solutions abroad and to recruit and run a network of distributor channels. So far, we already work in Europe through these channels (UK, Eastern Europe) and we plan to expand this coverage. We are ready to establish an office abroad as soon as the business requires it.
KT: You started your career 20 years ago as a product validation engineer for ALCATEL. Do you think a technical background and field expertise are essential to become a good CEO in the IoT and smart city space?
XM: Even though I have a technical background as a telecom engineer, I have always been interested and attracted by other roles such as sales, marketing and management functions. This is probably why I was looking to move from a technical to a management role.
Building one identity under Birdz has taken time and focus but I am proud to say we are now a united and committed team
The IoT and smart city industry is still a new market which is mainly driven by digital solutions and technology. Such a huge and diverse market requires many partnerships to collectively address the broad issues and challenges that exist when building a smart city spanning areas such as mobility, lighting, energy and the environment. To negotiate and manage partnerships with high-tech companies such as telcos, sensor providers, chipset providers and the rest of the ecosystem my background as an engineer is extremely helpful.
I am also surrounded by many different talents on which I can rely. My advice to others in this space is that to be a good CEO you must lead from the front and having a technical background is very advantageous because I can talk to all the players in the market. If you don’t have one, ensure you are surrounded by the right people with the right skills and talents to support you in the ecosystem.
KT: What is in your opinion the most important for a smart City and utility professional to succeed: a strong background in IoT technologies or a proven knowledge and field experience of major vertical applications?
XM: For sure, in R&D a strong background in IoT technologies is a “must-have” but this is probably true for all industries. In new markets, proven knowledge and experience are the differentiators. We are very lucky to be pioneers in smart water metering and have both men and women who have been working at the company for more than 20 years. These are the skills we want to retain so that we can continually innovate and be the leaders in the market. To help utilities and cities to digitise their operations and public services, only proven and useful IoT solutions can win the deal. If you are only providing IoT connectivity and data, it is not enough. The data must be able to be transformed into useful services and operations and this is what we do.
At Birdz, we are also constantly adapting and updating our technical knowledge and know-how to fit the needs of vertical application requirements and market and customer needs. We know the water, energy and waste market in depth so can provide IoT solutions that are well-suited. The demands of each can also vary from country to country. For example, when it comes to water, the issue in one country may be water metering and in another it may be water quality. Water scarcity is going to be an issue for many more countries all over the world and the challenge will be to reduce consumption. So, it is important to be able to adapt solutions to meet these changing needs.
KT: Smart city investments are very often driven in France by street lighting. Can environmental IoT (water, waste and air quality) become an alternative pillar of smart cities?
XM: Up until now – and not only in France – smart street lighting is the top return-on-investment (ROI) use case for smart cities, notably because electricity and energy are an expensive resource. In the case of water and waste, you need to be even smarter to find the ROI. By 2050, two thirds of the population will be urban. With climate change, cities will have no choice but to invest in improving the quality of life of their inhabitants. Hopefully, political directives will continue to make reduction of the environmental footprint a priority. Because of this, we believe our time has come at Birdz. Environmental IoT development is definitely the trend.
KT: The Y and Z generations are attracted by environmental and purpose-driven businesses. How does Birdz leverage on this opportunity to hire the best new talents?
You are right and this provides us with a great opportunity to attract young talent. When we wake up in the morning, we all want our work to make sense and have purpose. The job that you do and the company that you work for are an important part of this. Indeed, we are part of the “raison d’être” of Veolia which is to resource the world. Recently, our clients have recognised the value of Birdz digital services helping them to continue essential operations such as water distribution and waste management during the pandemic.
This proof that Birdz is delivering digital solutions that have a positive and meaningful impact and build a smarter environment. The Birdz manifesto is an invitation for all new talents, inspired by our vision, to join us and help to make sure that their life makes sense to them when they wake up in the morning.
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