Adrian Leks, PR & Marketing Manager
The company’s R&D department can be compared to the playmaker in team games. He is usually the most creative player, who sees more than the others do and is able to make unconventional plays. In addition to that, he is the one who decides how the play will be carried out. Those working in the research and development unit are crucial to the process of creating new innovative products and thus for the development of the entire business. It’s the fierce competition on the market that forces companies to make this type of investment. Such a ‘playmaker’ may prove to be worth its weight in gold for the company in the future.
A passion for programming combined with a chance to create our own products from A to Z and an interdisciplinary approach to technology. The mix of these three ingredients resulted in the R&D department at Netizens being born. – It may sound trivial, but from the moment it was founded (1999 – editor’s note), the company focused on innovation and finding modern solutions for its customers. A dozen or so years ago, at a time when the Internet in Poland was a luxury good and websites could load for several minutes, the Nokia mobile phone application for a transport company was an example of such an innovation. The concept made it possible to receive emails on the mobile phone, which in turn allowed the positioning of the carrier’s cars on a map. Step by step – from a company skilfully adopting new technologies – we wanted to become a brand creating our own IT solutions and products. This path required us to change our way of working and thinking. As a result, in 2012 we founded the R&D – a department bringing together electronic engineers and developers of electronic devices,” mentions Witold Kempa, CEO.
Currently, the R&D department plays a decisive role in the company’s long-term strategy. However, before there were serious inquiries from the market, we started with… fun. For the first project that really showed us the power of technology from completely different areas was the “Great Snowball Fight” campaign. We had to use our knowledge of electronics, mechanics, servomechanisms, video analysis, animation, mobile applications or even advanced websites. All this, in order to allow Internet users to throw styrofoam snowballs at members of the Netizens team from the level of our website. The project was completely non-profit and acted as an interactive Christmas card. It was to test our capabilities and simply bring the joy of creating something for ourselves. – Letme say immodestly that it turned out brilliantly. At that moment, the “snowball” started to roll. We already knew we wanted to do projects like this – electronics, software, innovation, and unprecedented solutions,” says Witold Kempa.
It is also worth mentioning the equally impressive realizations of the last few years for brands like Twitter, SKYN, Żywiec, or the finale of the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity. This was a kind of a testing ground that allowed us to prepare properly for the creation of devices already used in everyday life. While building up our R&D department, the time, experience, portfolio expansion and above all – to use the sport nomenclature again – transfers of employees who immediately constituted a solid reinforcement of the team, really proved invaluable. We have also set our sights on one clear direction – creating products from the Internet of Things (IoT) area.
Research and development – whatever the industry – is ultimately about creating an innovative solution. However, the road from an idea to the finished product is often bumpy. Therefore, in R&D works, the technology simply has to interact with business processes and market mechanisms. This is an important reference both for the customer coming up with their idea and for us, as the contractor. This was the case during our realizations for AioCare, MyKotty, Whisbear or the construction of a depilation device for a company in the beauty sector. On top of that, our next IoT projects will soon come to light, including one for a marina manager, one for a company providing rehabilitation solutions and another implementation in the MedTech sector.
One of the most important aspects of building a strong R&D team is recruitment. – This is due to the specific skills that the R&D staff must possess. On the one hand, they should be skilled engineers, familiar with a wide range of technologies and tools, while on the other in the case of developers, programming languages as well. When building IoT devices from scratch, it is difficult to completely separate conceptual work from hardware and software. The whole team has to participate to a greater or lesser extent throughout the whole process of implementation, while understanding the idea of how the whole thing works, not just the part it implements. At the same time, creativity, curiosity about new technologies and the ability to learn quickly are still at the heart of our work. Without these additional qualities, it is not easy to create innovations. It is also important to cooperate with other departments of the company, especially with programmers, who make a significant contribution to the outcome of our work,‘ emphasizes Marcin Wróbel, R&D Leader.
Having already called the programmers’ support to the board, let’s see what cooperation looks like from their side. On a day-to-day basis, a programmer is unlikely to have the opportunity to participate in IoT projects. The job market primarily presents offers in the field of classic software development. This is where a completely new space arises – creating software that has a real impact on how an IoT device works. Such a role requires specific skills. – Programmers who begin their collaboration with R&D must be comfortable with technologies such as Node.js and Python. They should be familiar with the MQTT protocol, as this is what the IoT devices ‘talk’ to. It is essential to know how to create microservices based on gRPC communication or how to capitalize on the benefits of tools like RabbitMQ and Apache Kafka. It is also good to know the Azure or Amazon platforms and their components for IoT solutions. However, the most important thing is that every developer from our team who gets into an R&D project gets a baggage of new experiences to learn from” explains Radosław Sikora, Backend Development Leader.
In a technology company, the implementation of an IoT project is a challenge not only for the developer, but also for the project manager. Completely different factors have to be taken into account from the outset. There may arise issues that we cannot necessarily have a real influence on. – Above all, purchasing and logistics come to the forefront. In the case of software projects, these elements are basically non-existent. We buy a server, a few software licenses or SaaS services – this only involves us in the beginning and hardly at all later on. When designing a device, the opposite is true – the more the project develops, the more purchases there are. Launching mass production makes logistics one of the most time-consuming issues. This is now being followed by global purchasing issues. Recently, supplies from China were suspended due to a pandemic, and now we are feeling the consequences of the war in Ukraine. One of our projects was under serious threat due to sanctions imposed on Belarus, where the main component of the device came from. It ended well, as the company moved from Belarus to… Poland,” recalls Seweryn Stroinski, Chief Project Officer.
While a software project can be realized with a team working completely remotely without much problem, an IoT solution requires direct on-site collaboration at certain stages of the work. Apart from that, the PM still has to pay attention to the organization and synchronization of the work of the different teams. – A device is created, and with it, for example, a mobile app. A server layer is also needed to enable device monitoring on the one hand and to ensure that the application functionality can be realized on the other. As a result, we have several different projects to run, but at the same time them being closely related to each other. The range of technologies is also much wider – from web-based to firmware to PCB design. To sum everything up, this type of project is more difficult to run, but the fun is certainly greater,‘ adds Seweryn Stroiński.
We can see that working on an IoT device requires knowledge from different areas of IT and beyond. At Netizens, it’s a one-stop shop – from the idea, through the prototype and production, up to the finished solution that can be launched to the market. As a technology partner, we define the need together with the customer and then take an active role in further development and implementation of new functionalities. A diversified team on deck, where everyone is responsible for what they feel most comfortable with, is key. The IoT solution or product that we develop passes through many hands. This makes it much easier to identify bottlenecks at an early stage of development.
All of this raises the question: how do you maintain a balance and, at the same time, a symbiosis between developers and engineers in an IT company? – Certainly, the human factor is key here. Both can be achieved when both groups have a sense of creating products that are ambitious and out of the ordinary, but in the end universally applicable as well. We are looking for those exact projects and we have more and more of them. Of course, awareness and analysis of the market, opportunities and needs are needed at all times in this process,‘ Witold Kempa concluded.
Since its inception, the R&D department has been tasked with working on projects at the intersection of technology, electronics and IT. Its beginnings were not easy, but today it is a team of experienced engineers who break patterns and think outside the box. We have progressed from highly spectacular, yet one-off projects – to implementations that are scalable and used on a daily basis in various industries. A plus for our employees is also the constant opportunity to create their own products internally, which may one day reach the market. There is also one maxim that invariably guides our actions – there is no single proven way to find innovative solutions, but having an R&D department allows us to always be one step ahead of the competition.
Have you got an idea for a product and are looking for a technology partner that has all the necessary skills in one place and will additionally lead your project comprehensively? Would you like to develop an IoT device or need to make changes to the electronics or software? Do you need support in obtaining funding or investors? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will answer all your questions and prepare a personalized offer.