Alex Bates, Senior Director of Software Development, Aspen Technology
Former CTO of Mtell, Mtell was aquired by Aspen Technology
Alex brings a unique perspective to Mtell at the intersection of diagnostics, machine learning, and the IoT. He pursued his interest in adaptive learning systems as an undergraduate, performing DARPA-funded research in neural networks, vision, and biomedical diagnostics, authoring several peer-reviewed publications. In 2000 he jumped into the private sector, applying analytics on some of the world’s largest data warehouses at Teradata, a pioneer in parallel database technology.
In 2006 Alex co-founded Mtelligence (now Mtell) to harness the deluge of sensor data in the industrial IoT, with a mission to create a world that doesn’t break down. Mtell’s machine learning platform is used to monitor global fleets of offshore drilling rigs, railroad engines, and process equipment, in effect creating a distributed immune system to protect equipment and personnel. A principal architect of the system, Alex is lead inventor on several patents in the area of sensor networks and machine learning. Mtell was acquired in 2016 by AspenTech, the global leader in process optimization software.
Alex enjoys sharing experiences with current and future entrepreneurs and technologists, and participates in mentoring through Entrepreneur Organization (EO), Startup Leadership Program, and other organizations. Alex received degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science with a concentration in neuroscience.
When you were a kid what did you want to grow up to be?
When I was around 7, I was 100% sure I wanted to be a ninja. I grew up in a lot of different places, Portland, Oakland, LA, NYC, Madison. Dad was a journalist, and would move the family around.
Are you leveraging the cloud?
There is a cloud initiative, and various products have a certain degree of cloud enablement and it’s certainly a priority to support that. We will need to support a hybrid model, before the recent merger with Aspen we used Amazon Web Services, most of our cloud use was for pilots and proof of concepts and our big customers like Exxon Mobil would use big data centers, in the Industrial realm, more adoption of small to medium sized companies, enterprises are guarded. They can afford it but the attitude has kind of been, it’s safe, but is it safe.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, what 3 things would you bring and why?
Water purifier, solar producing unit, and my laptop. The boring answer. I figure I could scrounge and produce food, maybe a fish hook, I could probably make one. I’ve seen enough reality shows, I’m an engineer so I could figure out how to make shelter. The non-boring answer would be a boat and water toys.
Do you feel IT still carries the title of a cost center rather than revenue driver? Do you see a shift as IT being a revenue driver?
For us, it’s a little bit more of an enabler, especially with cloud computing and DevOps. With DevOps there’s more support of software, so that has shifted from just IT staff, it’s now intersected with engineering.
Big data analytics? How do you leverage that?
Some customers are more paranoid about hoarding their own data and others are more open to sharing it because they get greater benefits. We want anywhere from a couple months to a year, industrial plants, you are going to want to know seasonal variables. You don’t need all 4 seasons but the more the better. We learn failure patterns, we can collect them across customers, so we don’t need every customer to have those.
What superpower do you want most?
I’ve always been interested in AI, a superhuman intelligence. Ideally one that could expand without limits, a greater capacity beyond the brain.
When you think about delivering the best solution to your customers, what does that mean to you?
For us, our customers, we travel out and get a whole new appreciation for the challenges they face. You can meet them on a drilling rig, you get a whole new appreciation for what they face. That movie Deepwater Horizon that is out, their lives are on the line, head people are responsible for many lives, for us, our software is supposed to help reduce risks and predict catastrophic incidents. For us to deliver value, we have to have state of the art monitoring capabilities, and integrate with their work progress so things don’t slip through the cracks, so we have to deliver value for improving equipment, those are some of our metrics.
Are there hiring challenges based in the great economic we’re currently facing today?
The A+ players are always highly sought after, companies go after high caliber individuals. Some people have this perception that great candidates they graduate and go to the Bay Area, there might be some truth to that but we are developing that locally. We are also hiring in Boston. We hire data scientists which is highly sought after, we compete with Amazon, IBM, always competing for talent.
Has the idea of using cloud changed your mindset of using outsourced/Managed Services?
Offloading a lot of the IT Support, I think that everyone is warming up to the idea in the industrial realm. Especially on the S-M size, no one can support that. For big data, the costs are still a little bit high, to truly host that in the public cloud. Some of the technologies are sort of abstract. The best scenario would be to use public cloud for elastic computing, scale it back down, figure out how to transfer the data. But I definitely think it’s the wave of the future.
What does IOT mean to you?
That is the core of our business. Industrial IOT is what we offer. Our customers have lots of distributed assets that produce products or transform raw materials, we have all these connected devices, there are a lot of enabling factors, sensors and storing big data. Certainly it’s fundamental on an industrial level.