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Case Study: Accelerating Product Development with a Platform-Focused Strategy

We live in an era defined by hyperconnectivity. Every aspect of our lives is being brought online, from cars to kitchen appliances. The pace with which the Internet of Things (IoT) is expanding is unlikely to stop anytime soon – if anything, thanks to current events, it will very likely accelerate.

Now more than ever, people are working from home and doing their shopping online. eCommerce sales, for instance, have increased by 32.4 percent in 2020 alone. For context, that’s more than double last year’s increase of 14.6 percent.

As for IoT, it hasn’t solely seen growth in the consumer space. Businesses are increasingly turning to hyperconnectivity as a means of maintaining regular operations and managing increasingly-distributed workforces. Case in point: in its 2020 IoT Spotlight, telecommunications provider Vodafone found that 84% of businesses that adopted IoT felt it was foundational to business continuity.

For Victor Salmons, Vice President of Engineering at Zebra Technologies, neither of these trends come as any great surprise, even independent of the pandemic.

A global OEM with a wide product and software portfolio, Zebra is an industry leader in enterprise asset intelligence (EAI). Through its broad range of purpose-built enterprise products, Zebra serves industries including retail, transportation, energy, logistics, utilities, and the public sector.

Salmons leads the company’s Specialty Printing Group, where his team of engineers designs widely-used mission-critical thermal printing products – if you’ve ever received an eCommerce shipment, returned a rental vehicle, or filled a prescription, you’ve likely seen a receipt or label created on a Zebra printer.

“In the past, OEMs like Zebra were largely hardware-focused,” Salmons explains. “This has changed by necessity. Even businesses that traditionally aren’t technology companies are looking to IoT for the efficiency, visibility, differentiation, and recurring revenue it provides.”

However, without both standardization and a platform architecture strategy, it’s far too easy for developers to become bogged down by a chimera of hardware and software technology choices. The time and resources required to manage such a landscape are far too significant, and the lag in time to market represents a considerable disadvantage. Salmons understands this firsthand.

“Twelve years ago, we had three different product categories, all acquired through mergers and acquisitions,” he recalls. “All of them had different operating systems – some of them didn’t even have operating systems at all. This created considerable and consistent challenges with integration, deployment, and management, and made it extremely difficult to provide customers with a common experience.”

Zebra needed to merge its firmware architecture and hardware architecture into a secure, standardized platform that it could leverage across all its printers. To accomplish this, it selected BlackBerry QNX and the QNX® Neutrino® Real-time Operating System, deploying the platform on ARM architecture. This ultimately led to the creation of Link-OS, Zebra’s proprietary software stack.

Powered by the QNX real-time microkernel OS, Link-OS allows Zebra to deploy new hardware and features in hours rather than days or weeks. This newfound efficiency has enabled Zebra to reassign multiple developers from OS maintenance to product development and innovation. Through these improved development cycles, the company has increased its new product introduction rate from a single product per year to four per year.

“Link-OS is the most powerful intelligent printer operating system in the world,” Salmons explains. “It’s become the foundation for an entire ecosystem of applications, software tools, and software development kits. In recent years, it’s allowed us to tap into IoT to further improve things for both customers and employees.”

“Customers want easy setup, manageability, and high levels of security,” he continues “LinkOS allows us to deliver that. But we may not have found such success with it if we’d gone in without a plan – ultimately, it doesn’t matter how efficient you are if there’s no strategy to direct your efforts.”  

Learn more about how Zebra Technologies is using BlackBerry QNX

Jeff Potter

About Jeff Potter

Jeff Potter is Vice President, Sales and Business Planning at BlackBerry QNX