In the product-development process, the communication of technical information between engineers is important, but just as important is the communication between engineers and non-engineers, says Cronin. After all, there are many key players in the development process who are not engineers—such as suppliers, marketers, managers, partners, consultants, and customers—and that's especially true early in the design cycle.
Design News: The transmission of technical documents over the Internet seems to be important as companies outsource design work. Is it an impediment? What are the impediments to outsourcing that you see?
CRONIN: Essentially, they involve communications and processes. Outsourcing requires good communication with people outside the company. But for many companies, internal processes for transferring information are often not formalized. The fact is, companies don't know how to push work outside their own buildings. And once they push it, nothing goes right the first time, so companies need constant communication. That can be difficult. People in the manufacturing world seem to have reached their maximum capacity to communicate and collaborate. Still, companies need to concentrate on their core competencies, and that means outsourcing other details. Electrical utilities realized that, and after deregulation they evolved into either energy creators or energy distributors, focusing on their core competencies. The Internet helps in manufacturing. CAD and PDM vendors are focused on creating, but not on disseminating information to non-engineers. And the best medium for distributing information isn't always the CAD drawing for non-engineers.
Q: How big an issue is security in information transfer over the Internet?
A: It's a very big issue. We focus on companies with large physical assets. They need lots of support. They know that if others get hold of their content it affects their business. They are especially concerned with design files. Security is our core competency and we invest heavily in it.
Q: What other issues besides security affect the transfer of technical information over the Internet?
A: Performance and scalability are two other issues. Companies with large files need to have a way to transmit those files efficiently. Transmission technology must be simple to use or it won't be scalable. Plus, more than 80% of the people in the supply chain who need the information a company may transfer are not engineers. Because they're not technical, they need a light-weight, easy-to-use system.
Q: What's the prognosis for B2B e-commerce?
A: It's growing. Every company is trying to find out how to buy and sell on the Web. The Internet makes it easy to find information. There are commodity purchases, configurable purchases, and customization models for e-commerce. Many observers think there are a lot of engineers doing e-commerce, but I don't think there are. I think by the time engineers get on the Web, they have optimized their designs and the designs are finished for the most part, and engineers are really just looking for someone to manufacture the product or subsystem.
Q: What are the benefits that Digital Paper brings to engineers?
A: We make it easy to communicate. Engineers need feedback from non-engineers, and we enable it. They also need feedback during manufacturing, and we provide it. Most technology focuses on engineer-to-engineer collaboration. But the product-development process depends on more than engineers, especially early in the design stage. When you enable communication between engineers and non-engineers, you make concurrent engineering work better.
John C. Cronin, III Chairman, CEO Digital Paper Corp., Alexandria,
For 11 years, Cronin has been managing high-technology product and service operations. He founded Digital Paper in 1995 as a company to develop technology for sending technical documents securely over the Internet. The company was one of Fortune magazine's "Cool companies—Hot ideas of 2000." Prior to founding Digital Paper, he was manager of geographic information services for Day & Zimmermann, a pioneer in geographic-information and document-management systems. Before that, he built CAD and CAM operations at New Market Products, a company that manufactured specialized tools for other manufacturers.