By Daniel O’Brien, Content Manager & Communications Advisor
The Business of Mobility is a series of articles featuring business leaders in sustainable mobility.
Q&A with Ben Volkow, CEO and Co-Founder of Otonomo, a world-leading data platform powering the Mobility Economy.
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Founded in Tel Aviv in 2015, Otonomo’s platform has the ability to ingest billions of data points daily from up to 50 million vehicles and millions of smartphone devices. This data is enriched and made available for a host of use cases, including fleet management, predictive maintenance, subscription-based services, connected insurance and urban planning solutions.
Daniel: We all know that data and cloud have become massive stories, but what made you decide to apply this specifically to mobility?
Ben: As they say, “If you build it, they will come.” When we started the business, it was clear that mobility was going through a major change. In the past, carmakers were only in the business of bending metal. Today, they provide energy, finance, and even insurance. These days, everyone wants to do everything.
When I came up with the vision for Otonomo in late 2015, I believed the changes that happened in other industries—where data became a major enabler—would also happen in mobility. For me, it was obvious: Technology would need to adapt to enable the future of new emerging use cases with increasing levels of complexity. Now, a few years down the road, it’s rewarding to see this vision is not only becoming a reality, but becoming a must-have to enable the future of mobility.
Daniel: But you got in early, in terms of working with OEMs to give you access to vehicle data.
Ben: Yes, it was a joint learning experience for us and the OEMs. We all understood that data would be key for the future. Today, our platform is unique when it comes to connected vehicle data since we have more than two dozen partner agreements with leading global car manufacturers
Daniel: But private vehicles are only one aspect of the mobility ecosystem.
Ben: Precisely. It’s important to have a full spectrum of the “mobility players” since mobility covers almost every part of our life; in fact, it accounts for 9% of the global GDP. That’s why we are continually seeking out and adding additional data sources to our platform. Today, that accounts for via fleet services, insurance services, smart cities improvement, safety services, advanced navigation and other mobility ecosystem participants. It’s exciting to make such an impact in a way that touches and delivers value to almost every person on the planet.
Daniel: That’s a lot of data from a lot of different sources. How do you deal with the complexity of the diverse telematics systems from different carmakers?
Ben: There are a number of challenges to analysing mobility data and delivering business value. First of all, there are no standardised protocols —we are aware of about 70 different formats coming from automakers. Then there are different privacy requirements based on location, but also the different internal regulations of every data provider. Then you need to extract the value out of the data, which requires intimate mobility and automotive understanding, and we haven’t even touched the vast amounts of work data requires.
There is a reason we have been working on this for more than 6 years and still have a lot of ground-breaking features to look forward to on the road map, with more than 40 patent applications driving these innovations.
Daniel: So, what is the process required to extract value from the data?
Ben: It’s essentially like crude oil; you need to extract it, refine it, store it, ship it, distribute it. Data requires a lot of work before you get the value provided to the ecosystem. Just a few examples include data normalisation, data sanity, privacy consent, data aggregation, data anonymization, insight extraction, API distribution. And I’m trying to keep the list short.
Daniel: But you don’t just process data for customers, you also provide tools?
Ben: Yes, we provide either normalised data or the needed insights. For example, we provide insurance vendors with driver scoring based on data or maintenance notifications and alerts to fleet managers, trip and usage predictions to smart cities, or even acceleration and danger zones analyses to transportation agencies. We view our role as providing the maximum value to our ecosystem, and our expertise and knowledge of data enable us to really go deep.
Daniel: Speaking of insurance, in February 2022, you paid $69 million for The Floow, why acquire a connected insurance telematics company?
Ben: I fell in love with this amazing company because they had 18 insurance vendors as customers—some of the leading vendors out there and the kicker is they had no marketing budget. The Floow serves leading insurers with predictive analytics and mobile experiences, using advanced telematics systems. One of the primary reasons for the acquisition was because insurance companies need the ability to do more than ingest large volumes of mobility data; they need to be able to understand and use that data to drive value.
The insurance market is moving from innovation and theory to commercial applications, and Otonomo is taking great care to support this transition as connected insurance offerings go mainstream.
But let’s be clear, we are not an insurance company; we offer software-as-a-service (SaaS) and AI tools to insurance companies.
Daniel: Besides insurance, another growing market for you is fleet management.
Ben: Fleet management is an area where we’ve seen a sharp increase in demand. McKinsey recently published a paper reporting that vehicles under fleet management globally will double by 2050. Fleet management is an area that we are helping customers shift from a hardware-centric market to a software-defined game.
Daniel: Some established telematics companies might bristle at that.
Ben: Everyone in the fleet management industry knows that the future is SaaS. But it’s hard for established companies to realign their internal processes and their business incentives. Our huge advantage is being able to tell a fleet manager they don’t have to worry about installation; they can get their fleet connected with the press of a button on the keyboard in seconds, with no upfront costs and immediate savings.
Daniel: Where do you see the future in this industry?
Ben: Almost every new vehicle out of the dealership these days comes connected with a modem and SIM. Vehicles have become moving sensors on wheels, gathering and sending hundreds of parameters a minute. When we started, we received only a handful of data parameters from the vehicle. Now, we get hundreds of parameters a second. The software opportunities are endless; and those who can differentiate themselves by developing useful software solutions powered by that data will stand out.
As the Mobility Economy takes flight and everything and everyone becomes connected, trust in the brand will count for everything. Successful data companies like ours have a duty of privacy and responsibility, and a duty to improve the industries we serve.