Remember when access to the latest and greatest technology typically happened on the job? Most of us wouldn’t dream of shelling out big bucks for the turbo-charged workstation that could run all of our design tools, let alone justify the expense of buying a smartphone just so we could tinker on the Web or catch emails on the fly. We’d wait for our company to issue us a corporate-sanctioned device, and we’d play by the company’s rules just to have access.
What a difference a couple of years can make. The steady stream of usability advances and cost-effective pricing models have opened the floodgates. High-end tools like tablets, graphics-laden laptops, and sexy smartphones are now a staple for a growing number of consumers, who are buying this stuff on their own dime and now want to use it on the job. The trend, referred to as the “consumerization of IT,” is driving huge changes in the way companies buy and support technology gear. But beyond that, it’s having a significant impact on what users -- be they business users or engineers -- expect from the productivity tools and applications they use every day on the job.
What I’m referring to is a growing expectation about how software should work. With turnkey smartphone apps and tablet devices a staple of everyday life, consumers are expecting the same level of utility and usability from their business tools. Contributing editor Jon Titus refers to this in a recent post in which he says user interfaces for products must be easy to navigate and more intuitive. Traditional business applications are starting to take a page from this philosophy, and we’re starting to see similar movement in the traditional CAD and design tool space.
Here’s a case in point, albeit a small one: Maide’s new CadRemote app for the iPhone and iPod touch essentially helps transform traditional CAD applications and optimize them for collaborative design review sessions. Most CAD platforms have added collaborative capabilities over the years, typically in the genre of CAD -- meaning robust and unwieldy. What Maide has delivered with CadRemote, and what I think we are starting to see from a variety of mobile design tool apps, is a simple, intuitive capability accessible just like the zillions of other apps we’re starting to use on our phones. These apps are zeroing in on one simple benefit: facilitating sharing and collaboration of a CAD model with peers on the device you're comfortable with and use extensively in everyday life.
Thanks Beth for an interesting story. It's heartening to see design tool makers paying attention. Or maybe it's just the fact that they are consumers, too. In any case, that wall going down sounds like a good thing.
Ultimately, I think the wall coming down is a good thing. This user demand for certain types of interfaces and smart phone-ready tools will be more important to the younger generation of engineers, no doubt. But if what's happening in traditional business software portends any broader trend, the CAD guys better be ready.
When I thought about this story, I realized that it's absolutely true. In the old days, it seemed like everyone waited for their employer to buy the next 286/386/486 PC. Now, I keep hearing, "My wife/husband bought me an iPad for Christmas/birthday." No one's waiting for the corporate trickeldown anymore. So, yes, the CAD guys could really get caught off guard by this.
Not only do most employees not wait for employers to outfit them with the latest and greatest in technology, but they are calling the shots in terms of telling IT departments what they want to use and what needs support. Users of CAD and design tools could be the exception because they do need the heavy-duty (read expensive) workstations and might be so game to pony up for the purchase. But in the end, both older and younger generations of engineers are going to want the flexibility of deploying their own smart phones, laptops, and tablets to garner access to their work product whether on the job, in the field, or at home.
It's interesting with this era of people bringing more and more of their own tools to work what will happen with policies at work. Before the employers supplied all of the tools and you had to sign one of those little pieces of paper which said you woudn't do anything bad. But now, if it's your computer that you are using, or your phone or your laptop, pad phone thingy. What liability does the company feel for you have work files or pics on your stuff. Interesting to think about.
@Chuck: You are right that one of the macro trends driving this is the fact that people work more during off hours (commuting on the train, at home at night, in the field at a customer site) and they want the flexibility of having their core tools with them to get the job done.
@jmiller: Savvy IT leaders know this train has left the station and there's no stopping it. Therefore, they are putting mobile management platforms and policies in place to enable what's called "bring your own devices" (BYOD) to work as opposed to stopping it in its tracks. Many companies give employees a monthly stipend to cover these expenses and make them sign policies whereby they are allowed to download personal stuff like pictures and music to the devices, but it they lose it or it is stolen, they are required to let IT departments "remote wipe" the device to make sure any corporate IP is deleted, thus protected. Interesting times.
Beth, thanks for the update on how companies are dealing with what were a few years ago one of the primary security holes for corporations, mobile devices and specifically, mobile worker-owned devices. Sounds like the fixes, like remote wiping, can be pretty harsh.
@Ann: Harsh, but necessary. I guess it's the price you pay for getting the company to bankroll your device of choice. It's likely a wake-up call for users/employees to be sure they sync their devices to their systems to ensure they have the appropriate back-up in case of such a disaster. My guess is the broader public is like me and they haven't yet embraced that best practice!
And a little advice to those out there that think it's the employers responsibility to back stuff out. Even though the company chooses not to back something up, you can choose to go above and beyond paying for a back up drive for some files. It might not be what you have to do, however, let's face it, we'll be the ones that have to redo the work so spending a few bucks on a back up drive might save a lot of grief.
With cloud storage so readily available, there's really no excuse not to have some sort of backup plan for your devices and laptops. Wait, is that me saying that?? Even with owning a slew of Apple technology and iCould at the ready, I am not practicing what I just preached. The truth is, it's my own fault if something happens and the same goes for employees who don't follow suit.
Perhaps there's a future article in that. What's avaiable for what price. I know it's not as glamorous as CAD and all the cool little toys that go along with it. However, I will say it's probably more important and likely just as applicable to CAD stuff.
It looks like the security problems have been "solved" by companies accepting the (apparent) inevitability of people not only hooking up mobile devices to work systems but also wanting to make their own decisions and choices about what those devices are. Remote wiping is probably a lot cheaper than the alternative of potential security risks of stolen data and back doors into corporate nets.
@jmiller: Actually CIOs are consumed by figuring out this trend as we speak. Try googleing the "consumerization of IT" or "BYOD policies." This is a pivotal issue for IT going foward and it many ways it redefines their role making it less about operations and more about becoming a service provider. Most companies are instituting policies that get into the details of stipends (what's covered), support (many companies are now letting users deal with their own support issues with the device providers), and security policies. Some are limiting what users can put on the devices from a personal standpoint, but most aren't. There are also new technologies coming out that enable IT shops to comparmentalize the devices, in a sense separating the personal stuff from the work stuff. And a lot of what they are doing depends on what industry they are in. Some, like financial and health care, are heavily regulated so they can't go as far.
Thanks, Beth, for the additional details on this trend. It sounds like the issue continues to be a major problem, but at least it's getting addressed. A few years ago the solution companies were pursuing sounded more like "just don't bring any of your mobiles to work and don't take any of ours home with you." Right--good luck with that. Obviously, that approach didn't work.
Beth: I think the other motivating factor here is that so many people bring their work home now. More and more often, I hear people talk about their home offices. It only makes sense that if you're bringing work home, you'll want the conveneince of using your home technology.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.