Outsourcing hardware developments to technology consultants can give the best chance of success, and could help to avoid many sleepless nights, according to Tim Fergus
The world of electronic hardware and product development is a challenging environment. From small start up companies right through to large multinationals, the need to meet ever changing user requirements and launch products in a timely, cost effective fashion is key to long term success. The drive for the latest function or increased performance drives the development process with unrelenting urgency. With such pressures the need to succeed is paramount and may well dictate the future of the company.
This has to be balanced with the need to keep staff costs down and often companies will find they are resource limited and need to look for assistance outside. This can take many forms but the most common is to use external short-term employees or contractors to cope with excessive peaks of demand. In some instances the complete outsourcing of a work package of complete development itself may make sense. This can be an effective method for a very targeted work package.
The challenge in contracting work is to ensure that the quality and delivery of the work package or complete development is done in timely fashion. This will ultimately depend on the contractor chosen, how they interact with the client organisation and the level of responsibility they offer.
This begs the question – how to ensure that contracting out work results in the greatest chance for success with the least intervention?
By taking ownership and responsibility for your hardware development, technology consultants (TC) can offer the best chance of success while delivering value beyond that expected.
For effective outsourcing of development work, the TC needs to possess key skills and abilities in addition to focus and drive. These can be highly effective at delivering results in short timescale.
By understanding not only the work to be done, but also the clients’ requirements and future needs, the TC is ideally placed to drive progress where it matters. Such an understanding drives the project forward to completion in a controlled and rapid way. This breeds confidence and ensures that the job is delivered in a short time as possible while minimising costs.
Consultants are sometimes visualised as being removed from the action; report writing and advisory in nature rather than actually doing the work. TCs are, however, more practically focused. Effectively, they are professional contract engineering services at the sharp end of development. Their wide breath of knowledge allows them to go from top-level system definition to implementing hardware, often working directly on the bench with a soldering iron.
Whereas individual may focus on specific tasks, TCs can take a much higher level of responsibility, in both their time management and the product development. Effectively they take ownership of the project until completion. This becomes much more important when the work to be done is a discrete package or even a complete product development. TCs can also provide direction to other sub-contractors/short-term individuals employed by the client, or even direct to client staff. This frees up the client and removes the burden of day-to-day resource management.
Consultants are generally broad in their experience and understanding. They may not be familiar with your product or technology, but the ability to learn rapidly will result in them delivering insight and value in a short time. Such flexibility is the key for the consultant’s survival in a rapidly changing world, which benefits the client. A larger consulting firm will offer many talented individuals – something the client will appreciate. This removes the need for careful and painstaking contractor selection; this has already been done by the TC company. They are that rare breed of excellent engineers with the business acumen and drive to succeed.
TC’s are keen to ask questions and take a view from outside and above the project. They don’t accept what they are told without questioning the reasoning behind the decision process. Such insight can be invaluable on projects and gives a helicopter view of how everything fits in – or does not! In many cases the simple questions are the one to ask. They know the bounds on what is possible and will flag up unreasonable assumptions.
In general large TC firms have expertise outside the technology or industry in which they normally work. For example a consultant doing hardware development may be able to access experts in IT, project management, change management, strategy and planning. It is best to use a TC that has a department or practice that fits with the technology to be developed. In some instances a TC firm will have its own specialist test equipment which may be available for use on client site or for use on the client project.
In some instances a complete development of software, hardware, industrial design and product fabrication, test and approvals can be conducted by a single TC firm. The ability to work in an integrated multi-disciplinary team is key to delivering quality product designs. Even smaller firms can offer these services when subcontracted out to partners, however, if possible, it is best to keep all skills in one place. Co-location is the key for team dynamics to be optimum.
On paper at least, TC firms can seem more expensive than contractors from other sources. This is however not true if you consider the value added to the project. Often the use of TCs can shorten development timescales, free up other members of client staff, or help with strategy and vision. When you consider such benefits, the true value can be
Tim Fergus is a Principal Consultant with PA Consulting’s Wireless Technology Practice, and can be contacted via: tel +44 1763 267492;
e-mail: innovation @paconsulting.com