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TechVibe Talks to SDLC Partners, ThoughtForm and Optimus Technologies

Interview by Audrey Russo and Jonathan Kersting


TechVibe Radio is back on air at ESPN 970 AM every Saturday at 8:00 a.m. from the Huntington Bank Studio.



Discover how SDLC Partners has formed a strategic partnership with ThoughtForm. Together, the Pittsburgh-based firms offer a new and powerful approach to executing and delivering innovation through digital products, services and experiences.

We're catching up with Optimus Technologies for the latest on its drive to convert work truck fleets to seamlessly run on nearly emission-free bio-diesel with its Vector System.


One of the absolute best things Audrey about doing Techvibe Radio is we get to hang out with our friends. Oh, yeah, it's we have some great friends. And today is definitely no exception. So I'm really excited to jump in on them. Are you going to do that? The Honors,

I think so because first off, no stranger to TechVibe Radio SDLC Partners, they've been hanging out with us for years. They keep growing, innovating hiring tons of people, it always blows my mind. And once again, they're pushing the boundaries by hanging out with thought form, we have Steve Frank from ThoughtForm and Scott Barnyak from SDLC Partmers and Audrey,when I see two cool companies coming together to make an even better service to be more innovative.

Actually, if we just get serious for one moment, is that really be one of the most crucial ways that a region like Pittsburgh can grow. That is really the way when you start knitting together, competencies and adjacencies. And people start to work together. That's actually the fabric of what I like to say is the trampoline. I like this is a great example. This is a great example of that kind of convergence. So bouncing around. I think

we need to do some introductions. And Scott, let's start with you and what SDLC is all about. And then Steve will hop over to you talk about thoughtform then talk about your new collaboration. So let's set the stage and start bouncing on Audrey's trampoline.

Yeah, so you guys are probably obviously heard the story for a while. But we were really focused on that, that whole digital transformation journey, and we've grown up enabling CIOs. But as everybody knows, the world continually shifts and that customer journey, that customer component becomes more and more important to where companies are really going. So it's just not about the technology. And as we've continued to try to grow out UI UX, Human Centered Design capabilities and design thinking, Neil, the getting together with Steven norm and the team at thoughtform just made a lot of sense. So here we are.

Great. Why don't you introduce yourself?

Yeah, sure. Um, for those that don't know me, I'm Steve Frank, I'm a principal with ThoughtfForm. It is a 40 year old strategy and design consultancy. Maybe you don't know that we've been around for quite some time. And we're fortunate to be able to apply, you know, design in the practice of design and design thinking as well as kind of management consulting, as a hybrid approach to helping organizations that are challenged with mission critical transformations. You know, the pandemic specifically has forced a lot of organizations to make shifts and even more larger pivots in our business. And our combination of skills and expertise have been a good fit to help those organizations find their way through that that transformational journey.

And so many people who are listening might not really understand what that means in terms of transformation, and digitization. Right. But it's happening, it's happening, if anyone is working today, anywhere, it's happening, but everyone knows that. So, so talk about what this might mean. So people are listening in there, and they say, Gee, I need to reach out to those guys, because this is what I'm wrestling with. Give it can you either of you give like a little bit of a use case and just talk about why that might might appeal to some of our listeners and why it's so important. Yeah, sure.

Scott, do you want to go first?

Yeah, we actually have one we're working together on right now. So a company that we're talking to needs to redesign their customer service process and the associated technologies, they've continued to grow both organically and through acquisition. Their their business units have unique customer sets, and they're looking to see where there is overlap in customer segmentation and customer preferences, and then also trying to optimize the people who support that. So we've been firm believers that While the customer experience is really important, it the employee experience and matching that is important too. And so when when this opportunity came our way, we immediately said, Hey, this is prime for our, for our collaboration with thoughtform, you're taking some of the tried and true frameworks that we have around business and IT alignment and layering in design, thinking cultural impact, to really have the customer step back, I think, you know, while while it's Pittsburgh Technology Council, and we talk about being in the technology space, the reality is, there's so much technology out there, that you really need to just take a step back, and kind of quiet things down a little bit. And Audrey, I know you know that from your Maya days, like what's really the customer wants, and then we can move really fast. And so Steve and I, we've, as we've been working with our teams, you know, the the old martial arts kind of slow is smooth, smooth is fast, you know, analogy really starts to come in, it's like, let's just slow it down a little bit. And then we can really go fast.

Yeah. And I think just add to that, you know, we find that business model shifts first, and then the technology kind of responds to them. And so you really have to understand what that shifts means to the organization, what it means to the individuals that support that organization, how they can align, you know, to that shift in their workflow process, or an engagement model or a customer support experience. And then work your way forward in terms of making sure the organization is is fit and ready for that shift, can be incremental, or can be disruptive. And then ultimately, to make sure you're controlling the narrative with your customers in the marketplace, and making sure they understand, oh, there's been a shift in the value that they are providing. And I can see how that's been supported through their systems and through their protocols, and ultimately, their experience.

Well, you know, it's interesting, particularly when it comes to customer support, sometimes you just get so immersed in the processes that you forget who the customer is. And, and when you're working in a company, you just, you think you know, but it's always of tremendous value to go back and try to understand that customer, and sometimes you just can't do it by yourself. You need some external viewpoint into that, and sort of shift it. And it's gotta be so hard for companies, because the sense of who their customer was a year ago is very different than that today. And are you seeing that in your examples? I mean, I know you work in healthcare. Scott, I know, Steve, you work across multiple market segments. But have you seen sort of that, like expectation and change? And what customer who the customer is and what they want?

Totally? Yeah, absolutely. I mean, look, we're all consumers in some ways of healthcare. Right. And so our expectations have shifted, our preferences have shifted, how we interact with our physicians and clinicians have shifted, just to use healthcare as a backdrop to that. Absolutely. And now businesses are trying to respond to that. And I think they were trying to respond even before COVID. But COVID has been and I don't think this is any new COVID has been an accelerant almost a catalyst for change. And so how can organizations move with speed? How can they be responsive to those needs? How can I do it authentically and sustainably? Those are big challenges we're definitely seeing and that's, that's across all industries. I think it's good to remind our listeners, we are talking to Scott Barnyak of SDLC Partners and Steve Frank from ThoughtForm, they have joined together to offer services, I don't think you can really find anyplace else in Pittsburgh, what makes your relationship just so unique. So I'm feeling like, this is not something you can just find by walking down the street.

And I think it starts with just the people and the relationship first. And, you know, as we've gotten to know each other over the years, I think culturally, we kind of grew companies in the same kind of vein. And I think that's really the important piece because you know, techniques and capabilities can kind of be layered together. And teams can learn to work together that way. But I think that was really the starting point. And that level of trust that we've built that just kind of kind of cascaded down into our teams. But I do think that because of the pace, we feel like customers are looking for a fresh approach. And and you know, we've always been built on that practical, holistic, but practical way of implementing helping the customer get to their destination and our success is their success. And I know that Steve and Norman the team kind of think the same way. And I think that's really, if we said a little bit of a secret sauce. It's our our willingness to be collaborative with the customer. Help them on their journey, not tell them where they need to go.


We are totally think that we're at our next wave of efficiency. So like, if you look at sort of like, you know, the history of tech and you know, Moore's law and you know, sort of that the change there, I feel like we've rapidly changed, but we're also looking at just an incredible amount of efficiency. Like we've people I've heard crammed a seven year plan into like, a nine month plan. And how are you both reacting to that? And, and, and what do you think about the services that you're offering that can provide that to people? Because I can imagine saying you should call sdlc, or you should call thoughtform, if you're wrestling with this kind of compressed period of time, where everything is shifted. So it's not just happening?

Yeah, no, I'll start maybe Scott can can add on to it. But again, I'll just use COVID as the backdrop. And this is a question out to you. And even the listeners that I have, I have not witnessed the speed of decision making, like we have seen in the last nine to 10 months. And again, when you're in a crisis situation, you have to act with speed. By See that's been that will be continuing moving forward. And the efficiencies you just talked about Adria, you absolutely have to be able to, to graft on to that cadence. And this is where I think design, you know, this is an iterative process can work at speed, as you are also incorporating lots of different disparate information, right, and you have to distill that down into a in a very quick way to a very articulate kind of model that can then be shared, you know, to drive change at speed. So the communication and the design pieces that that we obviously bring to the table are so important to match that that speed and cadence.

Yeah, I think that's well said, Steve, the the idea of adapting very quickly, we don't think is going to go away to your, to your mind, Audrey. And I think the unique challenge, though, is there. Even with the vision or the shift, there's still some foundational things that we see every customer continually trying to get better at too. And so while we might paint a vision, or they may paint a vision and a map to get there, what are the incremental steps to continually rebuild and or enhance the foundation. So we see there's incremental wins, while you're shifting that that perspective of where we're going, who the customer is, what that journey needs to be. But, you know, in the past, where that might be a willingness to say, let's, let's build that out in three years, we'll, we'll figure it out. No, it's six months, let's continue to getting value every every way we go.

So it's like how do you keep your team as nimble as well? and resilient? Because they've got to be pretty high performers to be able to navigate through this? How do you both do that?

Treat them with respect, trust, trust them. Trust them and power them. You know, for us, this is something we've been doing for a while but but again, I think is being you know, tested even more so now is to provide a real sense of autonomy for our staff. Give them the ability and the trust and the room to make decisions as quickly as possible. If we can provide the right vision and the right guidance for them, then they can operate at that speed. And that that kind of level of agility. That's something we've been working on again for a while before COVID. But certainly, it is now truly coming to bear.

Very cool stuff. Obviously, we're just about out of time.

So where should we go? What's the websites that we should go to?

Come to our sdlc You can reach out to Steve right directly on LinkedIn or

That's simple. Yep.

Very cool. I just love the fact you have this great collaboration going on. I just know it's gonna go big business for you guys. big success coming your way I can see it. Two great companies here in Pittsburgh teaming up. Great, great story here. audreys is why we do tech five radio to tell these awesome stories happening right here in Pittsburgh. Keep listening right here to tech vibe radio. We're coming back after this quick break. This is Jonathan Kersting. And this is laundry Russo from the Pittsburgh Technology Council learn more about us by going to PGH and learn all the great ways we can help your company succeed, especially now in 2021.

Today it is and actually I'm super pumped because we have not seen our next guest in a while. And I just hear he's doing he's moving and grooving doing some great work. And we need to get an update from one Colin Hwuyler from Optimus Technologies great stuff going on at home. I'm so excited to talk to you today.

Yeah, happy to have you be here and glad to reconnect.

No, it's great. So let's, so let's give a quick intro. And just give us you know, the quick elevator pitch so people can understand what's going on?

Yeah, so Optimus technologies is based here in Pittsburgh, we build advanced fuel system technology for primarily medium and heavy duty diesel engines. So our technology allows big heavy equipment and trucks to operate on 100% biodiesel, and biodiesel is a carbon neutral fuel. So we're able to take heavy energy consuming vehicles and, and facilitate their transition to carbon neutrality.

And you've been doing this for a while too, which has been so cool. You've had an incredible journey at many different levels. And you are like, how long have actually been working on this for Yeah, so

I started optimist in 2010. And with every, every startup, I think, you know, it's a it's certainly a winding pathway to, to progress. And yeah, we've we've, we've had an interesting journey, we took a few years to do early product development, we got the field, tested the system and brought it back into the you know, brought it back into the lab, so to speak, and, and iterated through some additional development and kind of, you know, spent spent some time doing doing product market fit. And, you know, I've just learned an incredible amount. And really, we launched our commercial product in 2018, and has seen phenomenal interest and significant growth. So what's the name of the Did you name it something?

Yeah, so our fuel system technology, we call it the vector system. We call it the vector system. And one of the cool things about it is it never inhibits the existing engines from from running on traditional diesel fuel. So one of the one of the big challenges in this kind of transition to alternative energy and alternative fuels is making sure that at the end of the day, those engines are able to complete their tasks and do their job. So we basically provide fleets with flexibility to leverage the leverage the new fuels and biodiesel as it as it emerges as a more commercial fuel. But by providing them also a risk mitigation strategy that at the end of the day, if they need to, they can totally just run diesel, going back to pure diesel.

Yeah, it's fully automated. So the system knows the software controls. Yeah, basically, if you don't build a truck with biodiesel, it just runs on diesel. So drivers drivers don't have to do anything. And that was, that was kind of bored. Our our development was an intensive software application that that drivers get in, they drive the truck, whether it's, you know, a delivery truck, or a snowplow or a garbage truck, they don't have to do anything. And that's, you know, that's really key for for user acceptance. And think about these leads that have 1000s of trucks and you know, maybe sometimes multiple drivers per truck. It just it just needs to be something that somebody can get in and drive.

So we're talking to column dealer who has been an entrepreneur started his company 10 years ago, back in Braddock to write that sound crazy. 10 years we've known you crazy.

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Lieutenant Governor Fetterman. Actually, he had had a had a hand in the founding story and right, yeah, it's it's, again, not certainly certainly a winding pathway to where we are But is rumor true that you or your company or an affiliation actually outfitted Willie Nelson's tour bus with a biodiesel setup?

No, no that that would certainly be cool and we've had some inquiries from from musical acts but but have not have not had a project that we've actually launched on that for some reason I thought about that. Remember back in your Bradley's to get mad, or do you think john Fetterman truck with a diesel setup once right? Yeah, yeah. Yeah, a Braddock, a Braddock work truck that worked, Chuck, that's it. It was very cool, man.

Here you are. 10 years later, people want I want people to understand they can go to your website, optimist technology. Right.

Yeah. So optimist tech. teec. No age. And actually, this week, we just launched the new website, lots of betting news of some of the projects, we've been up to information on the product, you know, any new project that you want to talk about?

Well, I'll probably I'll talk maybe the the two most exciting projects, I think that we've gotten the in the pipeline right now. So 2018, we did a pilot project with DC, public works. So Washington DC, we did six garbage trucks for them. The fleet team in DC has been been phenomenal and really incredible. And they are tasked with reducing carbon emissions. They've got they've got an objective, I think it's 80% by by 2050. Our technology allows them to actually hit that goal today. And so we did a pilot project. They purchased some additional units last year. And then we're in process right now we're, we're building, we're building roughly 100 new trucks for them that are actually built with our technology. Day one, when they take delivery, it's combination of snowplows and garbage trucks. But day one, when they take delivery of the of the trucks, you know, they'll they'll have our equipment integrated. So, you know, all their new heavy duty fleet will be operating on 100% biodiesel. And you know, it's fuel that's domestically made, it's again, carbon neutral. And, and it's super cool. You know, these are areas This is equipment, plows and garbage trucks. electrification has has, you know, a lot of promising applications and a lot of, you know, a lot of interesting things that are going on, but, but cloud trucks and garbage trucks and these heavy duty vehicles are, you know, probably a decade if not two away from really being able to electrify so.

You know, your stuff onto vehicles as well, too, because we know, yeah, yeah, yeah, so the product is it's available as a retrofit, so we can bolt on to existing trucks that are already in the field. So you know, we're leveraging the existing infrastructure and the assets that already exists. So, you know, there's a cost savings there, you don't have to, you know, you don't have to fundamentally replace your fleet. And that's how DC started. So they they did, you know, we bolted it on to six garbage trucks that they already had. It's a quick process, you know, takes a day or two, depending on the application. And, and based on the success we had there, they, they did another 17 trucks. And then, like I said, we're the process right now of about 100 forum this year. So I'm curious as, as all the hype around electric vehicles take a little bit of spotlight off of biofuels, I know, for a while biofuels, we're getting some attention, people were really getting into it. I'm wondering if any Thunder has been stolen, from the advent of, you know,

I'll, I'll blame it a little bit on some media hype. But But, you know, at the end of the day, that there's, you know, at the end of the day, that fleets are really concerned about, you know, being able to do their job and do it, you know, do it appropriately. And so, you know, even we saw California, but, you know, an executive order out to ban engines. You know, you dive deep, you know, the story is, you know, California bans internal combustion engines, you dive deep into the, you know, the actual language of the executive orders. And what you see is, you know, it's, it's, there's a carve out for for heavy duty vehicles and medium duty vehicles, because realistically, even even by 2045, you know, the expectation is that ease just just aren't really going to, you know, aren't really going to penetrate that market. There's just, it's such a demanding application. And, and so, you know, I think there's an all the above strategy that that needs to be deployed, and it's certainly a little challenging, especially from a policy standpoint. You know, there's good policy and then there's maybe frustrating policy. You know, there's a lot of policies that that's coming out now. That is just like focused entirely on electrification. You know, I think that if the goal was carbon reductions, it should be kind of a technology neutral pathway to that. But, you know, but but that's, you know, those are those are the challenges we face. And, you know, I think a lot of times in the story of electrification, we forget that, you know, 70, some percentage of the of the grid is fueled by fossil fuels, coal and natural gas. We know that intimately here in Pennsylvania, but, you know, your, your zero emission vehicle is still actually a coal fired vehicle. So you know what, I just want everyone to know, 10 years ago, is it 10 years that you started? Yeah. years ago, you were an undergrad?

Yeah. Well, I

want people to understand that this is a journey. This is a journey. Granted, it doesn't happen overnight. I love when people think that these companies have our overnight successes. I always laugh and hear you were against all odds in school. Right. And you had a dream, you had a vision, and you banging your head against the wall many, many times.

There's certainly no no shortage of running into roadblocks and trying to kind of understand what the what the next step is, and, and, you know, kind of charting that course. But yeah, for part time in engineering school, you know, running the company full time and trying to navigate that. And, you know, we a lot of our engineering team actually ended up coming out of pit and, you know, met some of our investors through through school, and it's just, you know, it's it's been, yeah, it's been, it's been an incredible journey. And it's just, you're just starting, it is just starting, and you certainly have learned a tremendous amount along the way. It's certainly probably better than any kind of MBA that anyone could have. could have gotten right. I always say that to people, get an MBA or start a company now start a company.

Yeah, yeah, I think I think if you have the choice between those two, I would certainly recommend, you know, starting a company and at the end of the day trial by fire is a trial trial by fire is you're not going to, you know, you know, you don't have the the degree but it certainly I think, you know, much more, much more rewarding exercise.

So, Jonathan, I must be really getting old because I remember just walking with Colin trying to talk to him about ways to keep himself straight ahead. And unwavering. And now to see them and what they're doing and celebrating all these accomplishments is just it's not it's not surprising to me. But hats off to you. If people want to know more. They can go to your website, your website is new website. Yeah. And you can find him on LinkedIn. He's an easy guy to find. And he's he's an easy guy to be around and to learn from,

but Optimus and that's without the H you've got nowhere to go to buy all the good stuff that's going on calm. We're just so proud of you. We think it's so awesome what you have done stuck with it and you're early on the precipice of some really great stuff and so glad you could tell us a little bit of your story with us here today on tech by radio calling you are the best.

Well I certainly appreciate you guys having having us here and the support throughout all the years.

Good stuff. Anyhow, audio, another tech vibe under our belt. Just reminder.


One more tech By the way, we're calling stories that are going on in Pittsburgh, just go to PGH and you can download to your hearts or your ears content. As simple as that. In the meantime, have an awesome weekend everybody. T

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