Q&A With C3 IoT's Tom Siebel

Six months ago, C3 Energy, the IoT platform provider that enterprise software pioneer Tom Siebel launched in 2009, broadened its focus beyond the energy market. IOT Journal spoke with him about the transition and why he thinks every system—even the human body—is becoming part of the Internet of Things.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 16, 2016

Silicon Valley stalwart Tom Siebel has spent four decades developing enterprise software, beginning as an early executive at Oracle and later founding CRM software company Siebel Systems, which Oracle acquired in 2006. In 2009, he launched C3 Energy in order to help utility companies and grid operators better manage data and systems as they transition to smart grid technology. As such, C3 Energy was an Internet of Things company before such a term was in wide use.

Earlier this year, with nearly two dozen clients under its belt, C3 Energy relaunched itself as C3 IoT. While its core software platform remains largely the same, C3 IoT has a much wider purview, serving oil and gas, manufacturing, transportation, financial services and other industries.

Tom Siebel
IOT Journal spoke with Siebel about his company, how the IoT is evolving across all value chains and why heart attacks are really just another problem that can be solved with predictive maintenance.

IOT Journal: Earlier this year, C3 Energy became C3 IoT, in a bid to expand into new industries. Can you explain why you decided to broaden your scope?

Tom Siebel: From 2006 to 2008, I spent a lot of time thinking about energy, mostly from a philanthropic perspective. In 2006, there was a lot of discussion about peak oil, suggesting that our energy reserves would be rapidly depleted. [When starting C3 Energy in 2009,] we took a close look at the value chain associated with energy. The electrical grid is a very large, complex machine—perhaps the most complex machine ever built. And it is going through an upgrade—all of the devices in the grid's value chain are becoming sensors so that they are remotely machine-addressable.

We spent seven years developing the C3 Energy platform; we spent a couple hundred million dollars building a platform to allow grid operators to build large-scale IoT applications for the smart grid. What has already been spent on the grid's value chain, this decade, is around $2 trillion, and it's one of the first value chains to be sensored. But all value chains are being sensored—health care, automotive, home, retail. The sensors are going everywhere.

What we've built is a general-purpose platform that can be applied to any value chain. So now [after re-positioning from C3 Energy to C3 IoT], we're using our platform to build predictive maintenance applications for APU [auxiliary power units] for Boeing 787s, for example. We're using it to build the next generation of CRM applications for cell phone manufacturers. One of the killer apps of IoT is predictive maintenance—even in health care, because if you're able to tell someone they're going to have a heart attack, then that is predictive maintenance.

You can think about C3 as a development environment for organizations to build applications, most frequently on Amazon Cloud, but it works on other clouds. It allows them to aggregate the data from the value chain, and then design, develop, provision and deploy very large-scale IoT applications that might have petabyte-size data sets and giga-scale sensor networks, which need to process millions of transactions a second. Take, for example fraud detection.

That is not unique to utilities—it applies to health care, telecommunications and other industries... Predictive maintenance applies to pretty much everything, whether it's tractors or aircraft or the human body. Our software enables companies to take these [sensor] devices that are out there and do something useful with the information.

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