On the occasion of HW group's 20th anniversary, we decided to remind ourselves and our readers of the long road the company has taken to get to where it is today. Together with you, dear reader, we want to go back to the roots and origins and tell the story of HW group's foundation and a two-decade long journey.
20 Years With You: Part Two
20 Years With You: Part Three
HW group, by modern language, pivoted a couple of times during its early days.
It started in 1997 as an Internet media about electronic design, and further developed as x51 development tool for ethernet connectivity. The first real product of the company was the first generation of the Charon module - a kit of our own development. This was a game changer, basically it was an Ethernet (TCP-IP) interface for use with the then common RS-232 or simply "serial port".
This was all possible because a colleague of ours had written what we then called a TCP stack in Assembler. Of course, it wasn't a TCP stack as we would call it today, simply because the processor we were using (AT89c51RD2) was quite old and didn't have a stack by design. At that time, it was a huge pain to program any logic on those processors because they had no way to call subprocedures. So this processor was limited in applications where you needed to switch processes. But the upside was that this particular x51 core was very popular in the embedded community.
In 2002-2004 the Internet was still starting, but we were already able to sell these development kits online, which accelerated adoption. It was a lot of fun back then, we as the HW group also started to write our own programs with the x51 Ethernet platform.
With development kits it was not a high volume offer to the market - we focused on making our own 2-in-1 products. At that time we made a small device with LAN/serial port and something else. 2-in-1 = serial port + Digital I/O or serial port with a data buffer. That was the reason why we were able to compete with much bigger companies on small niche market segments. It was easier & cheaper to use 1 box for the same functionality than 2 devices one LAN/serial port and second LAN/ I/O pins.
The Hercules software utility was created in 2006 and was initially an internal tool only. Over time, we decided to make it available to the public, and it turned out to be the right decision, as this piece of software became a phenomenon. The popularity of Hercules could be explained by its multifunctionality, since it is basically a 3-in-1 solution: terminal for the serial port, terminal for the TCP-IP and “terminal” for UDP. On top of that, it was seamlessly integrated with our I/O Controller device.
Together with our free of charge VSP (Virtual Serial Port) tool these two software tools were super popular in the developing community.
A lot of people still recognize the HW group company because of the VSP or Hercules utility. Whole team has experience with meeting unknown IT people on the airports recognizing the HW group logo just because of these 2 programs. Today after 20 years serial port is finally slowly dying out and there's much less reason to support this particular software.
From development kits to products
In 2004-2005, our Serial Port to Ethernet became a standalone product, and we were still learning how to make it well. More and more people started thinking about remotely controlled things - access control, remote weights, collecting data from phone collectors, etc. People needed to connect a computer to some device that was installed elsewhere.
One of the first efforts was with the famous Czech company Skoda Auto. One of our long-time partners came with a request for a remote thermometer, to remotely monitor the temperature at the UPS chamber at Skoda Automotive.
Our market understanding was not the best then. Customer was asking for a small, cheap, easy-to-implement solution, and instead we gave them a fairly sophisticated piece of infrastructure. It took us several more years of talking with customers to understand market segmentation.
At that time, a huge change was taking place - data centers. We didn't realize until we met some people that temperature, humidity, water, and everything else that can be measured among the environmental conditions is pretty crucial for the data centers.
The breaking point
The breaking point for the HW group was the participation in the CEBIT show in 2006.
At that time we exported about 30% of our production, development kits mainly. The first Poseidon 1140 (1250 later) came at that time and were sold in smaller numbers. But we weren't a company with a steady production yet.
At that time we made the Poseidon 1250, which was still an "over the top" product that could do "too many things", with a corresponding price. Unfortunately, no one wanted to buy it. But we had it as a part of our booth.
At CEBIT, a revelatory thing happened - people came to us and said that what they needed was a fraction of the currently presented product. Smaller, cheaper, more focused. That was engineer’s crush on market reality.
That's when we started to see market segmentation: the same product in different versions for slightly different applications.
Nevertheless, after CEBIT 2006 we came up with Poseidon 3266 / 3268 - the first two models to embrace this philosophy. We pushed it even further by making 4 Poseidon series units, each slightly different in terms of what it can do and how much it costs.
This coincided with our first attempts at building the distributor network that still exists today. But our longest standing partners (Distributors) started working with us somewhere between 2006 and 2008.
The original HWg-STE, our smallest and cheapest device, was first manufactured in 2008 in response to the need of some customers for a smaller solution that could monitor one or two parameters at a remote location.
The Damocles series of monitoring devices was born around the same time in response to the market demand, as a more specific solution for someone who didn't need sensors, but detectors only. Nevertheless, at that time we couldn’t offer anything in between "we need a lot of inputs and outputs and maybe a few sensors" and "we have a lot of sensors and we need a few outputs".
In 2010-2011, both of those device families, Poseidon and Damocles, went into the second generation and were massively updated from a hardware perspective. By the way, one of the things we got rid of during this upgrade was the web interface, which was based on Adobe Flash technology.
In 2023 there are customers coming periodically and asking for support for these Adobe Flash setup products. 12 years after we upgraded these products there still are some customers using those old versions.
The STE2 series was released in 2013 and was pushed by David Smid and Petr Lukas. The STE2 became our most popular product of that time very quickly.
In 2015, the founder of the company, Jan Rehak, stepped down from the role of CEO and was replaced by his business partner Petr Lukas (CFO).
Petr Lukas increased sales results and moved the company to a new location, still within Prague, but with more space for the growing team.
In 2016 another colleague of ours, Jiri Slaby (sales director), took over the position of CEO.
It was a time of consolidation and planning for the future. New CEO Jiri Slaby together with CTO Vit Olmr came up with a strategic view of future ecosystem development, new devices and software.
Portal is slowly becoming part of the ecosystem
Portal related to our IoT Monitoring products (SD-xxx / NB-xxx) devices was created in 2018. At that time, the company participated in the revolution that was taking place in the IoT segment of the market.
Thanks to the GSM/LTE products we've made, the SensDesk technology first appeared in its initial form somewhere between 2007-2010 and has been developed since then. In 2013 we won the prestigious Czech Zlaty Amper award at the Amper exhibition. However, it took us some time to realize that the cloud business was very different from what we knew and understood at that time.
It was long way from the www.SensDesk.com as the only SaaS option to the current mix of SaaS/On Premise Portal versions.
In 2021 the portal service (based on SensDesk technology) was splitted into free of charge www.HWg-cloud service / paid version www.SesnDesk.com.
Main reasons were SD-xxx and NB-xxx devices, with which we had to give the end user the ability to manage the device without any additional cost on the free of charge portal service.
Return of the founder & RME
Jan Rehak came back to CEO position in 2021. Partly because there was a disagreement about the SensDesk Technology long term vision.
Portal is part of the future, we can’t provide full RME (Remote Monitoring Ecosystem) without the online service. Many customers are fully satisfied with our products working locally, i.e. without the Portal service, but there has to exist the possibility to use it in either free or paid version.
The SensDesk Technology portal is slowly adopted as the “middleware” to collect data from various HW group devices but provide all measured data to higher systems.
The Portal is a great tool for fast alerting and device management, but System Integrators love the SensDesk because they simply get sensor data from the whole Team (one company) to their own system.
With the Portal as “the product” of HW group company, we’re moving away from the device & sensor to the “early alert if temperature is out of the limit”, no matter if the device is connected by LAN or LTE or any other possible means.
20 years of simple to use devices
One of the basic values for the HW group was the rule of 30+30.
Maximum 30 minutes to install our products with up to 30 minutes to set up for basic functionality. Altogether with the focus on long-term reliability of our products.
All of our products maintain the same philosophy, which means that the project integrator or the end user doesn't have to solve difficult compatibility issues.
Longevity and long-term reliability is a part of HW group's DNA, and we mean it - many of our products are still in service, providing business-critical monitoring after 5, 10, 15, and in some cases, 20 years.
New family of our products is going to bare the name “Perseus”.
We don't want to talk too much about it yet. It's such a big change that it needs its own story and explanation. Let's just say for now that we are preparing to deliver a completely new product based on an improved philosophy for roughly the same amount of money as our currently existing products.
- We will be able to connect 3rd party devices;
- Services are and will be part of the solution;
- LAN & LTE are two sides of the same coin called “communication”.
Follow us closely for more news about the upcoming “Perseus”.
20 Years With You: Part Two
20 Years With You: Part Three