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To truly solve a problem, look for the root cause

By Bimal Tripathi, Senior Director of IT Applications - Business Applications and Advanced Analytics, Maxim Integrated

When people ask me what qualities you need to be successful in IT, I always say you need a willingness to accept challenges, a capacity to learn new things, a love of technology, and a strong desire to help your company solve your customers’ problems—and maybe most of all, a passion for finding those problems’ root causes.

In my experience, things often break—or stay broken—because people try to take a short cut and address a symptom rather than dig deeper. If something is not going the way you want, keep asking questions until you can identify the root cause.

Often this requires a bit of detective work, but by asking the right questions, you can usually get to the bottom of what created the problem in the first place. Generally, I start by asking two questions. The first is, what problem does the customer want to solve? Once we answer that question, we need to ask the second question: is this the right problem to solve? Will doing this really move the needle for the company? If we cannot answer these questions, we need to go back to the drawing board and think harder.

Once those two main questions are answered, I ask the final question: why are things not working? Typically, this shows me where different teams are not aligned. Maybe what the engineering team is working on is very different from what the customer wants, and in the process, the customer’s needs get lost in translation. Or it could be that the engineering team doesn’t have the right resources or the right capabilities. Either way, we are now at a point where we can come up with an actual, workable solution.

COVID-related demand

Lately, most of the supply chain challenges are due to change in demand mix and supply disruptions. We are the world leader in analog chip design. Our chips power a wide range of industrial, consumer, data center and mobile applications, including healthcare wearables.

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven tremendous demand for cloud compute data center infrastructure, which powers applications such as online meetings on the platforms of companies like Google, Zoom, and Amazon. It has also spiked the demand for medical equipment. And this has translated into increased demand for our chips in certain industry in the face of pandemic. This has helped offset weakness in certain other industries such as Automotive.

Pandemic-related demand from B2B companies is increasing too, because engineers are exploring more innovative ways to do their designs. They are looking for more software and online tools such as models and simulators.

Earlier, if someone was designing the next big gadget for the Christmas holidays, they would start building the circuit board and the electronics in a lab environment, working on a prototype by hand. Now, with physical movement restricted, people are trying to do more and more of the design work on the Web, and our digital orchestration of the design journey is key to their success.

Post-pandemic, this virtualization and digitization process should help all our customers. If we can virtualize design, everybody can do everything faster. We will be able to take a circuit board, start picking and dropping different components using some kind of an eCAD design tool, and then create a circuit. After the circuit is created, designers can run different tests and simulations to find out how it’s going to behave under different current and temperature conditions, and how it will act in extreme situations.

The more our customers’ engineers can test on the Web, the less they have to come to the lab to complete the design and test and launch it. In the long run, this will be very good for our customers, even after the pandemic is over: their design cycle will be faster, and they will be able to work without needing to get people together to assemble the new circuits.

The challenges of success

For our team, however, these new expectations created a major set of challenges and opportunities: we have had to develop a new set of tools and a new approach that enable us to serve our 50,000 clients, particularly our many small and medium-sized clients, without requiring human beings to support them. Before a client starts working on a simulation, we need to make sure they can find the right parts out of the 50,000 parts that we ship. Not only do they have to be able to identify the right part, they must find the right simulation to test how it works with their design, and then send the project out for manufacturing – and all on the Web, frictionlessly.

We also had to improve our user experience and keep our 400-partner supply chain responsive. Every part we had available in our simulation kits had to be the latest part we had available within the Maxim network, even as the virus disrupted deliveries from our facilities in China, the Philippines, and India.

We also used advanced technologies to make our supply chain resilient. We developed machine learning models for positive outcome in various scenarios such as sales, manufacturing, quality and business planning.

Don’t go it alone

As well as doing the work within the IT department that this initiative required, we it was important to have support from the executive team and board. Digital transformations if not done properly can create a high business risk. I always reflect on the first years of ERP adoption, for example, when many companies went bankrupt because they were not ready, their customers were not ready, and the marketplace was not ready. One must go into a transformation with a high level of thoughtfulness. The board, the CEO, and the CEO’s direct reports all have to support the project. A successful transformation demands a lot of commitment from everybody. That has been true in our case – and fortunately, we have had that commitment.

The Takeaways 

Don’t just address symptoms. When something goes wrong, look for the root cause of the problem.

Find new ways of doing things as business conditions change. For example, it was imperative for us to go more digital in response to the pandemic. This not only makes the company well placed to ride the pandemic, it also positions us for long term success.

A transformation can’t succeed without support from the very top of the company, an aligned vision across stakeholders, and a well thought-out change management program.