Software gives engineers a clearer view

DN Staff

August 14, 1995

6 Min Read
Software gives engineers a clearer view

Phoenix, AZ--Walk through the headquarters of Informative Graphics Corp. (IGC) and you may find yourself wondering if you're in an office or at summer camp. Shorts and t-shirts, bare feet, and the occasional Nerf(R) dart whizzing past make it seem more like a vacation than an average workday.

But look past the Nerf wars and casual dress and you'll find a company working hard to maintain the 40% average growth its shown for the past four years. That company: Informative Graphics, a developer of information viewing software that lets users access data created from multiple sources. The software supports CAD, plotter output, scanned raster, CALS, video capture, fax, and word processing formats. Users can view multiple CAD drawings, images, and text documents simultaneously to better understand the inter-relationships of an engineering design.

IGC's latest release--Myria(TM) 2.2--supports hybrid files produced by AutoCAD third-party imaging packages, specifically GTX Corp.'s GTXRaster CAD(R), Image Systems Technologies' CAD Overlay ESP(TM), and Intergraph's IRAS(TM). These packages enable scanned drawings to be updated within AutoCAD, creating a composite CAD and raster image drawing. With Myriad 2.2, such hybrid drawings can now be viewed, annotated, and plotted by any non-AutoCAD user in an organization.

From parking lot to proof. In 1986, consultant/engineer Gary Heath and engineer Martin Davis ended a typical work day with a parking-lot chat. The topic: What Heath and Davis were certain the engineering world needed--a universal viewer. Three and a half hours later, their vision of viewing technology had taken shape. Combining code each had written, they spent the next several years working nights to prove their concept.

Following this proof-of-concept journey, Heath and Davis established Informative Graphics in 1990. Four months later they rented a single-room office and furnished it with a table and five chairs. They soon realized they had a small problem: There was no one to fill the other three chairs. The two men hired friends as part-time contractors to help get the company started, and accepted their first contract with the electronics division of Nippon Steel in Tokyo, Japan.

In the black from the beginning, IGC had no venture capital, funding, or bank loans to pay off. It is a typical bootstrap company, according to Heath, who adds, "There was just a lot of hard work and creativity to keep us growing."

Experience also came into play. In his years as a consultant, Heath had seen many failed companies. He came away with two rules that would help ensure his company's growth: Be prudent about spending money, and remain focused.

As President of IGC, Heath still adheres to those beliefs, placing emphasis on the company's technology, rather than on sales and marketing. "We are always trying to find a nice balance without forgetting the roots of what made us successful--having a good core product," he says.

More for less. At the time Myriad software was introduced, similar products sold for $1,000 to $1,500 per seat. Myriad for DOS entered the market at $395 per seat and offered more functionality. In fact, the company claims it was the first viewing software engineered to look at both Raster CAD and text type documents.

Heath also says IGC was first to acknowledge that engineers rely on spreadsheets and word processing programs, and not just engineering documents. That realization sparked the introduction of WYSIWYG viewing, technology that lets users view information in formats other than standard ASCII text.

In addition to its viewing capabilities, Myriad enables redlining. This process allows engineers to use markup commands to annotate a proposed change or correction to a drawing. By creating the redlining as an overlay, the original document remains unaffected. Myriad's redlining tools, such as clouds, cross out, arrow, and insert, are based on actual engineering etchings.

Today, sixteen companies have signed agreements to resell Myriad software. Among them: Auto-Trol Technology, Computervision, Document Imaging Solutions, IBM Corp., International Software Systems, Novasoft, Wang Laboratories, Workgroup Solutions, and Xerox-Docuplex. The software also received Imaging magazine's 1992 Product of the Year award, and Document Management magazine's 1994 Product Choice Award.

IGC has licensed its viewing technology as OEM software to both Sherpa and Nippon Steel for use as private-label products. This core technology also forms the backbone of the company's Insight Reference Series(TM) of consumer and educational products. Each package in the series links graphics, animation, and text for a comprehensive look at a specific subject and an in-depth presentation of how that subject functions. The software reveals information about the subject's impact on both the environment and society, and also includes historical data and trivia.

Luck of the draw. Ask Heath what made his company successful and he'll tell you that luck had a hand in it. But he swears that the real secret to his success is tapping the creativity of the people he's hired. For Heath, that means developing a company culture that encourages creative growth and a sense of ownership.

Listening to people's ideas and letting them make decisions are key. Above all, says Heath, you have to let your employees make mistakes. The catch: Learning from those mistakes is a requirement. That may sound trite, but it's serious business for Heath, who insists "If you don't learn from your mistakes, then don't make them."

For employees at IGC, Heath's desire to foster creativity translates into freedom in their schedules and in the way they work. Engineer Ron Blomquist can testify to this.

Arriving at the office around 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. each day, Blomquist has breakfast and settles in for a few hours work. By 5:00 p.m. most everyone is in, and the engineers on staff gather outside for a game of frisbee, whirlybirds, or maybe just a trip to the nearest toy store.

Completely by choice, Blomquist shares a tiny 9 x 12 office with three other engineers, including co-founder Martin Davis. The room is crowded with four desks, computers, and a bookcase packed partially with food. There is, however, just enough extra space for a few "relaxation tools" like dart guns, whirlybirds, a beanbag chair, and a guitar. Speakers hidden in the ceiling vents give off just the right sound to get the creative juices flowing.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this room is that it isn't that unusual in a company where you are likely to get "attacked" any time you venture into another part of the office. In fact, fun and creativity are so important at IGC that the company considered moving to a campus style building so its engineers would have more room to play.

But Blomquist and office-mate Jon Lammer are quick to point out that life at IGC is not all fun and games. Long hours and busy days are common. No one goes out of their way to "attack" someone else. And though everyone at the company has at least one toy "weapon", they are very serious about their work.

Reality checked. Contrary to what some people might think, Heath insists his employees aren't running rampant. Management still exists at the company, as do staff meetings, deadlines, and individual goals. IGC merely takes a different approach to efficiency.

"Software development is an art form," says Heath, "and people feel artistic at different times. By setting up this type of environment, I'm getting the most creativity, more productivity, and better ideas." If the company's success is any indication, Heath has created a win-win situation.

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