A great revolution awaits

Mariusze Lasek Comarch

The Internet of Things, meaning the connection of all devices and everyday appliances to the internet allowing them to send and receive data between each other, is getting closer to becoming a real thing. WBJ talked to Mariusz Lasek, head of Comarch Technologies, about the IT giant’s latest endeavor, called IoT Lab, recently opened in Kraków, as well as about the potential behind IoT technology and the future of Poland’s IT market

by Beata Socha

WBJ: Comarch has recently opened its new investment: an R&D center called IoT Lab located in Kraków. What exactly will the lab work on? Only software solutions or also appliances using the Internet of Things technology?

Mariusz Lasek: That is a very good question as it points to the fact that both software and hardware determine how powerful and use­ful a product is. Our goal is not to produce hardware or software, but IT solutions that will address specific problems, challenges and improve manufacturing or business processes. IoT Lab is therefore complementary to Comarch’s vast R&D base, as it provides the missing component where IT meets hardware, as well as the appliances themselves. IoT solu­tions often use different technologies and interfaces from IT in general. That is why it is important to be able to efficiently and effectively imple­ment solutions for these particular environments and integrate them with regular systems, like ERP.

400

is the target number of employees in Comarch’s IoT Lab

Who will use the solutions that the Kraków IoT Lab develops, and what will they be used for?

It’s our strategic goal to create End- 2-End solutions, which means that the technologies being developed will be used as components for Comarch products, similar to Co­march beacon for example, which is integrated in many solutions of the capital group. Our “end-users” will include Smart Cities (e.g. Smart­Lighting and SmartParking), as well as Industry 4.0 (Asset Tracking and manufacturing processes optimiza­tion by integrating assembly lines with ERP).

Our offer also includes Fast Pro­totyping for outside IoT clients. If a leading mattress producer decided to include sleep monitors in their prod­ucts, we are ready to prepare the right components and even manufacture a small batch of up to 100,000 units.

The Internet of Things is not a new concept but its development rate is far from impressive. The biggest obstacles seem to be the lack of a common standard and security is­sues. How will you overcome these?

It is the same in IT as it is in IoT, integration and compatibility are the proverbial Achilles’ heel that often leads to delays in adoption. We handle the matter in two ways: we produce complete solutions, which puts the burden of compatibility on the supplier (which is us). We also monitor and co-create communica­tion standards for IoT. Comarch is a member and a supplier for the OFC (Open Connectivity Founda­tion) and we provide tests for OFC compatibility.

The number of intercon­nected devices could go as high as 20, 30 or even 50 billion – far greater than the number of people. This shows the scale of growth that is ahead of us.

Comarch invests 10-15 percent of its annual revenue in innovative projects. Is IoT Lab one of these projects?

The internet was a major revolution for the economy. There is no reason why IoT should not be the next big thing. While the internet connected devices that interacted with people, IoT is largely independent of the human component. The number of interconnected devices could go as high as 20, 30 or even 50 billion – far greater than the number of people. This shows the scale of growth that is ahead of us.

IoT Lab will also work on solutions for telemedicine. How is the seg­ment growing in Poland? What type of solutions is Comarch developing for telemedicine?

We have been developing medi­cal devices for many years. We’ve invested millions in this strategy, including several acquisitions we’ve made. Just like IoT, our goal is to deliver comprehensive and inte­grated technologies that will make healthcare more efficient, offsetting the shortages of medical staff and improving patient comfort. Apart from solutions for hospitals, we are trying to provide patients with medi­cal services they could use without leaving their home. We are also work­ing on technologies that will make the interaction between the patient and the healthcare system easier. Our objective is to deliver all of the important information about the patient’s vitals before they even set foot in the doctor’s office. Demand for these solutions is growing at an increasing rate, fueled by increas­ing awareness among doctors and patients alike.

How many people will the IoT Lab employ?

Our IoT team will include 400 employees, which shows how big the scale of the undertaking is. We are expanding our service portfolio with this investment as well as creating new jobs in other industries. Elec­tronic device production, logistics and quality control have long been connected to ICT, but now we are also talking about industrial design, 3D design, durability tests and me­chanics – we are looking for entirely new competencies, which is also good news for universities.

50 billion
is how many devices world­wide could potentially be connected to the internet

Comarch is one of the biggest IT companies in Poland. A large part of the company’s revenue comes from selling software and services on other European markets. Will the IoT Lab also produce solutions for exports?

Poland has been too small for Co­march for a long time now. Also in the IoT business, we admit that we have global markets in mind. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t. Of course, we will also deliver products to the Polish market, which is open to innovation, novelties and where we have a lot of new manufacturing fa­cilities. Also, labor costs are far lower in Poland than in Western Europe. The cost and efficiency equation is different in Poland than in France or Germany. We are not hiding the fact that one of the aspects of imple­menting IoT is supporting and also sometimes eliminating the need for human labor.

Poland’s position in IT has been very strong. Many foreign firms locate their IT centers here. Is the country’s competitive advantage only the product of lower costs? Is the competition of Romania, Ukraine, Russia or even India a threat to Poland’s position as an IT powerhouse?

We have a lot of talented and very devoted people. It is no wonder that many global corporations choose Poland as the location for their IT centers. I would, however, prefer for Polish companies to offer their services to them.

It should be a priority to create structural support for original Polish businesses. After all, it’s a fact that some of the factors that determine Poland’s competitive advantage will change over time, and we cannot compare it to India when it comes to scalability. Price competitiveness is also a far more complex matter than simple hourly rates. We must not forget about aspects such as commu­nication, cultural barriers and even loyalty and employee turnover. One thing is certain: we are an important player today but we need to build on our experience and skills to create businesses that are not based solely on the structure of labor costs.

 

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