As a component supplier or an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) you will be providing each of your customers/markets with a custom application, whilst behind the scenes, re-using as much from other evolutions of product as possible.
Software and re-use have an exceedingly oversold pairing when looking at business economics, but there are strategies and development processes which may be of economic use. One such strategy is ‘Product lines’ which we will address in more detail in a later instalment, but is a mechanism for changing the cost model of producing variant products, centred on an architectural approach and well-managed variation points; It’s widely used in automotive, mobile phones and the like but may be economically deployed on lower volume industries.
For applications whose capability can be defined by software (‘feature content’) it is common to market a premium product with ‘full-house’ capability and other market offerings with various sub-sets of functionality. Delivering the premium product first provides the greatest development burden, but usually fastest delivery to other market price-points; or alternatively a way of incrementally introducing features of value; both need to be clearly architected appropriately to achieve the overall capability and matched to the business’ sales strategy, price-points and timing.
Getting the ‘patterns’ of feature sets right needs to be a symbiotic relationship between marketing and engineering, to satisfy the set of valued configurations, lest we fall foul of driving in needless variation and complexity (which in turn drives cost and programme) as we saw in the last instalment.
User interfaces are an area where there is an opportunity to build a brand image, and with it, brand allegiance; however the design of these should not be left to engineers without the necessary specialists skills in human interface design. As the ‘face’ of the product, it clearly needs to respond to the customer’s needs, be simple, robust and reliable, but also fit for the environment in which it is to be used.
Customers are often poor at expressing what they want, but recognise what they don’t like, so expect lots of iteration; an obvious home for low cost development prototyping (see previous instalment). Unless your market produces applications for user (mass-) customisation such as website design or workflow and management summary tools, avoid building in flexibility that could destroy the ‘look and feel’ you wish to establish, especially if this is to extend to potential vertical markets for companion products.
Human Machine Interfaces present a significant opportunity for mis-operation, whether accidental or malicious, and poor robustness here can quickly frustrate the user, or even lead to accidents. In the modern, connected world, any weaknesses are quickly disseminated and rapidly tarnish reputation.
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