PLVision is a niche custom software development company, specializing in SDN (Software Defined Networking), NFV (Network Function Virtualization) and IoT, with a track record of serving global businesses since 2007. The company helps network hardware vendors embed or enhance network connectivity functionality in their products, and also enables system integrators and industrial companies to accelerate the development of IoT solutions. Headquartered in Lviv, PLVision has a development center in Odesa and a representative office in Krakow, Poland. Today, Olena Kozlova, the company’s Co-Founder & CEO, talks about what makes PLVision different from other mid-sized tech companies, and how the niche brand remains the company’s biggest strength.
Connectivity of Tomorrow
Our company definitely doesn’t fit any definition of a technology company. On the one hand, we’ve been on the market for 11 years already, on another – people really learned about us only two years ago. PLVision is a custom software development company, a niche player in Computer Networking and Industrial IoT ecosystems. We enable network and cloud connectivity of various vendor devices that meets a specific customer’s business need (i.e. increased security, predictive maintenance). No wonder why our motto is “Connectivity of Tomorrow”. Our customers are both manufacturing giants of network equipment and semiconductors, as well as medium-sized companies producing various equipment and devices. Our advantage is that we understand our clients and meet their business needs in connectivity, have a strategy and successfully implement it – this is a rather unique case in our local market.
Most of IT companies today are either outstaffing/outsourcing giants that do any type of projects or small mono-project ones – these are product companies that in reality are just development centers located in Ukraine. Everyone likes this buzzword “product company” now. I define product companies by a simple principle: if the team doesn’t have product marketers, business analysts, sales managers, business development managers – it’s not a product company. Most often local “product” companies have a foreign founder and do not make decisions about development or sales of a product. PLVision doesn’t fit in any of these categories, so it’s difficult to compare us. We are a Ukrainian business, and we make all decisions on our own and here in Ukraine.
According to a recent research by Deloitte, by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices in the world. Our company is working in a very niche and needed direction – we connect different types of devices: from household appliances to factory and data center equipment. We do this for large and medium-sized product companies and industrial companies. Recently, we have created an IoT platform for managing equipment in the Oil & Gas industry. It enables clients to monitor the state of an entire system in real time and receive alerts in the event of a malfunction or warning about a high probability of failure. When indicators that control the state of equipment exceed acceptable limits, the equipment automatically switches to a “safe” mode, for example. The system is integrated with ERP and CRM systems, which allows you to follow the product in real time and quickly make changes to its functionality.
Technical expertise vs. soft skills
Most of our clients are companies from California and Israel. We’re specifically targeting these regions as that’s where innovations thrive, and a flow of investments doesn’t stop. We’re developing innovative solutions, needed by our clients for entering new markets or creating new products.
We have a lot of fixed-price projects, meaning that we offer our clients ready-made solutions – it’s both interesting and responsible, as it involves a lot of risks. One of our main principles is that we start projects very carefully, conduct several sessions to understand the customer’s needs. This is the most important moment. Because everything connected to a project implementation is what we know best. The success of a project means satisfying the needs of a client in the best way, not only technical implementation. Even if we make the most innovative solution according to the requirements of a client, if we don’t completely understand their pain points – the client won’t be satisfied. It’s important to understand that the things a client is requesting are almost never the things that meet their needs. Therefore, you need to listen very carefully, ask questions, and search for additional information about the client’s needs. We do care about the future of any project we take up. It’s important for us that our clients achieve their business goals with the help of our solutions. Only this way we can move on.
As to the sole importance of the technical expertise, I’d like to mention that two years ago we experienced a so-called crisis of values: despite deep tech expertise, our engineers lacked soft skills. We realized that superior technical expertise is not enough – you need to communicate well, negotiate, present possible solutions, understand a client’s need. We have to build relationships with a client, community, team – and these are soft skills and soft expertise.
On strategy and future plans
Our marketing and R&D departments constantly monitor technology and business trends in our niche and make assumptions about the future of the market. Based on this analysis, we adopt technologies that might go viral in three to five years. We don’t predict for longer periods as technologies change very quickly. For example, one of the directions we’re currently actively developing is P4 programming as we find it one of the most promising nowadays. We cannot be sure whether it becomes successful or not, but we take this step deliberately because we won’t survive in our niche otherwise. We need to constantly be at the cutting edge of innovation. In a similar way, our CTO noticed the emerging SDN (Software Defined Networking) trend some time ago. As a result, we were one of the first in the world to develop SDN projects for our clients.
There are more and more devices connected by traffic, therefore, there’s a serious threat that this traffic can be intercepted, substituted, and devices seized. At PLVision we have enough expertise not only to connect and monitor devices but also to manage network security. Recently we finished a project that solves security issues of mission-critical networks – for example, a nuclear power plant. In case of a cyber attack, it is localized in a certain part of the network, while the rest of it continues to work without interruption. This solution is now used by the Ministry of Energy in the USA.
Our strategy is to keep our high level of expertise and be the best in our niche. This is not easy but very promising. People are united around this very idea. We don’t believe that you can attract people to choose an employer with cookies or smoothies – people want to be proud of what they do every day, and they want to leave behind noticeable results of their work. We create things that haven’t existed before.
After working at PLVision, one can easily transfer to adjacent technologies. Even SpaceX uses technologies that lie in the core of our company’s expertise. When you understand the logic, know how everything works on the architecture level, you get a qualification needed on the market. Despite the fact that we are a niche company, our niche is actively developing, and more adjacent niches are emerging.
As a result of our strategy, PLVision has a great number of personal publications on tech and innovation – I’m not sure that big companies pay so much attention to this. Our engineers have the opportunity to research innovations and global trends not only within their projects, but to create the future within our R&D. That’s another factor why people are eager to work with us.
PLVision is a niche player in the global ecosystem. We don’t want to imitate anyone, we want to be the pioneers of the cutting-edge tech. This year we joined the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) – the international open source consortium, dedicated to the development and standardization of software-defined networking. We have built several open source SND solutions, we develop such solutions for our clients and keep developing them within ONF. Open source coding requires strong knowledge and experience in architecture and has an extremely high-quality standard. We repeatedly prove that it is an easy challenge for us and we feel comfortable in such high responsibility conditions, which demonstrates the professionalism of our specialists. We are very proud of it and will be ready to tell more about our ONF projects starting in 2019.
Our R&D team has recently built an IoT platform, which enables devices of any complexity for the Internet of Things. It is an accelerator, which helps to reduce about 50% development time for an IoT solution compared to building it from scratch. Based on that accelerator we create an IoT platform which is tailored to client’s needs and fully integrates with their infrastructure. It’s a semi-ready product which is created according to all required product principles.
Small steps for big changes
The problem we’re facing – the market is full of engineers, but finding a real expert is a challenge. We don’t have many resources, but we’re constantly working on developing the expertise, both internally and externally. A few times a year we organize PLVision Training Center – a course aimed to help applied sciences students learn about network technologies and get ready for their first job. We take only 12-15 students per course to be able to pay maximum attention to everyone. The selection process is very thorough. Later, graduates do internships on our projects, most of them get a job. However, we only select the ones ready to learn, self-develop, and move the industry forward.
We are rooting for Ukrainian education, so we do our best to contribute to changes. Our engineers have recently modernized five degree programs at Lviv universities. We were driving the establishment of the Internet of Things department at Lviv Polytechnic National University, and now many of our experts are mentoring students. Last year, 10% of our engineers took part in an “Hour of Code”, which is a huge number compared even with bigger IT companies. It’s all voluntary work. Our employees simply like to share knowledge with the youth and help them in their development. Engineers benefit from lecturing and mentoring too – they develop their managerial and communication skills.
I believe that by taking such small steps we can make a huge difference. We don’t sit waiting for the future, we create it: helping our clients succeed, developing our niche, and driving changes in Ukraine and globally.