Third, subsystems engineers are more attuned to how their specific product and technology areas are driven by external market forces and market dynamics than system engineers typically are. The reason is that subsystem engineers, both hardware and software, seek to understand how customer and market needs impact their existing and future designs. As both of these classes of subsystem engineers are more focused on how to create valuable contributions to their specific area of expertise, monitoring market and customer trends tends to be a passion for many of them. It is not unusual for example to see an engineering team know more about market trends, research, unmet customer needs and competitors than a marketing department for the same product (Hoberman, 2009). This is precisely why subsystem engineers in high technology companies often end up running product management, product marketing and corporate marketing because they have a better grasp of the many challenges users face and how the technologies they have expertise in solve them.
Subsystems engineers also are required to understand how the user's requirements will shift over time, and predict them within functional specifications that are translated into product designs. Where the systems engineers concentrates on the total integration of all components and the systemic integration of all systems, the subsystem engineer concentrates on how to translate unique customer requirements into a technically achievable product design. In this aspect of their role, the subsystems engineering teams, whether they are hardware, software or firmware focused, are all measured and evaluated on how well they manage the translation of customer requirements into product designs and platforms.
There are many examples of subsystem engineers being highly effective in translating the unmet needs of customers into requirements that eventually lead to exceptional commercial and technical success of products. The founding of Apple Computer by two young engineers from Hewlett-Packard is a case in point. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were originally training in typesetting and electrical engineering respectively. The combining of each talent led to the development of the first Apple II computer and from there a revolution in computing was founded. This and many more examples like them show how effectively the combining of individual subsystem engineering expertise can lead to significant innovation and new product concept development. The idea behind think tanks and business incubators is precisely designed using these approaches as well. In addition Microsoft uses this approach of combining subsystem engineering expertise in the design of new application software. The expertise of ergonomic engineers, top software developers, graphical interface experts, and system integration engineers are all pulled together on project teams to create exceptional new user experiences in Microsoft applications. Google also uses this combining of subsystem engineering expertise with their rule of 20%, which states that engineers have up to one day a week to work on any project of their choosing (Hof, 2008). Often these projects involve highly collaborative efforts and a strategy, which to date has resulted in 57% of total revenues (Hof, 2008). In other words, Google has found that when subsystem engineering expertise is combined with the freedom to pursue innovative ideas, significant new product ideas can be generated. The need for creating a continual stream of new products is critically important both for Google and Microsoft and while both take slightly different approaches to attaining this, both have the foresight to look to collaborative subsystem engineering to gain insights into new product development and innovation. A third example of this is the approach that of the processes and development practices within Ford Motor Company which has taken a more subsystems based approach to rapid prototyping. As a result the time to produce a new model design in Ford is down by over 60% (Harrison, Colombo, West, Lee, 2006). This approach to making more seamless collaboration between subsystems engineers in the Ford development organizations as led to the development of the new model and platform called Flex, and future models slated for 2010 introduction (Harrison, Colombo, West, Lee, 2006).
In conclusion, subsystems engineering requires an expert-level grasp of technologies and techniques for getting the most value out of each product generation and product line a company produces. There is also the need for creating a highly collaborative approach between subsystem engineering teams so that innovation is nurtured and grown. Finally there must be latitude for subsystem engineers to own the products they are working on and develop effective strategies for making them marketable over time. Subsystem engineering is a critical area that requires total focus and commitment on the part of any organization to ensure their products stay competitive, viable and most important, relevant to customers over time.
The differences between system engineering and subsystems engineering have been analyzed and evaluated in this paper. Systems engineering is crucial for the coordination of all tasks, processes, and systems to complete a new project or re-engineer and existing one. Systems engineering is also crucial for system-wide performance optimization to ensure the many processes, procedures and roles all stay aligned to the goals of the customer. Systems engineering's requirements for integration and collaboration also force a more systemic and focused strategy of development over other approaches. There is also the need for systems engineering to consider the integration points outside an organization to ensure a high level of process performance and integration. Examples of this include supply chain integration and optimization and the development of more effective approaches to managing trading exchanges and networks.
Subsystems engineering is also critically important in that functional area expertise is critically important in the hardware, software, and firmware areas of a company for it to succeed. The combining of functional engineering disciplines is critically important for innovation to occur and new product ideas to be created. Google uses this approach to collaborative subsystem engineering with this rule of 20% which states subsystem engineers can use up to 20% of their available time to work on projects with their small teams. This now accounts for 57% of all Google revenue products and services. The combining of subsystems engineering has also shown to be highly effective at Ford Motor Company and also in the development of innovative customer-based solutions. Between system engineering and subsystem engineering, the latter is more often required to create a more customer-driven series of solutions that can quickly scale to the evolving needs of a customer base. This is why subsystems engineering teams often pride themselves on their command of a market segment and its needs. The challenge for companies is to balance each of these engineering disciplines
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