The realities of e-design

By Paul Dempsey |  No Comments  |  Posted: December 1, 2009
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One of the livelier public debates at DAC looked at how engineers and vendors are using such media as blogs, social networking and instant messaging for business. There are plenty of good ideas, with companies using new technologies constructively and informatively—but I still have a problem with how this new frontier is presented.

There is an assumption that all branches of engineering use online tools with much the same enthusiasm and intent. However, in talking to the staff actually running sites and services, a different picture emerges suggesting a much broader shading of behavior. Here is a coarse but hopefully still instructive look at that.

On one hand, there are the software designers. They live up to the image of aggressive, frequent users of social networks in a business context. Here, my informants keep referring me to the importance of open source, not just in providing a framework for creating new services, but also in spreading a culture that promotes their use. Software people are used to collaborating online and sharing discoveries with people they have not met in the flesh. It is all part of feeding something back into the development process. More than that, it is expected.

However, among hardware designers a broader mix of attitudes is apparently on display. Some are as enthusiastic as their software counterparts but they are probably not in the majority. In fact, a senior executive with a tier-one chip company recently told me how its trials of a Twitter identity had yielded extremely modest results.

Here, what you could say is that the hardware business is more
systemically secretive. Minor architectural details can still equal significant competitive advantage, and third-party suppliers—whether they offer tools, IP, foundry or other back-end services—also guard the ‘secret sauce’ jealously.

Beyond that, there is also the historic and ongoing importance of the military and security sectors, where secrecy is intrinsically vital. Even engineers who have left these sectors admit to carrying important aspects of the mind-set with them.

Yes, software has historically faced similar issues, but open source does seem to have made a difference. However, it may also be fair to say that there are very few success stories getting a public airing from hardware.

We’ve been quietly running a ‘Design Management’ section in the magazine for a few issues, and now I’d like to specifically reach out to those companies that have already begun to work with new productivity technologies to tell us what they can about getting it right. Please email me at The one thing that the online world has shown us is that to share is to win.

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