Frequentis was chosen as a 2019 Hexagon Honouree for their innovation in mission-critical markets such as aviation, defense, maritime and public safety. In this interview, we hear how Frequentis is disrupting these industries, particularly the aviation industry, with their communication and information solutions.
BK: Welcome to HxGN radio. My name is Brian, and joining us today is Johann Schweiger, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Frequentis Group, and Matthias Riedl, Chief Architect for the Aeronautical Information Management (AIM) business unit of Frequentis group. They are here to discuss how their organization is influencing change in the aviation industry within AIM. Johann, Matthias, thank you both for joining us. Appreciate it!
MR: Thank you for having us.
JS: Thank you, Brian.
BK: Of course!
JS: Great to be here.
BK: Johann, tell us a little bit about Frequentis and what you’re doing there.
JS: Brian, Frequentis is a world market leader in providing communication and information solutions for mission-critical control rooms. So what does this mean? This is mainly covering the segments of air traffic management, civil aviation, defense, public safety, public transport, and maritime. We are about a 300-million euro company based in Austria, but we are acting worldwide and we have subsidiaries in most relevant countries, for example, like in the U.S. and Australia. As said before, we are a world market leader in our core product, and we are referenced in roughly 130+ countries. So why Hexagon? I have to say, our cooperation with Hexagon has a really long history and covers mainly two areas. One is AM and the other one is public safety. With Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure, we have won recently a very prestigious project together, so we have a long partnership.
BK: Excellent. Well, what are the biggest challenges that you are facing in your industry right now?
JS: I think it’s mainly two areas. One is the pace of innovation picks up tremendously, this is driven by the need to integrate and automate in order to cope with the increase of air traffic and the traffic congestion in the sky which is driving up cost and ultimately resulting in really increasing delays in air traffic. So it is a huge issue within the industry. Another driving factor is accelerating the need to innovate and push boundaries for the UTM market, meaning for the drones. Drones are increasingly entering the airspace, and we have to find solutions to how to integrate them in the air traffic management arena. This market is still in its infancy, but it’s obvious that it will explode in terms of size in the near future, and all the players in the field, commercial organizations, ANSPs, and suppliers have to be ready for that rapid growth and find solutions jointly together.
BK: Tell me a little bit about how technology is helping you with a solution or potentially making things a little harder? And then of course, what are you doing to help your customers adopt that new technology at the same time as well? Matthias, I’d like to hear your thoughts.
MR: So in AIM or regardless of any other business unit that Johann mentioned before, we operate basically in a safety-critical environment.
MR: Because of this safety-critical environment, it is very difficult to bring in new technologies in the next release of your software, just like so, right? This is why in Frequentis, we choose an evolutionary approach rather than a revolutionary approach. And this allows us to introduce new tech piece by piece basically. To still ensure that the software is safe and is adopted by the customers. We also are in close contact to our customers and we talk to them very openly about what we could do, what they would want to do.
MR: And how we can support them in implementing these changes.
MR: And all of this is very important because technology eventually goes end of life, right? It’s not supported anymore. But our software has to be safe and secure still, so this is why we have to keep on constantly bringing in new technology and update our software and systems.
BK: Excellent. Well, why is it hard to keep — first of all, is it hard to keep up with new technology in your industry?
BK: If so, why? Tell me a little about that.
MR: It definitely is very hard to keep up with the new tech and what we feel is the tension between the need to innovate …
MR: … but also the slow-moving, quality, safety-driven processes. Like we said before, we can’t just bring in new tech with a new release simply because we want to. And, well, this is a normal situation in safety-critical industries, right? And some newer entrants like in the UTM market, that Johann mentioned before, they actually struggled with this as well. They don’t have it very easy as well, because they are not so used to the compliance and safety-driven industry approaches and its pace. But I think with our experience, we are still able to bridge this gap and find the right balance between innovation and safety compliance together with our customers and partners.
MR: But there is also another aspect to it which is the missing standardization elements in the industry standard, such as EXM for example. There is a basis of course for it, but the adoption of progress is very slow.
MR: Unfortunately, and this is why we seek the close collaboration between the standard setting bodies in our industries and our other industry partners, because we think that we all have to improve going forward, as this is hampering our industry’s ability to deal with the upcoming major changes that we see, for example, in the UTM market. From the point of view of ours and our peers’ customers, this missing standardization is surely a pain in terms of lacking [unclear 05:33]interoperability. And last but not least, it’s also that AIM is usually seen as a cost center within an ANSP, and there is quite often a mismatch between the available funding and the expectations regarding new functional scope and complexity. But I think ultimately this is our job, to bridge this gap as part of conversations with our clients.
BK: Of course. Absolutely. Wonderful. Johann, how does your team identify ways to be innovative? I mean, share some examples, talk about what you do with your team.
JS: This a great question because definitely for a company like ours, innovation is one of the main drivers to be really stay in the front where we are, and we follow really several streams, like feedback from customers, mainly also gained from our maintenance and support activities. We have usually very long-lasting partnerships with our clients. We perform an annual AIM roadmap workshop for our clients, with a really high degree of participation worldwide, which is highly interactive. So, we gain a lot of insight and input for the demands and the future from our clients directly. We are pursuing selected innovation topics together with the specific client or sometimes also with a partner, so to really focus on particular programs there. We have passive and active attendance of industry conferences and select conferences also outside of our industry, because a lot of innovation is coming really from outside.
JS: The stakeholders.
JS: And participation in technology in our industry of world competition. Last year, for example, we won the Change Award for technology for an airline-focused solution together with Qantas and Smart4Aviation. A very prestigious award.
JS: Have to say, yeah.
JS: And we participate in major research programs like the SESAR of the European Union. And last but not least, it’s a more internal thing, our own people — so we have own innovation days within Frequentis to allow people to bring up their ideas. And we have, last but not least, founded also a new business development department which has the ability to look outside the classic business units, roads, roadmaps, we have …
JS: … for future potential and innovations.
BK: Yeah, good, good. Sounds great keeping involved, keeping everybody …
BK: … on the same page and communicating greatly.
BK: That’s wonderful. Well, how has Hexagon technology supported your innovation efforts?
MR: Well, we are using, for example, the Luciad products to drive our digital AIXM data chain between the different industry players that we’re serving. The Luciad products are used, for example, in the biggest worldwide AIM hub servicing Europe, as well as a lot of other ANSPs and organizations around the whole world. Same goes for GeoMedia; GeoMedia is enabling us to take our charging and AIP product to the next level for AIM, meaning the high degree of automation for data-driven charting. And, what both have in common, is that they allow us to focus on our actual domain, rather than spending big innovation efforts on building a foundation to build on, right? For example, we don’t have to reinvent any GIS components before we actually implement real business value, because we can rely on the solid foundation provided by the Hexagon software and so this means that we can simply spend all our brain power to improve the AIM domain rather than solving any …
BK: I see.
MR: … fundamental issues.
BK: Sure, oh that’s great. Yeah. Exactly, doing the most important stuff.
BK: That’s great. Well, what does innovation mean to you? Feel free — I know, Johann, you wanna talk about that, but feel free to chime in, Matthias, as well.
JS: Okay, thanks.
JS: As said before, baseline is really the essence of our success, we are 70 years in the market. We wouldn’t be market leader if we wouldn’t have innovation as one of our core competencies. So, innovation, reinventing ourselves regularly, to really be a frontrunner, and as we have a statement in our corporate presentation, like, we set standards. And it’s also very important to engage with the standardization bodies to together create new standards for the industry where we believe also have a say in it, and really a contribution.
JS: Basically, it’s bringing additional value, be it functional or nonfunctional, and monetary to our clients, as quickly and comprehensively as possible. But with a safety-critical mindset, as Matthias mentioned. This is the essence of our industry, and of course this is part of the Frequentis DNA.
BK: Sure. Excellent. Anything you’d like to add?
MR: Yeah. Basically, just what Johann said, right? For us, it’s basically the tool to become and remain market leader in all our domains.
BK: Good. I like how you said that you’re continually reinventing yourself to continually get better and do what you gotta do. I mean, that’s fantastic, that’s what it should be. So thank you very much. I really appreciate it. Thanks for the information today and thank you both for your time.
MR: Thank you, Brian.
JS: Thank you, Brian.
BK: All right, for more information on today’s topic, please head over to frequentis.com. That’s frequentis.com. And to learn more and listen to additional episodes, head over to hxgnspotlight.com and thank you for joining us here on HxGN radio.