Following eight years of working in various areas within National Instruments (including Application Engineering, Academic Relations, and LabVIEW Product Marketing), Jeff Meisel found himself in the most enviable position of being able to break new ground. As Senior LabVIEW Product Manager, Jeff launched and now manages the LabVIEW Tools Network Program along with a six-person team. In Austin, Texas they work with LabVIEW Product Marketing and LabVIEW R&D establishing the Network and the dedicated app (and add-on) store serving engineers and scientists. This is a technical and business services platform upon which developers can effectively build, distribute and sell their products. Other app stores are in mobile or other spaces, but this creates value for engineers and scientists across multiple industries.
Four years into the program, Jeff is happy to boast over 1 million downloads from the LabVIEW Tools Network and over 100 certified products offered. This type of network and support for distribution via an app store is an industry first!
National Instruments has over 5,000 employees and their prevalent LabVIEW development tool is designed to help with tasks specific to fields within various science and engineering disciplines, serving hundreds of thousands of users. With the creation of the LabVIEW Tools Network, developers are empowered and inspired to create add-ons and apps, further augmenting LabVIEW's functionality as an engineering/coding tool and/or serving very specific use cases.
Software licensing, activation and distribution were identified as significant needs to be addressed if there was to be increased engagement by developers to create market-ready solutions. In 2009, Jeff and his working partner knew they did not want to build these pieces themselves so they started looking for a partner. They surveyed trade journals, the Microsoft community, and even their own competitors, but it was a recommendation from a developer to use Concept Software that got them headed in the right direction. Jeff quickly recognized the makings of a good partner, although standard company protocol is to issue requests for proposals and undergo a proof of concept. It was during this process that they used various components of the SoftwareKey platform, employing rigorous testing activities to ensure all licensing objectives were successfully achieved.
When asked about the task of choosing the right licensing solution that some people view as a kind of commodity, Jeff explains, "We felt pretty good with our risk profile, but at the same time we would have lost a lot of money if we would have selected the wrong vendor. It wasn't a casual selection, we had a lot of vigor with our process and there were very specific requirements that needed to fit." Jeff's top criteria were software licensing and a demo platform for add-ons and apps. Other key priorities included: business services that could be offered to LabVIEW partners, automated fulfillment, integration with National Instruments' CRM (Oracle), and a solid level of support. Jeff and his team were able to construct and deliver a functional demo platform during the 30-day window of the SoftwareKey System evaluation period.
The SoftwareKey System has a wide range of features; some users relish its out-of-the-box capabilities, while others leverage its flexibility. "We spent a lot of time integrating the SoftwareKey platform with our platform," Jeff recalls, "that was a really big value add that delivers productivity and value to our development community by having tight integration with our tools. Being able to work together [with Concept Software] like that enabled us to bring this additional value that would not have been possible otherwise." He noted that additional customization needs arose over time and he expects that even more will develop as the platform continues to evolve. His experience is shared with many other SoftwareKey users who readily attest to the fact that they did not foresee all that they would want or need at the outset of setting up the system.
The baseline use case is that a LabVIEW partner builds an add-on (or an app) and they support their own products generating licensing codes and handling support issues even though the software is sold through the LabVIEW Tools Network. There can be cases where those end user's demands are channeled through to the NI LabVIEW store support team if that is desired.
The LabVIEW Tools Network has come a long way — from not having the capability to host or distribute a partner's applications — to having built one of the industry's first app and add-on stores where they can host products and serve them up to end-users via a compelling online store experience. Their developer partners can employ industry-leading protection and licensing technology that helps them manage their products through demo versions, automated fulfillment, and reporting on how their products, from a sales perspective, are performing.
This project has enabled LabVIEW to reach a new class of developers whom otherwise would not be connected to LabVIEW. The barriers to entry are too great for many academic professionals and one-person developers, for example, who are without significant resources to vet services and invest in distribution. The LabVIEW Tools Network helps in areas where the developers are not necessarily experts and essentially provides a pathway, eliminating — or at least mitigating — many daunting and tedious steps. Today, there is good continuity and significant engagement in the program; and, as time moves on, they are seeing single-product developers contributing multiple products to the store.
Concept Software is proud to be a partner within this effort from its beginnings. Jeff told us he recommends the SoftwareKey System to others primarily because of its scalability — for small, nimble organizations or bigger companies with bigger needs. Either way, it integrates well, is extensible, and has great support!