Innovate Software Solutions: Redesigning the Embedded Space

Date:   Friday , August 01, 2008

A company that manufactured an 8 bit micro controller based industrial mobile devices was losing market share since competitors had introduced high end, 32 bit based mobile devices. To stand the competition, the company had to transition to 32 bit based platform for its devices but the challenge it faced was how to shrink the time to market. It approached Innovate Software for a possible solution. Innovate had detailed discussions with the customer on customer application and arrived at the specifications for both hardware and software design. To improve the customer’s end product, it used the existing enclosure and the hardware was designed based on one of Innovate’s 32 bit development board as the basic design. In less than three months the company was ready to enter the market again to compete with other manufacturers with its improved and much more efficient mobile device.

This area of product development and design services in embedded hardware and software, simulation software, and turnkey design services is what engineers at Innovate Software Solutions focus on. “We develop embedded platforms that form the core of most industrial and commercial electronic handheld devices. These platforms are based on either an Intel or ARM processor. We also develop the software and hardware design and the GUI (graphic user interface) for these platforms, and together with the customers form the tools for design support that cater to both original equipment and design manufacturers,” explains Manjunath. P, Founder and Managing Director.

Innovate develops the embedded platforms customized to suit the customer needs. This involves developing the necessary software to run on these platforms, manufacturing the hardware, and supplying it as the end product to the customers. The software is developed on Linux, WinCE (Windows Embedded Compact), or MontaVista OS. The customer simply provides the packaging to these pre-developed platforms. Innovate 255 (PXA 255), Innovate 270 (PXA 270), and Innovate 9263 are some of Innovate’s development platforms that are used to build applications for GPS navigation systems, SmartPhone, infotainment devices, industrial control like motion control for cars, and in instrumentation where it is used by customers to find if there are any cracks in optical fibers.
Many a times customers want to develop a device in varied sizes, for example a mobile phone. This means adding and removing some features from the platform. In such cases Innovate offers to do the re-layout of an existing embedded platform, catering to the requirements of the end product.

The company also provides development services to large companies, where customers specify a processor and ask for a particular feature to be built on it. Innovate builds the platform and gives the entire platform with the production and the software rights to the customer for manufacturing. Here, the main focus is on 32 bit ARM architectures. It also sells individual development platforms as reference kits to train engineers, or for development purposes in large companies. They use these platforms as a reference or the base on which they further build applications for a particular device. Some of its proprietary development platforms in this segment include Innovate PXA 300 Development Kit, Innovate ARM 926 Kit, and Davinci DM6446 Platform that are commonly used to develop multimedia applications, medical and bio-medical applications, car navigation systems, IP surveillance systems, video servers, IP video phone, IP set-top box, and other such applications and devices.

Today, Innovate’s products and services see a large demand amongst the manufacturers. In quite a short period, it has been able to attract top customers like Intel, GE, GM, TCS, Wipro, Honeywell, and Motorola. But to survive in this niche market is quite tough as players are few and competition is high. “When approaching a customer, we play on the main demand of this industry - cost of development. Since all of our solutions can be easily customized as per requirements, they become highly cost efficient,” explains Manjunath. Hence the customers are able to complete projects at low cost, train in-house engineers with reference models, provide smooth transition to next project with obtained hardware and software resources, quicken the speed of product promotes, and avoid risks and maintenance problems. To keep an edge over others, the company also provides post development and maintenance services.

Currently the company sees a large traction in the markets of the U.S., Europe, and Asia for its solutions. Apart from India, it has already scored a few customers in Japan and Africa where its products are being used for industrial applications and GPS respectively. To gain a strong foothold in the Indian market, it has turned its focus towards the growing SME segment with OEM (original equipment manufacturer) designs. “India is a design hub with lots of players and we face a stiff competition from various companies in the design segment. But, interestingly our competitors also become our customers at some point of time as they use our platforms to do the software design for their clients. So we do not see much competition in embedded platform development and plan to increase our market share in this space,” states Manjunath. This segment also contributes to about 70 percent of the company’s revenue; the rest comes from the design and distribution business. “Most of our business is from repeat customers. Customers originally approach us for design services, and if satisfied with it they later revert back to us for development platforms too,” he quips.

To develop such challenging technology and keeping up with customer demands requires a robust team that is committed to build continuous innovative solutions to stay ahead in the competition. The company currently has a total strength of 28 people, out of which 24 are handpicked technology specialists working on R&D and the rest form the admin and sales teams. For those who prefer a challenge in everyday work life, Innovate offers the right environment by offering a helping hand of experience to work on the latest processors and build applications on it. Also a techie’s work is equally appreciated by giving him or her a share of the project’s profit. Being a veteran in the industry himself, Manjunath aims at innovation in every work that his company does and is always happy to embrace good talent when he sees one.

Apart from the industry, the company is now planning to venture into the education space. “Most educational institutions still use the conventional 8 bit processing platforms for academic purposes. Hence, we have developed special 32 bit platforms on which students can train as a part of the academia and are prepared to meet the industry requirements when organizations absorb them,” explains Manjunath. In order to effectively penetrate this space, Innovate has partnered with some distributors. Last fiscal, the company reported a turnover of about Rs. 4 crore and is aiming at Rs. 7 crore for the current fiscal –quite an achievement for a company that was founded with a seed fund of just Rs. 10,000. With a dedicated team of engineers working to make its mark in this highly competitive niche market of embedded design, this goal does not seem far-fetched.