HxGN aims to help us save ourselves

Jun 12, 2019 | Hot Topics

Back in Vegas! I’m at Hexagon’s user conference, HxGN LIVE, most of this week–so yes, not at PTC LiveWorx or Siemens Realize LIVE (so much LIVE, no?)– with a daunting schedule of meetings and sessions. I hope to learn what makes this agglomeration of software, sensors and other stuff, tick.

You all know Hexagon by its brands: Intergraph Process, Power and Marine is now Hexagon PPM. They make SmartPlant , CADWorx and related products and recently acquired Bricsys, shaking up the BIM world. The Manufacturing Intelligence division has lots of brands, but you probably are most familiar with its metrology solutions, and with MSC Software, acquired 18 months ago, and Vero, acquired a couple of years before that. There’s Geosystems, which makes GIS software and, nowadays, a lot of ways to use that data. Safety and Infrastructure makes the systems used in security applications (like police and fire call centers), while Positioning Intelligence solutions are used in applications as diverse as autonomous vehicle navigation, precision farming and accurately locating an oil drilling operation. The common themes are figuring out where or what something is, and then acting on that knowledge.

CEO Ola Rollén usually kicks off HxGN LIVE with a call to action, and did so again this year. He started out with depressing data that showed how we humans have done more damage to the planet in our short time here than I was aware of. We’ll fish out our waters in a few decades. Pollute our air to the extent that it won’t be breathable. Create enough carbon dioxide to bury the Empire State Building every day. Destroy forest and habitats beyond reclamation. But he pointed out that the Earth will survive; humans won’t — and it’s up to us to fix the problems we created. (Sadly, Mr. Ola Rollén said, no super hero would arrive to save the day.) His thesis is that we have the data to help us determine what to do. A couple of his ideas: replace inefficient combustion engines with more fuel-efficient ones — Formula One engines are already significantly more efficient. Electric vehicles won’t solve our mobility vs. eco-consciosness needs because we lack the power generating capacity to charge them all, and powergen needs to be made more efficient and less polluting, too. We can replace old windows with better ones. And so on. The second part of his thesis is that this is good business, creating opportunity for new entrants and for old-line companies to things differently and better. It was a thought-provoking talk; you can see it for yourself here, on Youtube.

The company hasn’t made any announcements yet (that I am aware of) but one has to wonder: does this focus on data presage anything? Analytics? Artificial intelligence? Acquisitions? Products? Hmm.

On that note: yesterday I met with Mr. Simão agrees that the playing field is so new that it’s not clear what buyers will ultimately want, but Hexagon’s take on base layer+value is interesting. Mr. Simão leads a team that tries to coordinate the R&D work of this far-flung enterprise and to build core, enabling technologies that can be used by the divisions. One such effort is the Xalt platform, announced at last year’s HxGN LIVE. Mr. Simão told me that Xalt now has over 50 software developer kits (SDKs) enabling dozens of products sold by the PPM and MI teams, and that more are on the way. The SDKs cover visualization, edge computing and other technologies on top of which the divisions layer their specific apps. One early success: connected worker apps are a quick, powerful way for customers to see benefit.

Hexagon’s take on IoT is fundamentally different from PTC and Siemens. None of the PPM and MI divisions’ apps say “Xalt Inside” or something similar. Xalt purely enables, leaving the focus on the added value created by the divisions. And in implementing these specific products, Hexagon’s customers often become partners, extending the app and then selling it; in effect, becoming customer/distributors. PTC and Siemens, on the other hand, market ThingWorx and Mindsphere, respectively, powerful platforms on which apps are being built — sometimes by the vendor, sometimes by partners and sometimes by user-implementers.

Hexagon does, Mr. Mr. Simão, told me, sell the platform via an Xalt Platform Solutions team, for customers who want to DIY or create solutions Hexagon doesn’t yet offer; it’s got 200 customers so far and is growing rapidly. Of course, he said the IoT playing field is so new that it’s not clear what buyers will ultimately want, off-the-shelf or custom or something in between, and Hexagon aims to meet them wherever they are on that spectrum.

Mr. Simão plans to follow a similar strategy of creating core building blocks for analytics, data warehouses and whatever comes next, which are served out to the divisions to turn into products. His data analytics efforts, for example are split 50/50 between the core CIO team and the divisions — to ensure that what comes out of core is what’s needed and specifically applicable to real-world use cases.

All right. Time to start the day. Today, it’s divisional keynotes and lots of meetings. Wish me luck.

The title image is of today’s sunrise in Las Vegas. One of the awesome things about being on Eastern time in a Pacific time zone place is seeing the sunrise. It never gets old. Less awesome: evening events that start after my bedtime. Sigh. Picture taken by me.

Note: Hexagon graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.