The article discusses the role of people, processes, and platforms in the success of a company. Companies need to foster a synergistic operational view that transcends the common fixation on simply acquiring the latest technology platforms and expecting greater productivity. It is a matter of three dimensions: people, processes, and platforms.
A pragmatic approach that balances people, processes, and platforms will transcend generation after generation of equipment and, for that matter, people and processes. People must operate the technology platforms, and they must be motivated to redirect their skills toward new tools and technologies. Processes, too, must be regarded differently—as a means to leverage not only higher feeds and speeds, but also to integrate data sharing, communication, and documentation. Achieving the right balance among people, processes, and platforms is necessary to drive business success.
Today's economic situation has forced business leaders to seek new efficiencies everywhere in their enterprises. They are looking ever more closely at product development, overhead, capital expenditures, sales, marketing, and more. And they are weighing these factors against competitive pressures and global economics.
While the stock market has recovered most of its losses from 2008 and 2009, and market observers foresee a gradual climb out of today's economic trough, many business leaders are still concerned about the future. Will demand bounce back? Will innovation turn things around? Will productivity growth fuel the engines of recovery?
I don’t have a crystal ball to predict what the coming months will bring to the world's economy. But I do believe that business leaders need to think differently and modify their behaviors to keep pace with a global business climate that's constantly changing whether economic conditions are good or bad.
In my own business, which involves PC-based automated thermal design and analysis tools, I have made a commitment to deliver solutions that will help my end-users increase their productivity and thereby pave the path toward increased profits for their companies. However, I also realize that tangibles like tools are only part of the solution. Automation can indeed boost productivity, that is, output per unit of cost or effort. But there are other dimensions that are just as important.
A challenge in three dimensions
From a “big-picture” business perspective, I believe companies need to foster a synergistic operational view that transcends the common fixation on simply acquiring the latest technology platforms and expecting greater productivity. It is a matter of three dimensions: People, processes, and platforms. After all, people must operate the technology platforms. They must be motivated to redirect their skills toward new tools and technologies. And processes, too, must be regarded differently—as a means to leverage not only higher feeds and speeds but also to integrate data sharing, communication, and documentation. Achieving the right balance among people, processes, and platforms is necessary to drive business success.
Of course, that is a statement whose simplicity belies the need for difficult transformations in many business models. The modern commercial environment, from design to production, deals with very complex products—and is itself quite complex. Emerging product requirements, from compactness to green environmental standards, are only adding to the complexity of getting a product to market.
In a recent a customer survey conducted by my team, mechanical design engineers and their managers spoke of immense job pressures. More than one quarter of the respondents emphasized the need to get to market faster. That is a productivity issue writ large. Other issues included developing functionally advanced products, building more reliable products, and reducing overall costs. Product design complexity and added functionality are daunting issues further complicated by time pressures, budget constraints, and human resources amid the recession.
An astutely chosen technology platform can shorten and improve product development cycles. It is the foundation for new processes and better use of peoples’ time and skills. Much of the appeal of design automation technology is based on one simple reality: Tools that help companies conduct thorough design analyses earlier in the development process foster improved product quality and faster development. Simulating and analyzing a design earlier will improve product performance, reliability, and overall development time. Early project data shapes the process and helps designers avoid missteps later. It all adds up to faster time to market, which in turn fends off competitive threats and, if all goes well, increases market share.
I lead a Mentor Graphics product division that does business in the computational fluid dynamics field. CFD technology helps designers understand how liquid, gas, and heat flows impact the overall performance of their end products, from integrated circuit packages to electronic and mechanical systems. While CFD is an important step in the design process, designing a product and delivering it to the market requires input from research and development, manufacturing, finance, and sales.
One piece of the puzzle
Thermal analysis is just one part of a much larger puzzle for my customers. In their world, multiple platforms must work with one another in harmony to ensure seamless continuity from one design step to the next. Enterprises are learning that taking a shortcut—simply investing in a tool, dropping it into an existing process and expecting a smooth operation—can lead to costly roadblocks.
Therefore, we work with our customers to gain a thorough understanding of their business: How they do things, what pressures they face, and what their objectives are. Through this discovery process we try to diagnose the root cause of the problem instead of just treating the symptoms.
Imagine a hypothetical symptom: The engineering group is developing a new fuel valve and consistently has trouble meeting its project milestones. The valve simply won’t deliver the volume needed at the output. For each redesign, the valve must pass through an external CFD lab for analysis, at the cost of several days for each evaluation cycle.
What is the solution? The decision should never be one of just selecting technology. The root cause needs to be tracked down after looking at all the people, process, and platform issues. It is important to think about improving processes and defining them better. And it is critical to earn the acceptance of staff stakeholders—those who will have to adapt to changes in the way they work.
In the case of the fuel valve project, modernizing the process by bringing the external CFD procedure in-house would be a workable solution if the right platform were available and the people could be expediently trained to use it. Here, the discovery phase identifies the root cause of the problem—that's the easy part in this case—and equally important, defines a synergistic solution.
The valve manufacturer and its peers throughout industry all share some similar needs: They need more efficiency and productivity, ideally to be accomplished with solutions that are transformative but not disruptive. The consistent drumbeat of these demands has led software developers including my division to develop a solution that merges directly into an engineer's mechanical design toolset, enabling him or her to analyze thermal performance as soon as a mechanical model exists.
This kind of advancement is systemic in that it addresses people needs by enabling not only analysis specialists but also staff mechanical designers to perform rigorous thermal analysis from the comfort of their familiar design tools. It confronts process challenges by bypassing time-consuming external analysis steps. And it handles platform needs by integrating with proven design environments. Moreover it produces, at a very early stage in the mechanical design process, data that can inform other processes right through to manufacturing and even service.
The near-term economy remains uncertain for now. But realistically, the economy is always uncertain; always poised to dive or climb just when change is least expected. One hedge against this dynamic is to institute policies that consider more than just the latest cutting-edge technology platforms.
A pragmatic approach that balances people, processes, and platforms will transcend generation after generation of equipment and, for that matter, people and processes. When you discover a solution that embraces all these needs, you have found an enduring answer to today's challenges— and tomorrow's.