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PODCAST/TECH: Understanding RFID tracking

This is the transcript of the Podcast from last week with Ken Lynch of Pango, a company playing in the location tracking space.  If you read this, you should understand a little more about how complex it all is!

Matthew Holt:  It’s Matthew Holt, with The Health Care Blog. And one of my last interviews of the day today, on Tuesday, which is the second day of HIMSS. I’m with Ken Lynch; Ken is in marketing at Pango. And Pango is in the RFID asset location and tracking business. They make little tags, you’ll see the photo on this site, and various other things. And the more I’ve looked at this business, the more complex it’s become. Because there are so many different parts in the application layer, the middle ware, the tags themselves. And so many people competing and cooperating in the system that I’m already confused. But that is why I’ve got Ken here, he’s going to explain to us today what it all works out, what Pango does, and what its various competitors and corporation partners do. So Ken, thanks for talking to me.

Ken Lynch:  My pleasure.

Matthew:  All right, so let’s start at the beginning. What does Pango do within the world of asset tracking? And whom do you work with, and what other parts do you need?

Ken:  Sure, I’d be happy to expand on that.
Pango provides a location management solution to the market. And what
mean by that is that we provide a platform layer, middleware layer if
you will, that supports multiple types of location technologies. And
what we have found is that the health market has proven out that not
one location technology is going to solve all of the asset tracking
issues or problems that there are out in the marketplace today. So the
PanOS platform is a key component of our asset tracking solution, which
consumes data from multiple types if location technologies. Normalizes
that data, synthesizes that data, and then passes it up to the
application layer.Pango provides an asset tracking application,
called Pango Locater, which provides a UI, both tabular and map‑based,
and also provides users with the ability to report, and to create
notifications and alerts.So combined, our platform and our application
layer provide customers with everything that they need to track assets,
enterprise wide, hospital wide. Regardless of the locating technology
that they’ve selected, and really, future proofs the decision that
they’ve made for tracking assets within their environment.

Matthew:
OK, that a pretty good general overview. Let’s draw it down in to one
layer, which is the location technology that they’ve used. What is out
there in the pathway, what seems to be working? And when you talk about
multiple different types, what do you mean?

Ken:
Sure. So Wi‑Fi has been one of the most widely accepted technologies,
early on in the marketplace for asset tracking. But as I said before,
Wi‑Fi, or a single location technology is not going to solve all of the
problems or use cases that customers have. For instance, a customer may
be able to get zone or floor level location accuracy by leveraging
their existing wireless, and tracking with Wi‑Fi tags. However, that
may not fit the use case in the emergency department, where they might
want to track at a much finer level of location granularity. And in our
case, with the ability to support multiple location technologies, we
can then provide the customer the ability to implement a solution like
Ultra‑Wideband that can solve that specific use case, in the emergency
department where they need a finer level of location granularity. There
are a whole host of other location technologies out there, infrared,
802.15‑4, and a variety of others. And the open architecture of our
platform supports all of those types of technologies and a number of
others coming in the future.

Matthew:
Does that mean that if I’m a CIO or a Communications Manager of a
hospital, that I’m likely to have a Wi‑Fi network up anyway for other
uses, of course, and it seems to me sensible that main ease of use for
asset tracking is that you’re putting something else over a network
that already exists. But does that mean that I’m going to have to
set‑up other dedicated networks just for asset tracking?

Ken:
Again, it depends on the use cases. If what you’re trying to
accomplish can be solved with your Wi‑Fi network, and that meets the
requirements of your use case, then you will not have to implement
other infrastructures. If Wi‑Fi in this instance doesn’t support the
location granularity that you need in your use case, then you may want
to look at a complimentary location technology.

Matthew:  So in that case I would have to set‑up something separate that would just be for location tracking?

Ken:  That’s correct. If that’s a use case that you want to meet with different requirements.

Matthew:
So in the real world are you finding that that’s way you customers are
starting to go? Obviously, it’s great that you do a lot of different
stuff, but what are people actually using?

Ken:
Sure, we are absolutely seeing that trend in the market place today. I
think it’s become evident, and the market had proven out in health
care, that Wi‑Fi based asset tracking is not solve of their use cases.
And that’s why you’re seeing technologies other location technologies
at hymns, like Ultra‑Wideband and infrared and 802.15‑4. A number of
vendors are promoting those technology solutions here, so we are seeing
a number of customers starting to adopt these other technologies and
providing them the ability to combine those technologies based on their
use cases, because that is where the real value is.

Matthew:
That’s interesting. Now, tell me, you guys have got a partnership with
Cisco; I already spoke to the Cisco folks today. Tell me a bit about,
what bits do they do, and what bits do you do?

Ken:
Sure, so as you know, Cisco is a wireless infrastructure company.
Pango is the first company to integrate to the Cisco 2700 location
appliance. So Cisco has a location appliance, we integrate to that
appliance and can utilize the Cisco wireless network with our Wi‑Fi
based tags. Providing zone and four‑level asset tracking location.

Matthew:
Let’s talk a bit about the growth of the market and the growth of
Pango, let’s start with market as a whole. I must say that I thought
when I first heard about asset tracking which was only a couple of
years back, especially the Wi‑Fi based stuff ‑ that as Wi‑Fi was now so
prevalent in hospitals, and as it looks like that the ROI from some of
the people that I spoke with on the hospital side, which actually was
pretty good–that it made sense that this would grow very quickly. Have
you been surprised, disappointed, have calm acceptance, about the rate
of the growth of the market? How fast has it been growing and what have
you been seeing?

Ken:
We’ve seen steady growth in the market. I think there was a lot of
hype around utilizing Wi‑Fi technology for asset tracking, and like all
newer technologies and new applications, there are issues that you have
to work out as you bring those solutions to market. So again we’ve seen
steady growth, has it lived up to some of the early expectations in
market, maybe not. But again, we do see steady growth, and where we see
the real value is in the emergence of a lot of location technologies to
support multiple use cases, not just Wi‑Fi. And again, that’s where our
platform comes into play.

Matthew:
Right, that’s interesting. What’s your sense about–we can talk about
Pango specific numbers–the penetration of Wi‑Fi in hospitals so far.
We’re still in low digits, I suspect, percentage‑wise. Can you give me
a sense of where the market it, or simply of how Pango is doing?

Ken:
Sure, I don’t have those numbers at my fingertips, but we have seen
steady growth. Pango has been experiencing steady growth ourselves,
with a number of new deployments throughout 2006, and a backlog that
we’re attacking as we go into 2007. All I can really say is that we are
seeing steady growth and the numbers are trending upwards the way we’d
like to see.

Matthew:  How many customers do you have in the

US

right now?

Ken:
We have around 35 customers in the market, but again, what you have to
see in the market when you see customers piloting technology, one of
the issues that elongates the sales cycle a lot of the times is the
pilot phase, when the customer is testing it out for themselves how the
technology is going to fit into their use cases. So, when I say we’re
experiencing steady growth, we are. But sometimes that tends to be a
little elongated based on the way customers are approaching and
integrating the technology. I feel that it’s the right approach.

Matthew:
Right. Let’s talk a bit about competition and cooperation
corporations, I hear you’re working with InnerWireless, who has a
solution that’s competing with yours, but now you’re working together
with them. Obviously Cisco has been tracking what you’re doing and what
your technology is connecting into. I’m a bit confused about who does
what and who is supplying what, could you give us a sort of brief
overview of who you think the bigger players are and who supplies which
parts of the service?

Ken:
Sure, so certainly on the infrastructure side, Cisco is a major player
in the market, and as I mentioned, Pango was the first to integrate the
2700‑series location appliance. So Cisco is a very valuable partner to
Pango, and we do provide value‑add to the Cisco solution by providing
the application layer on the top that often helps to drive network
infrastructure sales for Cisco as well.

Matthew:
And you’ll see that there is a photo I have up on the blog that is a
screen of the application, that’s sort of like Harry Potter’s magical
map, you know, where you can see where people are.

Ken:
Yup, I’ll take a look at that. Partnership wise, other partners and
certainly those that we’re promoting here at HIMS, as you mentioned,
InnerWireless is a partner of Pango’s and they provide an 802.154‑based
tracking system, with very easy to install beacons, They have their own
asset tracking tags, and we integrate to them at the platform layer.
So, through our platform, as I mentioned, we can consume location data
being provide by the InnerWireless Spot system, and then present that
location data up to the application layer. That’s similar to how we’re
partnering with other location technology partners, like as you see
here in the booth, Versys, with their patient tracking application, and
MultiSpectral, with their ultra‑wideband solution.

Matthew:
Very interesting. And so, where does‑ help me out with all the
confusion here, are they making different pieces that can all be
integrated in a solution, or are they really just competitors?

Ken:
They fall into the competitor category today, and one of the primary
differentiators between Pango and those other companies is the platform
layer that we bring to market.

Matthew:  Oh, that makes more sense. So what should I know about RFID tracking and location tracking that I should have known?

Ken:
Well, I think we’ve covered most of it. The tag is certainly an
important part as well, and Pango recently launched to the market our
V3 tag, which has a new form factor, we’ve extended the battery life
significantly, and we’re really excited about bringing this to active
market.

Matthew:
And we’ve heard, I believe it wasn’t your technology, but there’s been
quite a discussion from the folks at Christiana Care about the success
they’ve had with their emergency department using people‑tracking, as
opposed to asset tracking. Clearly, this has predominantly been sold as
an asset tracking technology; do you get the sense that you’re going to
flip over to do more people‑tracking than asset tracking? Where are you
in that whole space?

Ken:
Sure, so there are certainly many uses for people‑tracking, and staff
tracking, and it comes down again to the use cases, what you’re trying
to solve in terms of your business processes.

Matthew:
But when you go to a customer, obviously it’s not about all of the
things they can do with this, are they asking more about the staff
tracking, or tracking the assets? Which do you sense is the predominant
reason for getting these asset tracking tags?

Ken:
Sure, so today the driving force is asset tracking, what I mean by
that is equipment. So that’s been where Pango has been focusing
primarily over the last couple years. But patient tracking and staff
tracking is absolutely a growing market, and it comes down to
supporting those use cases, with the right tag, the right tag form
factor, and the ability to provide the right amount and right type of
location data for those applications, and that’s one of the reasons we
have partnered with Versyss. They are another application patient/staff
tracking company. They bring a lot of smarts to the game to solve those
problems for customers. But again, when we walk in the door, I think
one of the primary things we’re trying to solve is asset and equipment
tracking, and that’s what’s kind of driving the market today.

Matthew:
So, that’s great, tell me a little bit more about Pango, for those of
you who don’t know about the company, how did you get started? How big
are you? How much money did you raise? How rich are you all going to be?

Ken:
Sure, so Pango has been around since 2000, the company was founded in
the Pittsburg area, moved to Framingham, Massachusetts a few years ago,
really started to focus on the platform layer of our technology
solution, we completed a round of financing about a year and a half ago‑

Matthew:  How much was that?

Ken:  I believe around $15 million.

Matthew:  Of which you took about half.  OK, maybe not. [laugh] So where are you on the path to cash and profitability?

Ken:
Pango is a private company, so I can’t divulge, but we’re operating
off of a very strong business plan, and we feel we’re a very strong
competitor today.

Matthew:
That’s right. That was Ken Lynch, of Pango, describing to us the wacky
world of enterprise asset tracking. So as I’ve been mentioning on the
blog quite a big, this is a new market that’s going to be very
important in hospitals and possibly in the rest of the world as well,
coming up. So Ken, thank you very much for your time.

Ken:  Thank you very much.

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