I just returned from The Congress On the Future of Engineering Software (COFES). For those not familiar with COFES its official description is:
COFES is the engineering software industry’s only annual think tank event which brings executives from design, engineering, architectural, development and technology companies together to understand the role engineering technology will play in the future survival and success of your business.
The idea of COFES is to gather many great minds (not sure how I got inJ) from a wide breath of industries to discuss various topics that are changing or going to change our lives. It was jam packed with discussions, ideas and thought provoking questions. I am still trying to assimilate the information but thought I would try to write about my current 3 takeaways.
1. Tight Relationships Between Many Technologies
The relationships of new and improving technology: Big data, data analytics, IoT, nanotechnologies, material development such as graphene, security, CAD, CAM, additive/subtractive manufacturing, digital currency, cloud, search, genetic algorithms, predictive systems, cognitive computing, autonomous vehicles, PLM, ERP, software delivery strategies, GPUs, cold fusion, democratization of simulation, virtualization, augmented reality, etc. coupled with changes in nontechnical environments: new business models, sustainability, culture, economics, aging demographics, evolving consumers’ expectations, intellectual property, niche industries, etc. leave the opportunity for a lot more disruption in the years to come.
With only being in the technology industry for ~15 years I cannot say that there is more stuff going on now but what I can say is the relationships between the technologies today are extremely high. New improvements in one technology can completely change the landscape in several other areas which continue to ripple through almost every other segment. It is absolutely an exciting time to be in technology but also very exhausting.
2. Business Models are Changing
New business models were discussed on many occasions throughout COFES. I really think that businesses are going to be changing the way they do business just as fast as the technology is changing. We have already seen some big players starting to shift to a new model as well as some startups implementing a totally unique strategy.
Changing a business model can disrupt an industry with as much force as some innovative technology. It will be interesting how changes to some business models will affect how we purchase, consume, deliver and use future technology.
I think every company needs to spend time on answering one simple question:
What is Your Business?
It sounds easy but I bet most companies do not really have a true understanding of this question. One example that was discussed at one of the round tables was Kodak. The attendee (forgot who it was) stated Kodak thought they were in the business of capturing moments but should have been in the business of capturing and sharing moments. This is a subtle difference but it could have had a profound difference on their business.
3. Caution of exploding amount of Features
Following the theme of COFES “Stepping Back to See the Big Picture” I found myself thinking about how current users use software and the challenges that almost every software solution provider has today. The challenge is that almost all mature software today has a vast amount of features but the number of features users use is a very low percentage. The common example is Excel where the majority of users use or even know just 10% of its functionality. It was also mentioned in one of the sessions that PLM software users only use ~10% of the capabilities of the PLM solution.
There are other dimensions we need to consider since if it was as simple as removing 90% of features this would have been done. However, I do not want to concentrate on that at the moment.
What I took away from this is that for mature or even new modern tools there is a point where you add new features at a pace which exceeds the pace at which a user can consume the new capabilities. This is called the consumption gap.
I am confident in saying that every mature tool has seen continual growth of this consumption gap, ShipConstructor included. New tools that are just starting out may not have a huge consumption gap yet; however, with the speed these new companies are pumping out features it will be just a matter of time.
You often hear vendors blame the users that they are not using the tool to its fullest capability. This does relate to my blog post about the need for continuous training I wrote previously. However, I do think that the vendors are just as much to blame as the end user or maybe even more so.
Traditionally vendors would create new features usually driven by a group of users and then provide training materials, how-to videos, webinars or conduct training to improve the adoption of the new capability. All these activities are done to reduce The Consumption Gap.
The fact is that every feature added to a solution will have an ongoing cost to the solution provider. This includes maintenance, regression testing for every future release and possibly some added technical debt to the code base for future developments. For every feature that is not adopted by users at a similar rate which influenced the decision to implement that feature, then the original decision to implement that enhancement might not have been the right decision. In other words the solution provider has spent precious time and effort on the wrong thing.
The delivery of feature (new and old) discoverability is where I think we as an industry need to rethink how we inform our users about capabilities that might be useful in their workflow that they are not using. A major reason users do not use a high breath of their software is because they just do not know. Creating press releases, great documentation, videos, webinars, etc. is usually pushed when the new feature is introduced but this is not when the user will have a use for that capability so they will either ignore it or forget about it.
What I think needs to happen is to have intelligence in the tool to analyze what the user is doing and then suggest, recommend or just make changes. This would require some really good data gathering, sophisticated analytics and an exceptional natural UX. I cannot stop thinking about Clippy which intended to do this but was not implemented very well and therefore was not adopted by users. However, this does not mean the idea was bad. This is not an easy problem to solve but something I think many of the solutions of the future will have.
The amount of technological and non-technological factors which can have a profound effect on our lives and companies in the future seems almost infinite. What appear to be unrelated areas are actually very connected. An innovation from what seemed like an unrelated field can significantly change the landscape of your industry and open new markets.
The nebulous intersection of all the technologies makes it impossible for most to see what is to come or even make some very important connections. This is where I think events such as COFES are great opportunities to discuss and learn from experts in completely different fields. Events like COFES make it easier to find a pattern forming for the future.
Businesses strategies and models are being disrupted as much as technology. This disruption in business should be treated the same as technology disruption, as an opportunity. This disruption goes far beyond just changing the way you charge or deliver your solution. The key to changing your business is to really understand What is Your Business?