Creating the right culture to unlock innovation

Creating the Right Culture to Unlock Innovation

Adam Roberts - Marketing Consultant

By: Adam Roberts
Marketing Consultant

4th April 2018

Home » Insights » Careers & People

Having a customer-focused mindset is essential in business today. We all know that if you build differential and customised customer service plans you can increase your loyalty, increase revenues and grow your market share.

However, the most successful brands in the world are doing more than this to stay successful and market leading. Companies like Google, Apple and IBM are applying the same customer-focused mindset to building superior employee experiences (EX). So is having the right employee culture the new competitive edge?

Let’s start with some research. In a recent study by Accenture, companies with highly engaged workforces are 21% more profitable than those with poor engagement. Furthermore, leading companies are already realising the striking comparisons between CX (Customer Experience) and EX with 51% of business leaders surveyed planning to create individualised employee experiences comparable to consumer experiences in the next two years.

So employee experiences are important, what does this mean to me?

In order to remain competitive organisations must have employee engagement plans that enhance employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention. In doing so, you’ll also promote brand equity, competitive advantage, and sustainable growth. A big part of this, I believe, is creating a culture that unlocks innovation and the keys to accomplishing this are threefold.

Tools to collaborate

Have you ever noticed the technology we use and enjoy at home (in our personal lives) doesn’t always help us carry out the roles and responsibilities of our jobs? Many people find that when they get to the workplace, every app that they have on their phone becomes an unwanted distraction that actually hinders and/or slows them down. Using the right tools enables an open and transparent environment for employees to effectively communicate and work together.

This principle is fully embraced by Google as every employee can view the personal goals and objectives of every other employee. On a similar note, software engineers at Google also get access to almost all of Google’s code on their first day. This might sound a little extreme but by valuing an open and transparent company culture, Google teaches its employees that it believes them to be trustworthy and have good judgment. That, in turn, empowers staff to collaborate as a team to deliver their best work.

Tech SMEs can start to embrace this principle of openness and transparency in their processes by adopting a number of technologies that aid communication, such as open calendar access and/or use of an intranet site or forum. One of the ways we communicate project success at Plextek is through a bespoke project management system where all engineers and project managers can access each other’s workloads. This aids collaboration in meeting deadlines and ease of communicating progress to the rest of the consultancy.

Culture to Collaborate

Create an environment that sparks creativity and innovation. Having rooms and offices that are decorated with pictures and painted with vibrant colours does more than just impress the visitors at the reception desk. There is actually some science behind the layouts of offices and how they can be the catalyst for creativity in the workspace. I’d like to demonstrate this with an office that I’m fairly familiar with – the Plextek office.

We have a completely flat organisation. Directors, Executives, Managers, Consultants, Engineers and Graduates all sit at desks just beside everyone else. There are no pop-up office walls or offices with assistants or secretaries standing guard outside. This means that there are very few barriers to stop people from going to talk to the exact person they need at that moment in time.

It sounds simple I know, however, this physical equalisation, this physical democratisation, makes people at any level feel like their ideas are just as important as anyone else’s ideas. Everyone feels comfortable to speak up and share. We also have a kitchen/coffee point (with a whiteboard) that is placed between different engineering groups. This is another intentional effort to encourage great spontaneous conversation between staff where different ideas and different solutions can take form.

Some of you might be thinking that it is too difficult to implement some of these things into what you already do but the principles are quite simple. Have monthly socials between working teams (we have a Chinese Cook Off and the food is always incredible!), host a running or walking club, whatever the activity may be, it is about creating and having a spontaneous environment for people to come together and cross-pollinate ideas.

Embedding Change

Whatever change your organisation or team is going through it is important to actually make change stick. Teams and organisations not only need to survive with this change but they also need to thrive in it. At the beginning of this blog, I posed the question “What does this mean to me?” and that will be one of the first questions employees will be asking when accepting your change. I believe you must communicate your change to the head, the heart and the feet of your employees to ensure that it becomes part of the new routine.

Head

    Make your messaging for these changes very clear and simple to understand. Customise this message to the different user groups the change will involve and have specific logical reasons that the user can easily consume.

Heart

    Have a carefully picked executive sponsor who is well known and make sure this person is trained on the change, understands it, and leads by example. Promote the desired result in overall company vision and culture with emotion. And if the change is coming from you, make sure you walk the talk!

Feet

    Do they have the behaviours they need? Do they have the training and knowledge required to walk the walk in the new world of your change?


So is having the right employee culture the new competitive edge? Yes, I believe that it plays an integral part (but only a part) of a much bigger shift for businesses in the future. Deloitte are calling this shift “The rise of the social enterprise” and ultimately summarises the need for building superior employee experiences in order to succeed in this new landscape.

“Organisations are no longer assessed based only on traditional metrics such as financial performance, or even the quality of their products or services. Rather, organisations today are increasingly judged on the basis of their relationships with their workers, their customers, and their communities, as well as their impact on society at large — transforming them from business enterprises into social enterprises.”

Having a customer-focused mindset is essential in business today. We all know that if you build differential and customised customer service plans you can increase your loyalty, increase revenues and grow your market share.

However, the most successful brands in the world are doing more than this to stay successful and market leading. Companies like Google, Apple and IBM are applying the same customer-focused mindset to building superior employee experiences (EX). So is having the right employee culture the new competitive edge?

Let’s start with some research. In a recent study by Accenture, companies with highly engaged workforces are 21% more profitable than those with poor engagement. Furthermore, leading companies are already realising the striking comparisons between CX (Customer Experience) and EX with 51% of business leaders surveyed planning to create individualised employee experiences comparable to consumer experiences in the next two years.

So employee experiences are important, what does this mean to me?

In order to remain competitive organisations must have employee engagement plans that enhance employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention. In doing so, you’ll also promote brand equity, competitive advantage, and sustainable growth. A big part of this, I believe, is creating a culture that unlocks innovation and the keys to accomplishing this are threefold.

Tools to collaborate

Have you ever noticed the technology we use and enjoy at home (in our personal lives) doesn’t always help us carry out the roles and responsibilities of our jobs? Many people find that when they get to the workplace, every app that they have on their phone becomes an unwanted distraction that actually hinders and/or slows them down. Using the right tools enables an open and transparent environment for employees to effectively communicate and work together.

This principle is fully embraced by Google as every employee can view the personal goals and objectives of every other employee. On a similar note, software engineers at Google also get access to almost all of Google’s code on their first day. This might sound a little extreme but by valuing an open and transparent company culture, Google teaches its employees that it believes them to be trustworthy and have good judgment. That, in turn, empowers staff to collaborate as a team to deliver their best work.

Tech SMEs can start to embrace this principle of openness and transparency in their processes by adopting a number of technologies that aid communication, such as open calendar access and/or use of an intranet site or forum. One of the ways we communicate project success at Plextek is through a bespoke project management system where all engineers and project managers can access each other’s workloads. This aids collaboration in meeting deadlines and ease of communicating progress to the rest of the consultancy.

Culture to Collaborate

Create an environment that sparks creativity and innovation. Having rooms and offices that are decorated with pictures and painted with vibrant colours does more than just impress the visitors at the reception desk. There is actually some science behind the layouts of offices and how they can be the catalyst for creativity in the workspace. I’d like to demonstrate this with an office that I’m fairly familiar with – the Plextek office.

We have a completely flat organisation. Directors, Executives, Managers, Consultants, Engineers and Graduates all sit at desks just beside everyone else. There are no pop-up office walls or offices with assistants or secretaries standing guard outside. This means that there are very few barriers to stop people from going to talk to the exact person they need at that moment in time.

It sounds simple I know, however, this physical equalisation, this physical democratisation, makes people at any level feel like their ideas are just as important as anyone else’s ideas. Everyone feels comfortable to speak up and share. We also have a kitchen/coffee point (with a whiteboard) that is placed between different engineering groups. This is another intentional effort to encourage great spontaneous conversation between staff where different ideas and different solutions can take form.

Some of you might be thinking that it is too difficult to implement some of these things into what you already do but the principles are quite simple. Have monthly socials between working teams (we have a Chinese Cook-Off and the food is always incredible!), host a running or walking club, whatever the activity may be, it is about creating and having a spontaneous environment for people to come together and cross-pollinate ideas.

Embedding Change

Whatever change your organisation or team is going through it is important to actually make change stick. Teams and organisations not only need to survive with this change but they also need to thrive in it. At the beginning of this blog, I posed the question “What does this mean to me?” and that will be one of the first questions employees will be asking when accepting your change. I believe you must communicate your change to the head, the heart and the feet of your employees to ensure that it becomes part of the new routine.

Head

    Make your messaging for these changes very clear and simple to understand. Customise this message to the different user groups the change will involve and have specific logical reasons that the user can easily consume.

Heart

    Have a carefully picked executive sponsor who is well known and make sure this person is trained on the change, understands it, and leads by example. Promote the desired result in overall company vision and culture with emotion. And if the change is coming from you, make sure you walk the talk!

Feet

    Do they have the behaviours they need? Do they have the training and knowledge required to walk the walk in the new world of your change?



So is having the right employee culture the new competitive edge? Yes, I believe that it plays an integral part (but only a part) of a much bigger shift for businesses in the future. Deloitte are calling this shift “The rise of the social enterprise” and ultimately summarises the need for building superior employee experiences in order to succeed in this new landscape.

“Organisations are no longer assessed based only on traditional metrics such as financial performance, or even the quality of their products or services. Rather, organisations today are increasingly judged on the basis of their relationships with their workers, their customers, and their communities, as well as their impact on society at large — transforming them from business enterprises into social enterprises.”

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Further Reading

The New Shamans? - Part 2

The New Shamans? – Part 2

Nicholas Hill - Chief Executive Officer

By: Nicholas Hill
Chief Executive Officer

6th December 2017

Home » Insights » Careers & People

We can view the engineer today as someone who has special powers to control or influence the spirits of technology; a guardian of the magic of electronics and software; someone who can be looked to for a vision of what can be achieved if the spirits are willing, and someone in whom we must have faith that the spirits will be successfully harnessed and the vision delivered (on time and to budget).

I signed off from the first part of this blog wondering what it means for the engineer whose job it is to provide the technology under the hood, for companies who wish to bring new and evolving products to market, when the end user knows (and perhaps cares) less and less about how it all works. This engineer is in a position of considerable power and influence and needs to use that power both wisely and ethically.

Of course, we can use this power for ‘good’, or not, as we choose. There have always been ethical considerations for engineers, with some being uncomfortable working in certain fields, motivated by aspirations, such as working for peaceful ends or protecting the environment. Most people will have a red line somewhere about the intended applications of the technology they are working on, depending on their personal beliefs. However, the ethical aspect that I wanted to highlight is different to this. In a way, it is about who the engineer is actually working for, in the widest sense. If I buy a product, I might reasonably expect its designers to be ‘on my side’. Is that a reasonable assumption? It feels to me that, increasingly, it is not.

With technology becoming so obscure to the lay person, it is becoming easier to create the proverbial ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. At the headline news end of the scale, we have seen engineers working for an automotive manufacturer designing ‘features’ into the engine management system to enable the vehicle to pass emission tests, even though the vehicle would be way over the limits in normal road driving.

As an engineering task, exploiting the way that emissions tests were performed wouldn’t have been hard once the well-specified test procedure had been studied carefully. Sadly, a collection of individuals, including the engineers involved, decided that implementing this feature was the right thing to do. Who was the beneficiary of this feature? Clearly, it’s the vehicle manufacturer and not you, the end customer.

For a much less high-profile but more pervasive case example, think of the engineers in the smartphone industry who are working with psychologists in the field of ‘behaviour design’. That desire to keep looking at your phone is not simply due to your lack of willpower. You are responding to a carefully developed rewards system that has been built into applications with the express purpose of keeping you on the phone. In receiving these rewards, such as incoming photos, messages, ‘likes’, and other notifications, we are given a dopamine-induced kick, enticing us to stay engaged.

And because they do not occur on a fixed schedule, we are encouraged to keep looking just in case. More time on the phone means more likelihood of exposure to advertising. You, the end user, are not the beneficiary of this ‘feature’ either. Concentration, once lost, takes a long time to recover, so the loss of productivity through these constant distractions is enormous. And yet many engineers are engaged in developing and refining (I hesitate to say improving) such features. Perhaps it is not surprising that the loaded term ‘WMDs’ has been appropriated in some quarters to refer to Wireless Mobile Devices.

The VW case created a major upheaval, with both the company and whole emissions testing regime under close scrutiny as well as massed legal actions, multiple resignations, and one of the engineers responsible in jail. The damage to trust meant that the discussion quickly moved on to wondering which other manufacturers had been doing the same. In all cases, as technology gets more and more sophisticated, it will become easier over time to incorporate features that work against the end user.

Whether it is the car that they drive, their smartphone, a voice-activated personal assistant or any sort of connected appliance, these users may wish to evaluate for themselves whether the product they are purchasing is likely to be working for their benefit, or for the benefit of the company selling the product, or for someone else entirely. Unfortunately, the complexity and obscurity of the technology involved means that they are not in a position to make this assessment. After all, even the professionals conducting government emissions testing were fooled.

So the end user can only rely on trust and, if this trend continues, they may start to lose faith in the engineers and technologists who are designing the products that they buy. And that would not be a good thing for the engineering profession, which is having a hard enough time with its image already. As engineers, we all have a responsibility to our employers, but we should bear in mind that we also have an ethical responsibility to the users of everything that we design.

Try this test: if the feature that I am working on right now, and the reason for its existence, was printed on the product label rather than buried in a black box, would the customer still buy the product?

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

We can view the engineer today as someone who has special powers to control or influence the spirits of technology; a guardian of the magic of electronics and software; someone who can be looked to for a vision of what can be achieved if the spirits are willing, and someone in whom we must have faith that the spirits will be successfully harnessed and the vision delivered (on time and to budget).

I signed off from the first part of this blog wondering what it means for the engineer whose job it is to provide the technology under the hood, for companies who wish to bring new and evolving products to market, when the end user knows (and perhaps cares) less and less about how it all works. This engineer is in a position of considerable power and influence and needs to use that power both wisely and ethically.

Of course, we can use this power for ‘good’, or not, as we choose. There have always been ethical considerations for engineers, with some being uncomfortable working in certain fields, motivated by aspirations, such as working for peaceful ends or protecting the environment. Most people will have a red line somewhere about the intended applications of the technology they are working on, depending on their personal beliefs. However, the ethical aspect that I wanted to highlight is different to this. In a way, it is about who the engineer is actually working for, in the widest sense. If I buy a product, I might reasonably expect its designers to be ‘on my side’. Is that a reasonable assumption? It feels to me that, increasingly, it is not.

With technology becoming so obscure to the lay person, it is becoming easier to create the proverbial ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. At the headline news end of the scale, we have seen engineers working for an automotive manufacturer designing ‘features’ into the engine management system to enable the vehicle to pass emission tests, even though the vehicle would be way over the limits in normal road driving.

As an engineering task, exploiting the way that emissions tests were performed wouldn’t have been hard once the well-specified test procedure had been studied carefully. Sadly, a collection of individuals, including the engineers involved, decided that implementing this feature was the right thing to do. Who was the beneficiary of this feature? Clearly, it’s the vehicle manufacturer and not you, the end customer.

For a much less high-profile but more pervasive case example, think of the engineers in the smartphone industry who are working with psychologists in the field of ‘behaviour design’. That desire to keep looking at your phone is not simply due to your lack of willpower. You are responding to a carefully developed rewards system that has been built into applications with the express purpose of keeping you on the phone. In receiving these rewards, such as incoming photos, messages, ‘likes’, and other notifications we are given a dopamine-induced kick, enticing us to stay engaged.

And because they do not occur on a fixed schedule, we are encouraged to keep looking just in case. More time on the phone means more likelihood of exposure to advertising. You, the end user, are not the beneficiary of this ‘feature’ either. Concentration, once lost, takes a long time to recover, so the loss of productivity through these constant distractions is enormous. And yet many engineers are engaged in developing and refining (I hesitate to say improving) such features. Perhaps it is not surprising that the loaded term ‘WMDs’ has been appropriated in some quarters to refer to Wireless Mobile Devices.

The VW case created a major upheaval, with both the company and whole emissions testing regime under close scrutiny as well as massed legal actions, multiple resignations, and one of the engineers responsible in jail. The damage to trust meant that the discussion quickly moved on to wondering which other manufacturers had been doing the same. In all cases, as technology gets more and more sophisticated, it will become easier over time to incorporate features that work against the end user.

Whether it is the car that they drive, their smartphone, a voice-activated personal assistant or any sort of connected appliance, these users may wish to evaluate for themselves whether the product they are purchasing is likely to be working for their benefit, or for the benefit of the company selling the product, or for someone else entirely. Unfortunately, the complexity and obscurity of the technology involved means that they are not in a position to make this assessment. After all, even the professionals conducting government emissions testing were fooled.

So the end user can only rely on trust and, if this trend continues, they may start to lose faith in the engineers and technologists who are designing the products that they buy. And that would not be a good thing for the engineering profession, which is having a hard enough time with its image already. As engineers, we all have a responsibility to our employers, but we should bear in mind that we also have an ethical responsibility to the users of everything that we design.

Try this test: if the feature that I am working on right now, and the reason for its existence, was printed on the product label rather than buried in a black box, would the customer still buy the product?

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Further Reading

8 Lessons Every SME Should Learn When Dealing With Patent Trolls in the USA

8 Lessons Every SME Should Learn When Dealing With Patent Trolls in the USA

Graham Maile - Director of Strategic Consulting

By: Graham Maile
Director of Strategic Consulting

29th November 2017

Home » Insights » Careers & People

It is estimated that 2500 companies were sued in 2016 by patent trolls in the USA and £6 billion was expended in litigation costs and settlements, according to US patent and litigation advisers, RPX.

As one of the largest and homogeneous markets in the world, doing business in the States can present many opportunities. But there are risks, not least being the target for alleged intellectual property infringement. It is not uncommon to be one of many companies being attacked in relation to the same patent and, in such situations, certain actions need to be taken swiftly. Often resulting in lengthy and arduous legal battles, the process of winning these lawsuits can last for months, if not years.

While positive steps are being taken to bring in legislation to curb patent suits and this ‘patent troll’ culture, this has created a chilling effect for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that do not have lawyers in-house to take the burden.

This can lead to many SMEs finding their top management being seriously distracted from running the business and potentially causing more financial loss than just the inherent legal costs. From years of consulting experience in the technology market, here are eight lessons to think about as an SME when dealing with patent trolls in the USA:

1. Be absolutely clear about the facts

Ensure you are not in infringement by comparing what you sell in the US against the claims of the patent(s) asserted against you at an early stage.

2. Don’t rely on a defensive patent portfolio

Trolls aren’t amenable to cross-licensing and will not be swayed by an existing patent portfolio, no matter how extensive.

3. Assess the consequences of mounting a challenge

Do this objectively by potentially involving people and advisors more detached from the issue.

4. Counter Attack

It is standard practice to respond claiming the patent is invalid, but proving it can be expensive.

5. Find out who else is being attacked

You may find an ally but just as importantly, you should learn something from the other defendants.

6. Have a US lawyer on stand-by

Because there is little time to react if you are subject to this, know who you can call quickly.

7. Factor in litigation or insurance costs

When trading in the US in a market that is often a target for legal action, always factor in these costs into your budget.

8. Make people aware

Ensure your development people know about patent infringement and ways to avoid it.

Find out more detail about this subject in my free whitepaper.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

It is estimated that 2500 companies were sued in 2016 by patent trolls in the USA and £6 billion was expended in litigation costs and settlements, according to US patent and litigation advisers, RPX.

As one of the largest and homogeneous markets in the world, doing business in the States can present many opportunities. But there are risks, not least being the target for alleged intellectual property infringement. It is not uncommon to be one of many companies being attacked in relation to the same patent and, in such situations, certain actions need to be taken swiftly. Often resulting in lengthy and arduous legal battles, the process of winning these lawsuits can last for months, if not years.

While positive steps are being taken to bring in legislation to curb patent suits and this ‘patent troll’ culture, this has created a chilling effect for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that do not have lawyers in-house to take the burden.

This can lead to many SMEs finding their top management being seriously distracted from running the business and potentially causing more financial loss than just the inherent legal costs. From years of consulting experience in the technology market, here are eight lessons to think about as an SME when dealing with patent trolls in the USA:

1. Be absolutely clear about the facts

Ensure you are not in infringement by comparing what you sell in the US against the claims of the patent(s) asserted against you at an early stage.

2. Don’t rely on a defensive patent portfolio

Trolls aren’t amenable to cross-licensing and will not be swayed by an existing patent portfolio, no matter how extensive.

3. Assess the consequences of mounting a challenge

Do this objectively by potentially involving people and advisors more detached from the issue.

4. Counter Attack

It is standard practice to respond claiming the patent is invalid, but proving it can be expensive.

5. Find out who else is being attacked

You may find an ally but just as importantly, you should learn something from the other defendants.

6. Have a US lawyer on stand-by

Because there is little time to react if you are subject to this, know who you can call quickly.

7. Factor in litigation or insurance costs

When trading in the US in a market that is often a target for legal action, always factor in these costs into your budget.

8. Make people aware

Ensure your development people know about patent infringement and ways to avoid it.

Find out more detail about this subject in my free whitepaper.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Further Reading

A Micro Blog

A Micro Blog

Kevin Jones - Senior Consultant, Embedded Systems

By: Kevin Jones
Senior Consultant

11th October 2017

Home » Insights » Careers & People

When I started my embedded systems career, microcontrollers had fewer embedded peripherals, reference manuals were delivered by post and Netscape was about to launch its first version of the Navigator web browser. A little more than twenty years later and microcontrollers are now complex devices with many highly-configurable peripherals. This has created a problem where it can take longer to write the microcontroller’s initialisation code than it takes to write the application.

Thankfully, silicon vendors have recognised this and many vendors now offer free tools that help developers through these early stages. Typically, these tools display a graphical representation of the microcontroller. The developer uses the tool to choose which embedded peripheral is connected to which pin and how the peripherals are configured. The tool then generates a set of source files, sometimes with a choice of target development environments, and the developer can begin to write the application without concerning themselves with microcontroller initialisation. But is this always the best method?

I recently investigated two different methods of implementing a simple flashing LED RTOS application on a small microcontroller. I first used the vendor’s tools to auto-generate the project. This took just a couple of hours and resulted in a ROM footprint of approximately 8kb. Then I hand-crafted the project from scratch which took just over a day to complete and resulted in a ROM footprint of 4kb (and most of the 4kB is the RTOS infrastructure). 

This might not seem like a big difference until you consider that this example is simply flashing one LED. Imagine the savings in ROM footprint that could be gained in a real-world application that utilises many more embedded peripherals. Modern consumer devices are typically designed for the lowest possible cost. The smaller ROM footprint might permit the project to use a lower specification microcontroller which, in turn, might take a few cents off the bill of materials. This becomes significant when taking a development project to large volume production.

Plextek has the experience and skills of getting products into high-volume production and so we’re ideally suited to help clients choose either a rapid development using silicon vendor’s configuration tools or a bespoke development with its own potential advantages.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

When I started my embedded systems career, microcontrollers had fewer embedded peripherals, reference manuals were delivered by post and Netscape was about to launch its first version of the Navigator web browser. A little more than twenty years later and microcontrollers are now complex devices with many highly-configurable peripherals. This has created a problem where it can take longer to write the microcontroller’s initialisation code than it takes to write the application.

Thankfully, silicon vendors have recognised this and many vendors now offer free tools that help developers through these early stages. Typically, these tools display a graphical representation of the microcontroller. The developer uses the tool to choose which embedded peripheral is connected to which pin and how the peripherals are configured. The tool then generates a set of source files, sometimes with a choice of target development environments, and the developer can begin to write the application without concerning themselves with microcontroller initialisation. But is this always the best method?

I recently investigated two different methods of implementing a simple flashing LED RTOS application on a small microcontroller. I first used the vendor’s tools to auto-generate the project. This took just a couple of hours and resulted in a ROM footprint of approximately 8kb. Then I hand-crafted the project from scratch which took just over a day to complete and resulted in a ROM footprint of 4kb (and most of the 4kB is the RTOS infrastructure). 

This might not seem like a big difference until you consider that this example is simply flashing one LED. Imagine the savings in ROM footprint that could be gained for a real-world application that utilises many more embedded peripherals. Modern consumer devices are typically designed for the lowest possible cost. The smaller ROM footprint might permit the project to use a lower specification microcontroller which, in turn, might take a few cents off the bill of materials. This becomes significant when taking a development project to large volume production.

Plextek has the experience and skills of getting products into high-volume production and so we’re ideally suited to help clients choose either a rapid development using silicon vendor’s configuration tools or a bespoke development with its own potential advantages.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Further Reading

The New Shamans?

Nicholas Hill - Chief Executive Officer

By: Nicholas Hill
Chief Executive Officer

27th September 2017

Home » Insights » Careers & People

We can view the engineer today as someone who has special powers to control or influence the spirits of technology. A guardian of the magic of electronics and software; someone who can be looked to for a vision of what can be achieved if the spirits are willing, and someone in whom we trust that the spirits will be successfully harnessed and the vision delivered (on time and to budget).

I started driving at 17 in an old Mini that was built in 1964, and, as such, was fairly basic in engineering terms. To give a flavour of how basic it was, the windscreen wipers did not self-park (they stopped dead the moment the switch was turned off). There was also no starter solenoid, so you activated the starter motor by pressing a heavy duty push switch mounted next to the handbrake.

Being both an aspiring engineer and a rally competitor, I was soon pulling the car apart to make performance improvements, in the process finding out how all the mechanical and electrical parts and systems operated. The simple engineering was a blessing at that point as it was fairly self-evident how most things worked once you had them stripped down to the core components, whether it was the engine, suspension, brakes or electrics.

Over the years since I started driving, the change in technology has been astonishing. The change seems more remarkable now, looking back over a few decades than it did as I experienced it evolving. Layers upon layers of complexity have been added to everyday objects from the motor car to the telephone: first in electronics, then in software, and most recently in artificial intelligence.

There was a period of time when using the new technology was just too unfriendly for many people – remember all the complaints about not being able to program a video recorder? I think we reached a tipping point where user interface design had moved on far enough to make devices intuitive to use, and since then the general public can’t get enough of what technology can deliver. The trajectory now for the public at large seems to be an ever growing hunger for the benefits of new technology, in tandem with an ever-diminishing idea, or concept of, how any of the technology works.

Going back to the starter motor on my Mini, you could quite quickly become confident of explaining its operation without any difficulty to a layperson without any specialist engineering knowledge. A fat wire connected the battery to the electric starter motor via the big switch that I referred to. That was it. There were only really four concepts to grasp – the electrochemistry in the battery, electrical conductors and switches, and enough electromagnetics to explain how a motor produced torque. Indeed, you could make a small scale demonstrator using a torch battery and a small motor and then pull them apart to aid explanation.

This got me wondering about how I would go about explaining to a similar person how my present car gets started. At the highest level, it is easy enough: when I press the button on the dashboard, the car checks that the appropriate key fob is actually somewhere in the vehicle and then tells the engine to start; the starter motor runs for as long as it takes to get the engine going and then turns off. It soon gets harder as you get into describing a collection of sensors, radio links, processing units, communications buses, and power electronics and so on. If you want to get beyond mystery black boxes it gets much harder still.

To tackle just one element, say the wireless key fob, in any depth, would require an explanation of its physical radio link to the vehicle, the communications protocol, and the authentication methods. Dealing with any of these elements is going to require a discussion of great breadth and depth. And then, of course, there’s the issue of how all the electronic components involved actually work. I concluded that it was probably beyond me, technology had just moved on too far.

Artificial intelligence is only going to make comprehension harder, as behaviour becomes less deterministic. Until recently, a device manufacturer could describe to a user exactly how a device will behave in a given set of circumstances, albeit the explanation might be complicated. Going forward, you might find that your next generation robotic vacuum cleaner has behaviour that is unique to you because the environment in which it self-learned its behaviour is unique to you. The manufacturer you now are calling for an explanation may never have seen the behaviour you describe, but the device may actually be behaving perfectly ‘normally’.

What does this mean for the engineer whose job it is to provide the technology under the hood to companies who wish to bring new and evolving products to market? Where the end user knows (and perhaps cares) less and less about how it all works. This puts the engineer in a position of considerable power and influence and needs to use that power both wisely and ethically.

I will be exploring this topic in Part 2 of this blog.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

We can view the engineer today as someone who has special powers to control or influence the spirits of technology. A guardian of the magic of electronics and software; someone who can be looked to for a vision of what can be achieved if the spirits are willing, and someone in whom we trust that the spirits will be successfully harnessed and the vision delivered (on time and to budget).

I started driving at 17 in an old Mini that was built in 1964, and, as such, was fairly basic in engineering terms. To give a flavour of how basic it was, the windscreen wipers did not self-park (they stopped dead the moment the switch was turned off). There was also no starter solenoid, so you activated the starter motor by pressing a heavy duty push switch mounted next to the handbrake.

Being both an aspiring engineer and a rally competitor, I was soon pulling the car apart to make performance improvements, in the process finding out how all the mechanical and electrical parts and systems operated. The simple engineering was a blessing at that point as it was fairly self-evident how most things worked once you had them stripped down to the core components, whether it was the engine, suspension, brakes or electrics.

Over the years since I started driving, the change in technology has been astonishing. The change seems more remarkable now, looking back over a few decades than it did as I experienced it evolving. Layers upon layers of complexity have been added to everyday objects from the motor car to the telephone: first in electronics, then in software, and most recently in artificial intelligence.

There was a period of time when using the new technology was just too unfriendly for many people – remember all the complaints about not being able to program a video recorder? I think we reached a tipping point where user interface design had moved on far enough to make devices intuitive to use, and since then the general public can’t get enough of what technology can deliver. The trajectory now for the public at large seems to be an ever growing hunger for the benefits of new technology, in tandem with an ever-diminishing idea, or concept of, how any of the technology works.

Going back to the starter motor on my Mini, you could quite quickly become confident of explaining its operation without any difficulty to a layperson without any specialist engineering knowledge. A fat wire connected the battery to the electric starter motor via the big switch that I referred to. That was it. There were only really four concepts to grasp – the electrochemistry in the battery, electrical conductors and switches, and enough electromagnetics to explain how a motor produced torque. Indeed, you could make a small scale demonstrator using a torch battery and a small motor and then pull them apart to aid explanation.

This got me wondering about how I would go about explaining to a similar person how my present car gets started. At the highest level, it is easy enough: when I press the button on the dashboard, the car checks that the appropriate key fob is actually somewhere in the vehicle and then tells the engine to start; the starter motor runs for as long as it takes to get the engine going and then turns off. It soon gets harder as you get into describing a collection of sensors, radio links, processing units, communications buses, and power electronics and so on. If you want to get beyond mystery black boxes it gets much harder still.

To tackle just one element, say the wireless key fob, in any depth, would require an explanation of its physical radio link to the vehicle, the communications protocol, and the authentication methods. Dealing with any of these elements is going to require a discussion of great breadth and depth. And then, of course, there’s the issue of how all the electronic components involved actually work. I concluded that it was probably beyond me, technology had just moved on too far.

Artificial intelligence is only going to make comprehension harder, as behaviour becomes less deterministic. Until recently, a device manufacturer could describe to a user exactly how a device will behave in a given set of circumstances, albeit the explanation might be complicated. Going forward, you might find that your next generation robotic vacuum cleaner has behaviour that is unique to you because the environment in which it self-learned its behaviour is unique to you. The manufacturer you now are calling for an explanation may never have seen the behaviour you describe, but the device may actually be behaving perfectly ‘normally’.

What does this mean for the engineer whose job it is to provide the technology under the hood to companies who wish to bring new and evolving products to market? Where the end user knows (and perhaps cares) less and less about how it all works. This puts the engineer in a position of considerable power and influence and needs to use that power both wisely and ethically.

I will be exploring this topic in Part 2 of this blog.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Further Reading

Save