Software-intensive products are growing so rapidly that many manufacturers now employ more software engineers in product development than in their IT departments. Many have more software engineers than mechanical engineers.
Smart products, driven by software, are everywhere, from automobiles and aircraft to household appliances and children’s toys. Software offers limitless opportunity for innovation. It is, in the words of Jim Brown, founder and president of research firm Tech-Clarity, “the new frontier of competition.” Smart products, he asserts, give manufacturers big market advantages:
- Software-intensive products are more agile and flexible. They can be tightly tailored to specific customer needs and wants.
- Software-intensive products can be rapidly updated and even enhanced with new functionality at any stage of development or usage.
- Smart products depend less on the manufacturing process itself.
- Reuse increases. It’s easier to change smart products in the field.
- Product development cost and product cost overall can be lower for software-intensive products.
Whereas hardware design must be locked down early in the product development process, the software driving smart products can remain flexible until the late development stages. Software can then continue to evolve in manufacturing, with little incremental cost. During service in the field, software fixes can happen quickly and relatively inexpensively. New software features and upgrades can be added indefinitely, while hardware wears out and typically costs much more to repair.
And so, as the lines of embedded code keep multiplying, the smart products we rely on every day become smarter and smarter still. Yet this also points to one of the biggest challenges faced by manufacturers as they increase their investments in software-intensive products. The product development process has never been so complicated.