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When is it time to retire your old software?

In an internal meeting at the end of last month I heard a fact announced.  In the total worldwide licenses for Mentor Graphics’ software for Integrated Electrical Systems the balance has changed. There are now more Capital Harness XC seats than Capital H Classic. The legacy system, the last generation software is gradually replaced by the new.  We are now at that stage where the front runner has been caught. CapH Classic was something I first saw used in production in 1997. For Harness XC to overtake it in number of user licenses in the time it did is impressive. From zero to parity in numbers is the same trajectory too for VeSys 2.0 replacing previous generation installations of VeSys Electrical Series.


Stability with VeSys Electrical Series and Capital H

On an individual level, many customers face decisions about challenging the old, the tried and trusted.  I think it is interesting to see what is involved in deciding whether your current tools compared to a new alternative shows obsolescence rather than value.   

So when do you upgrade in the near future, for example from VeSys Electrical Series to VeSys 2.0? When do you let go of years of good results, and look forward to years of better results?  The answer seems to be different for each customer.

Show and tell.

Business is fundamentally about profit, so my advice is follow the money for the evidence of when it is time to change. And here are some clues where to find the money – starting with where it usually isn’t hidden.

We have some money to spend … what can we buy?

  •  A decision to change is almost never in my experience attributed to initiatives and future-proofing (we are working ahead of our competitors and investing as a result of R&D effort).  Very rarely have I seen an influx capital for modernization purposes result in a shopping expedition including cabling and harness software tools.  

I like the "slide rule" controls. The old technology nods to the older.

Why are we paying this money for old things?

  • There are signs you cannot support the old technologies … when sunk costs are memories and continuing support of proprietary CAD engines are rising or stable but there is little perceived value in them. What do we get for this mainframe maintenance?  Old staff who knew what to do (the corporate know-how) have moved on and younger employees who want to work with more cutting edge tools, modern user interfaces. Sometimes you begin to have quality problems because the old tools assist you in elevating quality but did not automate the building in of quality into your product and the new hires are making expensive mistakes which you thought you had eliminated years ago.  

The status quo can cost dearly.

  • As well as the melodrama of “return of the misbuild” the design to manufacturing throughput possible with your current tools may look like a steady jog rather than an exhilarating sprint.  Perhaps also managing  product complexity  is troubling you. Potentially you can have millions of option combinations are getting ahead of your tool and your people’s ability to cope. There’s are warning signs of a lot of money being spent on human validation steps, a lot of time being lost to eliminating errors. You suspect at first then are certain that you need something which will crunch more data much quicker and be much smarter about how that is done.
  • And on top of the profit-goal business drivers, there are the increasing cost-of-doing business demands, for legislation and society evolves alongside your customer requirements and you find your resources doing “where used” & “what if” and hand-checking for recyclable, lead-free, withdrawn components. Another example of having to run faster to stand still in the market is to have to respond to warranty claims and recalls and you wish there is a better way of automating these things.  Perhaps with some updated software you think?  

The Vendor is pushing the new tools for some reason – I wonder why?  

  • You are in a commercial partnership, or seeking one I hope with your supplier of enterprise tools. Does your vendor even have the latest stuff ready? What’s the view of your trusted contacts at your supplier?  Does your vendor allow the sales person to offer incentives the more easily for you to adopt the latest version?   

Advantage to incumbent supplier: 

  • Your existing vendor offering the next generation of tools as an upgrade is a welcome suitor for your business generally.  You don’t have to be concerned so much as with a new vendor who may not understand the customizations, configuration and sometimes undocumented usage of the current solution. The vendor ought to have experience which is directly useful to you in transitioning to the next generation of tools.  

Cost of moving from the status quo is not zero either – so you better plan.  

  • Is the migration path to the next generation an investment in time, training and other resources you can contemplate, something you have budgeted for? Changing over will take effort. Somebody somewhere surely has to do some work sometime even with modern impressive IT magic.  But cheer up, you are not going into a project to refresh your workgroup to get back the same level of efficiency, you are investing for a long term significant return because your team will be working at a higher efficiency.  

 General, indirectly financial motivations for moving to the next generation.

 I think we can refer to this for short as the 7-ish year itch?

  • I have previously classified underlying requirements for software capabilities to fit your needs previously as  D) integration with other corporate systems,  C) produce the CAD outputs  e.g. prints   A) model your product intricacies and your design process and B) provide business value and return on investment.  Those are fixed needs every customer has. If your present tool set is letting you down on even one of these categories you have to act or have a high tolerance for business inefficiency.
  • Tactical level requirements – if you already have something which has for some time been sufficient to your needs as described above  – are what you are going to notice. These are what are going to give you a competitive advantage, a better best practice than your rivals or comparable workgroups. If you keep up to date with the best in class tool capabilities or can recognize useful technology  when you see it, after about 7-8 years from your last deployment of tools and new methodologies in your organization there will be indications that the leading offerings in the market are different to what you are using.

The meantime since you last bought tools in the market, the tastes and techniques, approaches and technologies have changed.  In the VeSys Electrical Series and CapH Classic to VeSys 2.0 and Capital context the transition from flat-file and CAD engine moved to data-centered fully integrated graphical tools separating content from how that content is represented has happened. XML files are moved back and forth in a change management environment rather than import/export of structured and semi-structured text files for example. Similarly, another example is that drawing symbols are inside a database and under librarian control rather than external to the application lying on a file system folder.  You go for these advances not because you are a geek, but because they offer real, measurable benefits to your business/your customers. Better design change control, the promise of heightened quality.

The intersection of good old and good new tools is when cost of ownership is the same.

Click on the picture for a bigger version.

After you follow the money, eventually you chase it down and catch up with it. 

All you have to do is capture the business case, the extra money you will save in efficiency. Shorter diagram development time, shorter wait times for processing, fewer corrections,  less time drafting,  built-in analysis and quality checks.

A well-run meeting is inspiring and fleeting.

Mentor Graphics internal meetings are usually jam-packed with facts. I wasn’t alleging the opposite . This particular fact that the number of Capital Harness XC licenses now being equal to Capital H Classic licenses intrigued me. Interesting where paying attention in meetings can lead you. I think more I should do it more often. Follow through from where the facts have originated.  Obviously I cannot pay more attention than I already do in all these meetings.  

Hope you found where the the musing led me useful. Comments and disputation very welcome as ever.

VeSys Electrical Series, Capital H, Capital Harnes Classic, Capital, VeSys, VeSys 2.0, Capital Harness Systems, Capital Harness XC

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About Paul Johnston

Paul JohnstonI help Mentor Graphics customers to be successful, accomplish a more rapid return on investment. My professonal focus is on the Capital product line. Customers need a good technical and commercial understanding when making software system purchasing and adopting decisions and in addressing issues through to best resolution. I am one of the team of experts Mentor employs to support the Capital worldwide. I was born just outside of Manchester England, am now resident in the metro Detroit area of Michigan USA. I have worked for Mentor Graphics for more than 15 years. Visit Paul Johnston's Blog

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