The customer is always wrong
|See more Q&A with Fred about the Internet and globalization.|
At Data Translation, Fred Molinari's entrepreneurial spirit spearheaded the industry's first multifunction data-acquisition board. By installing these boards in standard microcomputers, scientists and engineers could quickly create low-cost, easy-to-use data-acquisition systems.
T&MW:Data Translation is unique in being strong in both data acquisition and machine vision. Is there a synergy between data-acquisition and machine-vision technologies?
Molinari:Data Translation is strong in both, but synergy between the two is still a long way off. Today, both fields are highly specialized, and the skills needed in each have to be learned over time. Putting them together could yield some intriguing solutions, but for now, there are no short-terms gains that justify combining them.
T&MW:Can you single out the most significant product or technology innovation within Data Translation?
Molinari:The use of common standards for both hardware and software. Standards allow customers to take precise, accurate, high-speed measurements easily. For example, our Open Layers software architecture was developed back in '89. Even today Data Translation applications built for an ISA board can be ported to Data Translation PCI and USB boards. Software standards also provide compatibility with other vendors' software. On the hardware side, the USB standard 2.0 gives customers the latest technology at the lowest cost while preserving their software investments.
T&MW:What absorbs most of your engineering team's efforts: hardware or software?
Molinari: I would have to say software because silicon is useless without it. And efforts around software aren't isolated to development: Issues like maintenance and technical support absorb a lot of resources. Most support revolves around failing or incompatible software. You don't hear much anymore of hardware failing—assuming there's good integrity to the development process. I would estimate the software-to-hardware failure ratio as 30:1, or maybe even higher.
T&MW:What do you see as your biggest challenge?
Molinari:The biggest challenge we face—because it's pervasive—is understanding customers. It's so easy for us to look through the prism of our knowledge and provide what we consider a "can't miss" solution. But what we consider a key benefit may not be what the customer thinks is the key benefit. To address this, we tell ourselves, "The customer is always wrong!" For example, we might find that what the customer asks for, such as lowest possible initial price, isn't what he really needs. A low initial price may increase a customer's costs substantially over time. Essentially, we've adopted a "hard on us and easy on the customer" approach. We analyze customer requirements with the goal of synthesizing the optimal solution for today's and tomorrow's problems.
T&MW: What is the most significant innovation you've seen outside of Data Translation over the 30 years the company has been in business?
Molinari:The incorporation of technology into everyday life, including the ability to communicate using binary data that has no barriers with respect to time, culture, or geography. Unlike 30 years ago, the technology to communicate—with cell phones, PDAs, and the Internet—is ubiquitous. T&MW