Yesterday I participated in a brainstorming on how to transform PD&E (Product Development and Engineering) environments of companies. Indeed, in a large number of electronics and other manufacturing companies, the PD&E IT is still under the responsibility of the engineering departments, not of IT. The management and governance of such environments does not reach the same IT standards, and many engineers spend a considerable time solving problems, setting up environments and trying to get the appropriate equipment. This can represent up to 20% of their time, during which they do not develop new products. So, if we could give them that time back, we would either save up to 20% of development costs or get the product out earlier.
I am not even speaking about cost savings as far as hardware and software licences are concerned. Our experience is a saving of up to 40% in hardware and 10-15% in licence costs.
What I found interesting in yesterday’s exercise is the focus on PLM, and the management/maintenance of product data. Obviously this is important, but we should not limit PD&E to that. If we want to make serious savings as described above, we should look at all the tools used during the design and engineering of a product. Many such tools are open source, others have been developed in house, and others are licensed. Many of then are only used during specific phases in the development process, and lent themselves for sharing IT equipment. However, they typically run in their own environment. So, setting up a server farm that provisions the appropriate tools/environments when requested is a great way to reduce hardware cost. Hardware refresh cycles can become shorter, providing more up to date hardware to engineers.
As the amount of software embedded in products increases, looking at the software development environments is a good starting point for the transformation of an R&D IT environment. It is close to what IT knows well and is often a new area for engineers. This makes it an ideal place to start. Look at your software development and where you can take it.