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SaaS Product Launch Week, Community Development, IIoT Conversations in Industrial Automation, and Training for Results

Kerno is launching this week to the masses, We're looking at various community options on SolisPLC, We've had great conversation around IIoT this month on the Manufacturing Hub, and I'm finally recovered from my flu, but still experiencing joint pain while lifting

This week has been incredibly interesting across all fronts!

Kerno Product Launch

As I mentioned in a previous publication, I’ve been working on Kerno for over 2 years now. Although we had originally started working in the cybersecurity vertical, we had pivoted to DevOps / Observability quite early on and have been in the process of building out a product for a while now. In 2013, we had officially received funding and hired multiple members to help us build out the vision.

This week, we’re planning to release an MVP (minimum variable product) of our software. I’ll share the plan below, but first, let me share some behind the scenes screenshots of the product. There haven’t been released to the public, so keep in mind the exclusivity!

Kerno - The developer production reliability platform | Home Page

Kerno - The developer production reliability platform | Issues Page

Kerno - The developer production reliability platform | Service Mesh

Kerno is deployed in seconds and automatically instruments all services within a Kubernetes cluster. Furthermore, we’ve added an integration into GitHub which allows us to not only surface issues within the cluster, but to pinpoint their origins and who is responsible for the code that led to their occurrence.

It’s important to note that we’re still testing a variety of data feeds and are figuring out how to best display the data we’re collecting from the cluster. The goal is to present the information developers need and none that they don’t. In other words, we’re figuring out which triggers and filters are best applied to the massive data streams we’re collecting at the node level of a cluster.

Kerno Product Launch Plan

Technical products are in continuous development. A launch is nothing more than a celebration of a significant release or milestone. That being said, the launch we’re going through in the following week will hopefully set a precedent of excessive excitement from the community, allow us to find early adopters, and lead to fruitful conversations with those who need our solution.

With those ambitious goals in mind, what’s our plan to launch the product?

Releasing Product on Product Hunt

If you’re not familiar with producthunt.com, it’s a website where a variety of technical products are launched and listed. Product Hunt drives traffic to various products that seem interesting and, based on users upvoting, will push them up, or down (if downvoted). In short, the goal for us is to create a listing and to generate some interest in the community. If the launch on Product Hunt is successful, we expect to get some eyeballs on our solution through the website and their newsletter (if we’re a top product for that day).

Releasing Product on Hacker News

Hacker News is a community that was created by Y Combinator. The idea is similar to the one of Product Hunt - users can submit interesting projects and community members are able to cast a vote (up or down) which leads to rankings of the product to go up or down. The algorithm is tuned to filter out any products that “cheat the system” - it’s extremely difficult to game. The goal is to create a good submission that users want to naturally upvote.

Releasing a Fully Stable Version of Kerno

It’s important to remember that Kerno is a highly technical product that needs to solve an actual problem for developers. Our technical team has been working hard to release the best possible version in the upcoming week. We have a set of screenshots and posts to release to the community. We will be releasing them everywhere - LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are the main platforms while Reddit, Hacker Noon, and a few others are secondary.

Amplifying the Product Launch

As mentioned above, our goal is to push hard on getting the product into as many hands as we can. We’re going to launch on various platforms and spend the time to engage with users and potential users on each one. We’ve compiled a list of posts we will be releasing and have systems in place to notify the team to help amplify our reach. We will be re-sharing, liking, and commenting on various posts as they release on every platform.

SolisPLC Community

SolisPLC has continued to grow over the years. We’ve released numerous tutorials, courses, and other materials to help industrial automation professionals learn different platforms. One aspect that has always been lacking is the community. We’ve spent a lot of time looking over various platforms early on - forums, Discord, Facebook groups, etc. We’ve also reviewed the technologies available under each type of platform. I’ve used platform for many years and am a member of different communities. I believe that forums have their place, but new software has made it easier to build communities that are a blend of forums and social media.

In the early days of SolisPLC, we settled on an open source software called Discourse. This forum solution was better than others on the market - easy to setup, low maintenance, tons of gamification, a lot of features we wanted (user ranks, messaging, etc.) It also integrated into the backend we had chosen for our courses - Teachable.

Community Management for Small Business

The challenging aspect of getting people together isn’t always the technology. Over the years, we’ve realized how difficult it is to engage people around a common topic, and to keep them around. The reality is that we’re all extremely busy, we have different goals, and we stay around the “unknown” only as long as it benefits us. In other words, as long as the community is capable of providing value to an individual, they’ll stick around. How do you provide value through a forum? The first step is obviously to answer the questions that come up. That simply isn’t enough. I’ve personally burnt out answering questions I didn’t know the answers to. The fact of the matter is that you can’t expect a single person to uplift an entire community of highly technical individuals. This is where our community started to break down - those who needed answers wouldn’t stick around to help others. As I mentioned above, people are typically there to “extract” value; only a few stick around to “provide” value. Remember that there’s no real incentive to answer questions on a particular forum or group other than perhaps the recognition from peers.

So how do we overcome this challenge?

The only answer is “critical mass.” If we can get to a certain number of people who are interested in signing up, we should expect that some of them will inevitably take the time to respond to the questions and start building up the community beyond what it is. In other words, there will be value in being a member, which comes from other members and not just the founders.

Community Thoughts on SolisPLC

Over the weekend, I’ve spent some time tinkering with Discourse. I’ve also researched better options for community engagement, such as Discord, Circle, Mighty Networks, and a few others. At this time, I believe that Circle is a very interesting option for what I have in mind. I want people to be able to create an account and interact between themselves, I want us to be able to create different sections, to schedule and post regular live sessions, to post smaller courses, etc.

Although the forum we’ve had up for a while hasn’t been extremely popular, we did have it tied to the posts on the website and people did submit some questions. At this time, it would be impossible for us to migrate all of that content to any other medium. We’re thinking that the solution would be to start with a clean sleight - remove the forum and replace with the community software of choice.

I believe that Circle is currently the top contender for the reasons listed above. I’ll do some more due diligence and see how easy it would be to deploy. If it’s simple enough and we can get a good price for the community, we’re going to trial it toward Q4 2024. My biggest concern is that early on, we’ll have a lot of administrative tasks to take care of, and we’ll need to build up the community from the ground up. In other words, it will take a lot of time and energy to get it going.

Hiring Technical Writers & Content Creators

In the previous issue (Building Inbound Marketing Pipelines, Hiring Technical Content Creators & Building Relationships in Industrial Automation), I’ve talked extensively about how difficult it has been for us to find technical writers and course creators in the industrial automation niche. I’ve been debating what it would take to find people that can meet our standards beyond what we pay them. At the current stage of SolisPLC, I don’t believe that it would make sense for us to hire someone full time. However, it’s difficult to retain contractors who are able to deliver on a specific cadence that is regular “enough.”

This week, I will be reviewing a long course we’re getting put together by an industry educator on Connected Components Workbench (CCW). I am extremely impressed by this individual, his ability to convey information, and his ability to edit the videos to our standards.

This week’s SolisPLC Tutorials

IIoT Conversations on Manufacturing Hub

This week, we didn’t manage to secure a guest for the podcast. In case you’ve never run your own, it is incredibly difficult to find, schedule, and manage a weekly podcast schedule. With that in mind, Dave and I have been able to secure guests most weeks of the year. Those who are serious about industrial automation have been very excited to spend an hour talking to us about their background, their business / venture, and of course, various concepts in the industry. That being said, this month, we’re talking about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

At SolisPLC, we’ve put multiple tutorials on IIoT - What is IIoT and How it Works , IIoT Devices, IIoT Applications, IIoT Software, IIoT Sensors.

My understanding of what IIoT is is different from what Dave described in our conversation. In the last few years, we’ve noticed the emergence of multiple platforms labeled as IIoT - in Dave’s eyes, an IIoT platform is one that allows the end-user to easily collect, process and display manufacturing data. These platform are available from many vendors in our industry - Siemens, Phoenix contact, Banner Engineers, and many more.

My definition of IIoT is different. Having worked extensively on data deployments for Kraft Heinz, Post Holdings, and Procter and Gamble, my view of IIoT is that of a data-enabled infrastructure. In other words, IIoT is the architecture that combines sensors, field devices, hubs, PLCs, edge-devices, servers, and networks that are capable of collecting, storing, and processing information. IIoT isn’t digital transformation, which is the action of going from a manual process to a digital one. IIoT isn’t Industry 4.0, which is the revolution we’re seeing in manufacturing, which is transitioning end-users from automation to a focus on data-driven decision-making.

The obvious question is thus as follows - what is and isn’t IIoT? Which protocols are relevant to IIoT?

IIoT Devices

The current “non-IIoT” infrastructure of a typical manufacturing facility will tie sensors back to the PLC, which will process those signals and actuate outputs. Although it’s possible to store data using a PLC, it’s not their primary function - most facilities aren’t going to have a database tied to a PLC that’s running a machine.

My definition of an IIoT architecture is one that can tie the data coming out of the field devices into a location to store that data. In other words, if you’re using an old sensor that isn’t connected to the network, the only way to make it compatible with IIoT is through the use of an intermediary device. In my mind, there are many ways to skin a cat - it’s possible to use a hub, a converter (RS232 - EtherNet), a PLC, an IPC, a DCS, etc. At the end of the day, this field device becomes IIoT capable.

IIoT Protocols

If you’ve spent any time on LinkedIn within the industrial automation space, you’ve most likely read about the ongoing debate around various protocols - OPC, MQTT, EtherNet, Profinet, etc. I don’t believe that none of these protocols are critical in most data applications. It’s possible to extract data at scale for most applications using either one and achieve very similar results and add more than enough value to the end-users. So what’s the deal with all these debates? In certain edge cases, protocols make it easier for the integrator to deploy. However, I’d argue it’s for different reasons than those presented by many of those debating the subject.

So, which protocols matter?

The short answer is all of them. As a competent systems integrator you should be comfortable understanding and utilizing all of the industrial automation protocols and using them based on the end-user needs. Is there an argument to be made that one protocol is “more lightweight” or “scalable” than another? - Sure, but in most instances, there are trade-offs.

Personal Life w/ Vlad

I was fairly sick last week. It’s time to get back to the grind on multiple fronts. This week, I went back to the gym for 2 sessions. Having taken a nearly 3-week break, the loss in strength has been noticeable. My goal for the end of this year is to bench press two plates (45 + 45 + 45 + 45 + 45 = 225lbs or 102.058kgs) I’ve had a long-lasting elbow / shoulder injury which made me switch the workout from a flat bench press to an incline dumbbell focus. Upon extensive research, I’ve found that those exercises are better for pain and force stabilization of muscles that support joints.