Rice MEML Lecturer, Uyi Abusomwan, interviewed Carlo Poloni of global engineering design firm ESTECO to get his perspective on the future of Industry 4.0 technologies and product management.
Carlo Poloni, President of ESTECO
In 1999, Esteco President, Carlo Poloni, and his fellow engineers, Luka Onesti and Enrico Nobile, founded ESTECO. Author of more than 100 papers, Poloni has been a professor of mechanical engineering and a researcher at the University of Trieste. He currently serves as president of ESTECO and is on the board of the Italian chapter of INCOSE.
An independent software provider that specializes in numerical optimization and simulation data management, ESTECO offers a leading-edge engineering suite to provide enterprise-wide solutions. For more than a quarter-century, ESTECO has supported over 300 leading international organizations in designing innovative, future-focused products.
The Future of Engineering Product Management
With more organizations focusing on products to drive growth, the future of product management is promising. Below, we discuss what Poloni believes is the future of engineering products and management from the perspective of Industry 4.0.
Products Are Getting More Complex
Companies are learning that metrics like customer satisfaction and promotional scores are more solid indicators of success than revenue alone. Because of this, they’re focusing on product-led growth strategies—making higher-quality products that customers want to buy.
Poloni notes that as product-led growth becomes the focus of evolving businesses and industries, products themselves are becoming more complex. One such complexity is the development of multiple unique functionalities in the same space or product. He points out that modern cars are more than just transportation. They have also become entertainment and luxury comfort systems featuring cutting-edge audio and video integrations.
This multi-functionality, he predicts, will be the expectation for products in the future.
Decision Making Requires Diverse Expertise from Multiple Stakeholders
It follows, then, that product management and engineering projects of the future will be guided by collaborative, interdisciplinary teams. To successfully develop multi-functional, complex products, an effective, results-driven product management team will need experts from each area of functionality.
For instance, an automobile manufacturing team will likely need specialists like mechanical, audio and video engineers, plus consumer-focused data scientists and market analysts to develop a functional, desirable product. When multiple disciplines come together to make decisions while developing a product, the result is often more dynamic, marketable and lasting –enhancing company reputation and developing a trust that grows the customer base.
Expectations of Product Performance
Product performance, quality and "fidelity" will play an important role in next gen product development. Read on to learn why and how.
Quality Should Be Taken Into Account As Early as Possible
To ensure optimal success, engineering product managers must keep quality at the forefront throughout each stage of development, especially during the early phases of product conception. Poloni maintains that digital and physical components of future products will be developed simultaneously throughout the project’s life cycle.
Attempting to adjust for quality late in development could have far-reaching effects that go back to dubious decisions made early in design. Abusomwan points out that designing with quality as a priority drives product efficiency, which is the desired result for product engineering managers. It is far easier to design with quality as the focus from the beginning than to correct an issue when late-stage testing proves that a product doesn’t perform well or deliver an optimal experience.
How To Ensure High-Quality Products
Perceived Quality Must Be Converted Into Quantitative Performance Indicators
To ensure customers’ expectations are met, perceived quality must be converted into quantitative performance indicators. These metrics allow product and engineering managers to set quality standards and measure performance to make sure those standards are achieved at each phase of product development.
Poloni points out that a common quantitative metric for vehicles is a noise threshold in decibels, which measures the quietness of the ride. He notes that the implementation of quantitative metrics is possible through high-fidelity, multi-discipline simulations. However, developing high-fidelity simulation models require deep technical expertise. This knowledge has to be transferred to the decision makers across the product team. Poloni believes that this knowledge transfer will be one of the biggest challenges to designing sophisticated products of the future.
Emerging Technologies That Can Help Develop Reliable, Agile, and Intelligent Products
Data-Driven Product Design
Data-driven product design will be the key to creating products and technologies that are reliable, agile, multi-functional and intelligent. For data-driven design to be effective, the data collected must be accurate. Skilled professionals, like data scientists, must interpret those details and let them inform decisions during the design process. According to Poloni, harnessing accurate simulation capabilities will pave the way for more reliable data collection and analysis—and higher-quality, in-demand products.
Data Analytics and AI
Simulation isn’t the only technology that future product management teams must embrace. Advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning will play critical roles in developing high-quality, data-backed products that drive growth. These technologies are necessary to accurately interpret the data from simulations and to gain deeper insights from the simulated datasets, enabling smarter decisions and potentially predictive capabilities.
However, for businesses to use all the tools at their disposal to interpret data, Poloni stresses the importance of converting businesses to allow for the use and feedback of information within them.
How To Enable Better Decision Making for Engineering Product Development
Democratization of Technical Knowledge
For businesses to capitalize on modern technologies, they must first embrace the democratization of technical knowledge, says Poloni. By this, he means they should make even the most complex and sophisticated technologies accessible to everyone. One example is to create an intuitive, user-friendly interface for a complicated simulation, rather than simplifying the simulation itself.
By enabling all levels of an organization to easily access and take advantage of advanced technologies, the democratization of technical knowledge empowers data-backed product engineering that drives growth. It allows everyone to use that technology to glean valuable insights from data and let it inform their work, including key decision-makers.
When resources are concentrated on developing high-quality, accurate and complex simulations, product development time can be reduced because quality and performance can be more accurately measured during earlier stages. People will also learn from product engineers’ decisions and processes that are informed by these simulations, as well as be empowered to use the technology to make smart decisions of their own.
“It would help people to make great decisions, regardless of their technical expertise,” says Abusomwan.
Attaining an advanced degree can help develop your product management and engineering skills to prepare you for the challenges and advances of product-led growth. Rice’s MEML program features courses like Product Management in Industry 4.0 that foster the technical and soft skills required to help you be an effective leader of teams that develop reliable products that drive growth.