The distribution channel provides tools, services, and training to support our customers’ engineering communities. A question I am often asked is: just how does that help? With the exceptions of pure play engineering design services and reference designs, just how does our contingent of account managers, FAEs, application engineering, web presence, etc. accelerate the success of our customers? After all, the customer ultimately decides on the technology and implementation. The answer lies in that very statement. It all comes down to decisions. The channel’s ability to aid an OEM customer in the manner in which they are most comfortable make better decisions is exactly what we do.
Classically speaking, there are three types of decisions in business. These decisions are present in the engineering cycle as well. The first and probably the most thought of are the strategic decisions: those decisions that are of utmost importance, high value, but relatively speaking are made infrequently (the software and processor architecture or choosing an ASIC as a design solution in a new platform would be an example.) The second type are tactical decisions — choosing how to implement some type of “glue” functionality in a set of ASSPs or choosing an FPGA might be a case of a tactical decision. Finally, you have the operational decisions. These are made most often, and in the case of a new platform, made every time a design starts. What are the latest interface products that might meet my needs; what power architecture is most appropriate for this particular design? Are crosses available for this? Our engineering support is architected around supporting each of these decision types so we can support our customers.
We support those important strategic decisions when called upon in number of ways. Historically: we have provided specialized resources to support some of the most important choices our customers need to make. ASIC resources, deep FPGA design expertise, software services, investments in specialty lighting laboratories are examples of how the channel can help with platform defining selections. The training and especially roadmap information we provide helps our customers look beyond the horizon as well. In the Americas at Avnet we recently made a change to our FAE model to support our customers in this area as well. Internally we call it FAE 2.0. We have taken some of our FAEs and assigned them to customers, so we can be that consulting bridge to the rest of our services and talent. Their role isn’t to push a particular supplier or technology, but to act as someone who can collect multiple requirements or needs, and work with the rest of our extended team to bring a solution to the customer’s specific challenge at hand. Our goal is to make every interaction as efficient and effective as possible, a key requirement as strategic decisions can often be time bound.
Tactical decisions are supported by our efforts as well. Account managers work with engineering teams to understand their goals and needs on specific projects. As mentioned before, the channel’s field application engineers work to resolve issues in various areas of technology. Choosing between an FPGA SoC and a two chip solution? We can help. If the FPGA can’t meet timing, our specialists can provide suggestions on how to get it done. Given that the strategic decision of processor architecture has been decided, which implementation makes the most sense? The channel is there to provide information and knowledge to compare and contrast alternatives. What about a reference design that demonstrates an implementation that the engineer is interested in? Take a look at Zedboard.org to see some examples. The channel can do the same across a broad range of technologies.
It may seem at this point it would seem that between the strategic and tactical decisions, all the important work is done and there would be very little value to add to customers engineering efforts. Recall that operational decisions happen all the time, perhaps the ratio is 10 operational decisions for every tactical one. It may be 100 operational decisions for every strategic decision. It is this compounding that makes these choices so important. How often has it been said the smallest decision has derailed or caused failure of an entire endeavor? As such, to dismiss the channel’s support of these decisions would be a grave mistake. Knowledge of the supplier roadmap, mentioned before, helps prevent our customers form choosing an inferior device for their design. The ability to compare multiple options from different vendors on an eCommerce site is something we do to support those “small” decisions. To paraphrase one of my favorite movies “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, sometimes the success of a project can hinge on what may seem like a scrap of information.
If we can’t help make the choices our customers make for themselves better, we fail. Regardless of the type of decision we are called upon to support, that channel is here to help. We evolve with our customer needs, evolving our programs and investments to ensure we are able provide the support required how and when the customer wants and needs it.