Pushing a 95-year-old manufacturing company forward with IoT connectivity and more

In 2002, Dickson became Table XI’s first client: In the 15 years since, we’ve given the Dickson team insight into their data, leveraged IoT to connect their hardware to the internet and served as their technology partner and sounding board. By bringing them new technologies that are best for their business, we’ve been able to help family-owned Dickson — which has been manufacturing atmospheric monitors used in warehouses, labs and the like for 95 years — stay ahead of competitors and grow the business.

“Table XI has really helped Dickson transition from a manufacturing company to a technology company.”

Matt McNamara, SaaS and hardware product manager at Dickson

Serving as a true technology partner

The best way to be a partner is to ask questions and check assumptions. With Dickson, we have a decade and a half of trust to draw on, and that allows us to push back on ideas. We’re very careful to always ask them the same set of questions about each new feature: “Can you sell this? What are people asking for? How much money will this feature net you?” We want to make sure everything we’re doing for them provides real value, and those questions help us hone in on which features we should fast track and which we should table.

With Dickson, we really aim to be a sounding board. While most of our work centers on two projects — Dickson Data, an ecommerce site, and DicksonOne, a suite of IoT-connected sensors and the platform and app for managing them — we advise on a lot of Dickson’s technology. We’ve helped them develop a system to facilitate customers sending in sensors for recalibration, we’ve helped them gather data on their catalog and we’ve generally been available to answer any questions that come up. We’ve even invited Dickson employees into our Slack chats. It’s been great for sharing quick information and staying aware of what everyone’s working on.

“The opportunity cost associated with finding, hiring and managing the kind of talent Table XI possesses would be insurmountable. Instead, at a fraction of the cost, Table XI’s talent becomes an extension of our team, allowing us to focus on our customers and their compliance needs.”

Matt McNamara, SaaS and hardware product manager at Dickson

Building Dickson a custom e-commerce platform and CMS

Dickson Data, Dickson’s e-commerce website, was initially what brought Dickson to Table XI. Back in 2002, Google Analytics didn’t exist, and the Dickson team wanted to understand how to better engage their customers and increase sales. We built a way to measure website performance, identified a number of issues in the site workflows and messaging, and helped improve Dickson’s conversion funnels.

We’ve since done two total redesigns of Dickson Data. We kicked the latest redesign off at the start of 2016, then continued iterating on it throughout the year. The biggest change was giving the Dickson team a content management system — based on the custom CMS we built for Chicago Ideas — that allows them to easily update the new website. It also integrates with Dickson’s custom product database, so the team can keep everything on the site up-to-date.

“The look, feel and intuitiveness of our digital properties is key in establishing the Dickson brand as a leader.”

Chris Sorenson, VP of Sales and Marketing at Dickson

Adding IoT connectivity to deliver DicksonOne

Back in 2009, Dickson began looking for a new way to store and transmit the data collected from its atmospheric sensors. At the time, users who wanted to read the data had to either walk up and look at the screen, pull the instrument off the wall and plug it into a computer or extract a flash drive with stored data.

To simplify access, Dickson was looking into developing instruments that leveraged radio signals in the way cordless telephones of 1990s did, complete with a base station. When we found out that their team was putting a lot of research and development time toward building out that proprietary tech, we immediately suggested they look into wireless technology instead.

At the time, the Internet of Things was more of an idea than a reality, and IoT definitely wasn’t a popular term. We could tell that wireless technology like Wi-Fi and cellular 3G and LTE were becoming ubiquitous though. WiFi connectivity in particular would save Dickson a lot of time and money versus developing a proprietary solution. By leveraging established standards, Dickson could spend its R&D cycles improving the instruments they’re known for, instead of building a new pipe for data transmission and integration. IoT connectivity also delivered a more attractive user experience. With it, customers could access their data anytime, anywhere because the data — stored securely in the cloud — could be accessed by a web browser or mobile app.

“Table XI is always pushing us forward on technology. They’re also willing to push back on us if we're not thinking something through. We appreciate that.”

Matt McNamara, SaaS and hardware product manager at Dickson

In 2009, we had already been working with Dickson for seven years, but our expertise was only proven on the website, not the hardware. To ensure our IoT connectivity solutions could work, we built a proof of concept with Arduino and hooked it up to a temperature sensor. The prototype showed how data could be transmitted to the cloud and displayed to the user. Showing why IoT was a better solution, instead of just telling, helped us get Dickson’s stakeholders on board. Over time, the product line became DicksonOne, the company’s most important strategic initiative in decades.

Building out mobile applications for an IoT product line

Today, connected devices are table stakes for Dickson’s market, a standard we helped set. The IoT wireless network connectivity we built into DicksonOne has allowed us to roll out a string of new features — like alerting customers when atmospheric conditions change — that are only possible on IoT projects.

To truly give users access to their data anywhere, we made IoT app development an early part of the DicksonOne project, initially building an iOS mobile app. We’ve since built a new cross-platform version of the app in React Native, launching it first in Android, and rolling it out to iOS this year.

dickson-mobiledickson-mobile

Betting on mobile and IoT development and cloud technology has paid off for Dickson. Over time, the entire industry has moved in that direction. And instead of playing catch-up, we helped Dickson lead the charge back in 2009, beating competitors to market.

“Table XI created the technology behind our flagship product. It's the backbone of what we'll move forward with. In pure dollars, over the past 15 years we’ve recouped our costs five-fold. The ROI is there.”

Matt McNamara, SaaS and hardware product manager at Dickson

Using data and design to continuously improve the product

DicksonOne’s internet connectivity has given the team new insight into how the sensors are being used. We built a dashboard that shows Dickson what the devices are doing in real time. They can use that data to improve the hardware, and we can draw from that data as we plan out new features for DicksonOne. Each year we spend some time in Q4 to map out a development schedule for the next year, planning out the features users are requesting and Dickson can sell. The newest feature we’re working on involves mapping temperature from all the sensors in a location, so users can get a sense of the atmospheric conditions across an entire warehouse or lab.

It’s been great to watch Dickson grow over the past 15 years, but we don’t often think about how much the Dickson team has watched Table XI grow as well. We’ve gone from being a small development shop to a full-service UX design and custom software company in the time we’ve worked with Dickson. As we’ve grown, we’ve been able to bring new areas of expertise to Dickson’s products. Each time, they’ve welcomed the advice with open arms, because they know that we’re only bringing them things that will help their business.

This year we’re kicking off a full UX design process for DicksonOne. Over the years we’ve tackled UX piecemeal, but the new design services our expanded UX team offers give us an opportunity to reimagine the platform. Collecting those insights and putting them into practice will let us do even more to grow Dickson’s business.

“What differentiates Table XI from anybody else is a deeper understanding of the entire business ... Table XI just greatly expands the collective intelligence of Dickson.”

Chris Sorenson, VP of Sales and Marketing for Dickson

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