Design for IT - Page 1

Nov 28, 2006

Patrick Gray

Several years ago there was a major disconnect between designing and producing products. Engineering staff responsible for the design, and those in manufacturing and the supply chain responsible for actually building and distributing the item in massive quantities were at odds.

An excellent product that was difficult to produce did a corporation little good, since that product was costly to build, and could not be made quickly enough to satisfy significant demand. In response, design-for-manufacturability (DFM) was born.

As the name implies, product designers and engineers no longer design products in isolation, but hand-in-hand with those tasked with manufacturing them, ensuring new products can be rapidly and cheaply produced by “designing-in” manufacturing.

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Recently, thanks to people like Seth Godin, these concepts have extended beyond manufacturing to the marketing function; encouraging marketers to be involved in product design. Features and design elements that would contribute to the marketability of the product are built in during the design phase, and marketing is aware of the product well before it lands on their desk packaged and ready to ship.

This both saves costs in designing marketing programs for the new product, but also results in a higher-quality outcome, since certain design aspects of the product are actually incorporated to make it more marketable.

Now, the time has come for IT get in on the act.

Getting into the Act

IT is heavily involved in the supply chain and marketing functions of most corporations, yet it is rarely involved in new product design until an existing system can not accommodate some aspect of the new product.

Simultaneously, many new offerings are also becoming more reliant on IT. From consumer products that “phone home” for software updates and new content, to complex bundles of physical goods and services that require multiple back office transactions to ship, bill and account for.

Just as products engineered without any regard to their manufacturability are more costly, so too are products designed without IT. It is time for “Design-for-IT.”

Assuming your IT organization is transitioning from a low-cost utility (see my Avoiding the Axe column from last month) and is gradually filling its ranks with process experts, these resources can be invaluable when included early in the product design process.

Consider the usual product development process for a moment: In the best organizations, products are designed with engineers, production specialists and marketing experts. These organizations generally have the most sophisticated supply chains, and advanced analytical marketing capabilities. Producing the product and marketing it begins in isolation from IT, and it is only when an existing system can not accommodate the product that IT is brought into play, often when the product specifications have been “set in stone” and production has already begun.

At this point, the product, its features and the marketing campaign around the product have already been designed; IT must act like a band aid after the fact, rather than serve as preventative medicine.

If your IT organization has made the shift to being process-focused, and gained the support of the CEO and other corporate leaders, IT’s input can be indispensable in the product design phase. IT can help design the processes around production, ensuring that the product is both designed for manufacturability, but also designed to make maximum use of unique systems and processes built into manufacturing and the supply chain.

A process-focused IT organization can also serve as a clearinghouse between other elements of the corporation. Perhaps there is unique knowledge in purchasing that might aid the supply chain in sourcing components?

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