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Do Engineers Fear Innovation?

Synergis Software

Synergis Software

If the question in the headline seems odd or even stupid to you, please let me explain. I know engineers embrace innovation; it is part of their very nature to get ahold of something and improve it or to build something new and different, something innovative. What I refer to is a fear of innovation when it comes to the tools and procedures they use.

Many engineers want to be inventive and clever but do it with tools and processes that remain familiar and comfortable. It is why after more than 20 years of 3D MCAD and BIM there are still millions of engineers and designers using 2D CAD to create three-dimensional objects and design buildings. It gets the job done and they can focus on the task instead of learning new tools and procedures. Never mind that study after study shows using 3D CAD technology leads to fewer errors and reduces time to market. The ones who stay with 2D CAD don’t want the cognitive and emotional load of learning a new way to do their job. The companies and supply chains involved collectively don’t want to make the effort either.

The use of data management in engineering and design is another area where fear impedes progress. It feels easier to stay with existing processes and tools than to switch to a system that might have a high learning curve. I say “might” intentionally; it is often an irrational fear that assumes the changes will be difficult and the learning period long.

The problem comes with a misconception about the very nature of innovation. It is easy to think of innovation as a revolutionary step, radical and discontinuous. But revolution is not the only form of innovation. Evolution can also be the process of innovation; continuous and incremental steps toward a goal.

The day-to-day work of engineering is supported by documents and processes. If you spend 30 minutes tracking down a document that wasn’t put in the correct Windows folder, that is inefficient. If you type a search phrase and find the document in five seconds that is innovation. But you are still working with the same documents to achieve the same processes. The improvement in workflow is an evolutionary improvement not a revolutionary reinvention of your day.

The introduction of new data management processes reduce waste and increase operational efficiencies, but there is no reason they have to make the user feel like they are undergoing a revolution. Modern PDM software like Synergis Adept can automate tasks and processes, efficiently manage content, improve collaboration and productivity, and reduce time to market. But they do in in an evolutionary fashion, providing a huge productivity boost without a mind-numbing revolutionary transition.

In the big picture, engineering companies must embrace both revolutionary and evolutionary innovation. There is a time to tweak an existing product or remodel an existing building, and there is a time to start from scratch and design based on the very latest ideas, materials, and processes. Internal innovation is the same way, and usually the evolutionary path makes any future revolutionary innovation easier to embrace.

Synergis Software Solutions Architect Russell Reese recently explained in a webinar how evolutionary innovation is a key aspect of the Adept approach to data management. Watch "The Four Pillars of Data Management."

Randall S. Newton is the principal analyst and managing director at Consilia Vektor, a consulting firm serving the engineering software industry. He has been directly involved in engineering software in a number of roles since 1985. 

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