By Bill Kratzer, CTO of BioHitech America…
Frank E. Celli is not your typical technology CEO. Frank, a lifelong waste industry veteran once responsible for all aspects of the business including collection, recycling, and landfills saw an opportunity to leverage his knowledge and transform the organic waste industry.
His due diligence led him to the Eco-Safe Digester, a large stainless steel machine that promised to eat large volumes of organic waste in very little time. Originally, the machine seemed ideal for applications that created large amounts of food waste daily, such as grocery stores and cafeterias. The digester uses oxygen and organic microorganisms to literally digest organic waste. Because the machine is installed at the point of generation of the waste it eliminates the need to haul the waste away and diverts it from its traditional resting place, the landfill. The only by-product is nutrient-neutral water that can be safely flushed down the sewer drain.
Over the last eight years, the digester has been refined, improved upon and firmly entrenched in a variety of markets across the United States and overseas. Small and large generators of food waste are now using the technology not only to improve their carbon footprint but also to save money. “The digester has afforded our customers with a more efficient, less complicated and financially viable waste disposal solution,” states Frank E. Celli. “As diversion goals are developed and more laws and regulations are passed, the Eco-Safe Digester will become an even more attractive piece to the sustainability puzzle.”
The digester’s story, however, changed in 2013 when a mutual business acquaintance introduced Frank to Bob Joyce. Bob, at that time, was the president of a Pennsylvania-based company that specialized in data center hardware, operations, and software development. The two quickly saw an opportunity to integrate their two worlds, one firmly entrenched in food, waste, and industrial equipment and the other involved in servers, storage, networking, and data. Utilizing technology to collect waste data from the source has the potential to reshape the waste process entirely.
The fact that BioHitech America had no existing computing infrastructure was not a problem. Like many new technology start-ups, the company was instantly able to spin-up a virtual data center, using nothing more than a corporate credit card. Within hours, the company went from having no data center footprint to having nearly 20 virtual machines running in multiple regions in the United States.
The transition was fast and dramatic. The company quickly transformed itself from selling an alternative waste disposal machine to selling a preventative waste disposal solution. The solution welcomed the addition of Big Data and the Internet of Things providing customers with a tool to do more than dispose of the waste it more importantly teaches them how to prevent it.
Customers can now harness the data from the cloud to track and monitor utilization, report on cost savings, and benchmark diversion goals. A food waste prevention solution that tracks progress and measures impact is good for businesses, communities and the environment.
By the end of 2014, the company had captured billions of pieces of data about the machines and provided its customers with detailed reports to help them prevent food waste before it starts.
Unraveling the mountain of data also highlighted an interesting trend: variations in utilization of the digester often correlated to management problems. “Data has a unique way of uncovering management problems inside an organization. If an employee is not using a piece of technology appropriately, there are likely other instances the employee is not doing other things appropriately” says Celli.
The digester once considered a “back of the house” solution is now getting the attention of the front office. BioHitech’s conversations used to be limited to the person in charge of waste. Now we are talking to the CEO, COO, or CMO.
“Culturally, we needed to think ‘Cloud’ in everything we do, and not just our own product. As a modern technology company, we had to introduce the value of cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service in everything we do.” says Bill Kratzer, Chief Technology Officer. “Our cloud direction was such a fundamental focus for us. I needed everyone in the company to ‘get it’. We went all in,” says Celli.
Frank placed a bet, and moved his own company into the modern 21st century. Now he’s betting that by combining two unlikely industries he can force change within an industry that is in need of change.