Saturday, January 30, 2010

Map for the Journey

The Journey. Source: FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

In the early days of the software industry, people used to talk about programs and not about products, software solutions used to be simply -built- versus being -designed-. Like in many other disciplines, applied computer science started small, by people writing modest programs that took advantage of those increasingly accessible things called computers.

Programming has evolved organically solving less "scientific" problems, people gradually started talking about "applications" and simple business programs rapidly evolved into sophisticated systems. But only when those systems started to be implemented as repeatable solutions for third parties was when the real industrialization of software started, and when the software as a -product- was born.
A similar phenomenon has taken place in the field of electronics with the massification of integrated circuits and microprocessors, in fact, after the explosion of electronics in the 70's a fascinating synergy between hardware and software produced one of the most accelerated innovation waves of the modern technology, a wave that keeps gaining speed since then.

At that time, it was not hard for many to start discovering the potential of repeatable software solutions and services as a lucrative business. A large number of companies rapidly flourished with the fresh impulse of this fast-growing discipline. The reaction of the business world did not take longer to surge, and very quickly, all the successful business paradigms proven in other industries were adapted to work in the software arena, transforming those programs into actual marketable products.

If we put in the classification of "top-down design" the products that were first conceived to satisfy a market demand and then engineered, we can safely say that the early software products were mostly originated in the opposite way; many early software products were the result of "bottom-up designs", in which new creative ideas were transformed in programs by a brilliant engineering minds and then (no less brilliant) businessmen found ways to identify or in some cases create a market need for them.

The top-down and the bottom-up approaches both have their own strengths and weaknesses, the fact that we live in a modern economy with a mature and competitive software industry that often prefers marketing research and business plans up-front, does not mean that the bottom-up design is a primitive practice, a living proof of that is the fact that the Technical Research and Development departments in most of today's advanced software and hardware development organizations play a leading role in the generation of new products, in fact many successful high-tech products in today's market started as a bottom-up initiatives.

Despite the vertical direction of its conception process, when we refer to the term product, implicitly, it is generally assumed that a we are referring to an entity that has a meaning, an identity, and a value. It is my preference through this writing to judge software products for what they mean for their users and the market. It is not only a matter of the product technical profile or its market positioning but also is key to understand the significance that they have for the ultimate agent that makes them products: the consumer. I propose that we conceptualize High-Tech Products essentially as: Commercial offerings providing value to fulfill a consumer need or desire; which in turn, happen to be materialized through software and/or hardware technology.

I believe that this informal definition of high-tech product disassociates the technical considerations from the core values of any product in general,  helping us to X-ray the products down to their essence, in a way that we expose their true value proposition and distinctive attributes. With this abstract optic, we can easily analyze how they align (or not) with the business vision behind them and the way they are perceived by consumers.

My intention is to humbly contribute to the evolution of the High-Tech community by bringing some additional business and design perspectives not often discussed deeply in the traditional engineering circles, as well as remarking important technical considerations that are typically obscured to business folks.
I will consider myself satisfied if my impressions can help to build the bridge that finally marriages these worlds, so we can think about the conception of High-Tech products as a cohesive whole, encompassing Design, Technology, and Business.

This is an open invitation to an exploratory journey through the exciting world of the creation, evolution, and commercialization of High-Tech products. I hope that, as we go through, you can obtain additional perspectives of this discipline and enjoy the adventure in the same way that I have been enjoying this rewarding profession during all these years. Let's ride!

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