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High Tech Pivoting

You may have heard the saying, or curse, “may you live in interesting times.” Although the saying has no certified attribution, the year 2020 might be a good candidate. As we navigate our way out of a challenging period and into a less traumatic environment, it’s important to look back and see what went right, what went wrong, who struggled, who progressed, who failed and who flourished in difficult times.

Especially in the high-tech market space, with entities and products that are on the cutting edge of technology, sharp lines were drawn between those that struggled and those that flourished. Some struggled with slowing production, increasing costs and adapting business processes, while others flourished thanks to the ability to quickly produce innovative products, or pivoted to new opportunities in a rapidly changing business and cultural environment. Many struggled where communication is impacted by proscribed remoteness, where data can no longer be held in separate domains, and where email may become primary, but far from the best way, to establish the thread of a product’s lifecycle. Entities that were able to exploit their processes and technologies to benefit from a unified digital thread, often were able to not only compete, but came out winners.

Ideas happen on napkins, white board sketches, in the shower and over dinner discussions. Great ideas like a coin counting type of machine that takes your legacy bucket of Lego pieces scavenged from shoe boxes, under beds, and various nooks and crannies, analyzes the contents and produces directions for possible builds. A high-tech recycling machine! Taking this idea from the napkin, to requirements, defining functions, putting behaviors into a logical framework, describing the physical product – including the software, electronics, electricals, and mechanics to satisfy the idea’s intent – is often where the difference between loss, mediocrity and success lies. The design of mediocre products happens in spreadsheets and documents, “me too” products happen in outdated systems, and innovative products happen, most often, in a collaborative platform where a digital thread is developed for strategic agility, accuracy, accessibility and action for all stakeholders.

High tech companies are essentially idea machines that leverage data. There is no shortage of data, but there is still a shortage of digestible, actionable data in many environments. Product design is a series of decisions that are based on the known realities of the decision maker. Accuracy of data is critical. Is the data up to date? Certainly, it has changed during the design process, as various domains make their decisions and create inputs into the lifecycle thread. Is there enough accurate data to make my own decisions based on others’ decisions and my own? Do I have access to the data? Is the thread complete or is the data distributed in multiple tools or inside an application that relies on an “out-of-the-box,” outdated view of someone else’s data model? Or, is resident in a platform designed to be flexible, to process data into practical information for today as well as tomorrow’s decisions?

Going back to our great idea as an example—market studies have been done, initial analysis has been performed, the product is feasible, but it is a new business model for us. The green recycling machine is a point-of-sale product that we have wanted to infiltrate for a while. How to get from point A to point B is the question and the challenge. We thought we understood our processes and our data requirements, but it turns out we really didn’t. Requirement types are different and foreign to many of us, we are under different governance than previously, approval processes bring in a new set of eyes and our data models are inadequate. Pivoting could be time consuming, expensive and ultimately not worth it. On the contrary, it could also be enormously satisfying, successful and rewarding.

Agility counts in innovation and even more so when pivoting to new business models. But if your existing tool set resists or cannot change, pivoting can be slow and painful. Many vendors have been successful in mimicking last year’s processes and data models by producing an OOTB solution that seemed to work for a specific point in time set of requirements. Other tool vendors realized that their business will change, either through outside forces or internal forces looking to explore new business models. Some of these vendors encourage customization of their base offering and some even provide a low-code pathway to enact such changes. Not all low-code offerings are equal. Some float above the offering sharing data at a superficial level. Others are deep in the DNA, with specific applications built in the low-code, which allow the user to modify as needed and build their own as needed. Users who are fortunate to take advantage of such a system can pivot quickly, gracefully and flourish bringing innovative products to market in high tech.

About the Author

Verl McQueen is a Product Marketing Manager for Aras Corporation. Beginning his career in the CAD industry, he spent many years in the architectural CAD, PDM, document management, and PLM spaces. He has published several articles for industry publications and writes periodic blogs for Aras. He holds an engineering degree from Brigham Young University after beginning formal studies as an art major.

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