ProComSol, Ltd. is a trailblazer when it comes to HART communications (a digital industrial communication protocol). In 2006 they came onto the scene with an unheard of offering for automation industries using process controls including Oil and Gas, Refining, Chemical and Petrochemical, Power Generation, Water and Waste Water, Pharmaceuticals, Pulp and Paper, Mining and Metals, and Food and Beverage. Instead of being bound by the limitations of the ubiquitous handheld HART communication devices, technicians would now have the option to empower their PC’s with the ProComSol Smart Communicator Software for Windows. Fast forward ten years and ProComSol is building on their success by answering the demand for Android based solutions.
Jeffrey Dobos, President of ProComSol is leading the design and manufacture of PC and Android based HART communication products from Lakewood, Ohio. Jeffrey describes his industry, “We are competing with the handheld communicator which costs $6K-$7K; now there are other windows solutions that are very expensive and hard to use, but there are no Android solutions. We try to make it as simple as possible for the user and at a good price point.”
From the start in 2006 he implemented the SoftwareKey System utilizing Protection PLUS 4 SDK and SOLO Server for his flagship software product. When the time was right to create an Android version, SoftwareKey.com was mid-development on Protection PLUS 5 SDK for Android.
Jeffrey had access to a previously written homegrown licensing solution. He explains the situation, “We had a PDA product on Windows CE that we had originally developed it for, so it wasn’t that hard to import it to Android. I spent a lot of money, [on the Android version of Smart Communicator] and there was a lot of risk not knowing if it was going to pay off or not. I needed the App to generate income as soon as possible. It was a temporary fix.”
After using their homegrown version for a year, they were more than ready to implement Protection PLUS 5 SDK Android Edition. Jeffrey admits his temporary licensing solution had limitations, “It wasn’t sophisticated at all. Probably easily hacked, not convenient for the user, and there was no way of sharing a license. I like the sharing feature. The user can check it back in to the server and one of their colleagues could check it out to their device. People were constantly asking for it. So we incorporated it as soon as we could.” Continuing, “The biggest problem with the homegrown [version] was that it produced two user codes for activation. The user had to send the user codes back to us and we would process them and send back two keys that they would enter. So it was basically a manual process. With your solution [SoftwareKey System] the user just enters the license ID and password and they are done.”
Besides the automation controls within Protection PLUS 5 SDK, the most impactful features they use are:
- Offering a 10 day limited evaluation period (trial) before customers have to license it.
- Converting from evaluation to activation. “What’s nice is that we have one app, we don’t have a trial app and a production app. One app covers both situations.”
- License Management. “It’s important for us. It’s easy to manage, so if there is an issue with the license, like the device is stolen, we can deactivate it on that device from our office and then activate a license for their new device very easily.”
- License Revocation. “If a user doesn’t pay their invoice, we can turn off their license.”
- Custom License Parameters: “The user enters some information such as their email address and their company name and that information stays with the license and we can get all that information through the available reporting through the SOLO Server website.”
- Reporting: “We can get a report on who the end users are when we sell through a reseller.”
The disadvantage of Google Play licensing service is the 20% loss of revenue.
SoftwareKey System Versus Google Play
We asked Jeffrey if he ever considered using any alternative products on the market while he was waiting for Protection PLUS 5 SDK to be released. He briefly looked into one, “The disadvantages with Google Play [licensing service], are we would have to distribute through them only, but we wanted to distribute through our own website and distributors, and of course Google Play takes their cut of the purchase price. Google would get 20% of each sale. Unacceptable!”
Implementation and Support
Implementation of Protection PLUS 5 SDK Android Edition went fairly smoothly though it required dedicated attention. ProComSol uses a tool called Xamarin which uses C#. SoftwareKey uses Java, so Jeffrey did a bit of research to find out how to create the appropriate libraries from the Java code. It required some technical help from SoftwareKey and he said it took about a week or so. They also redesigned the user interface. During that time they figured out how they wanted the screens to look to achieve an updated feel from their existing PC version.
Jeffrey’s Recommendation to Potential Users of the SoftwareKey System:
“It has a lot of functionality that end users want like online activation for getting up and running quickly. License sharing is also huge with end users. For us, getting data from the end user like email addresses was important. Technical support is pretty quick. License management is easy.”