Chad Jackson is the President and Principal Analyst of Lifecycle Insights, a research and advisory firm that assesses the business impact of software applications and systems on engineering organizations. Chad has more than 15 years of experience with CAD, CAE, PDM, PLM and related technologies as part of the analyst community and software industry. Due to his industry knowledge and thought leadership, Chad is a sought-after expert, author and speaker that has advised, published and presented dozens of times domestically and internationally.
Quick poll: do you know the most requested presentation topic for NAFEMS events? Anyone. Think quick. I guess the title of this post might be giving it away, but when I talked with Michelle Ringrose about my presentation for NAFEMS North American Conference 2012, she was very clear: addressing the business side of simulation has been one of the top challenges of this community. That's why so many attendees of prior events had requested more presentations on how to champion simulation to the business executives within your companies. So, with all that said, what's the answer?
Is it correlating test results to simulations? No.What about getting simulation data under centralized control? Nope.Getting engineers to drive design decisions off simulations? Negatory.Now, of course, all these can be valuable. But in and of themselves, they won't help you champion simulation within your company. What will?
Befriending the beancounter.
Yes. That's obtuse. So let me explain.
My Best Moment from NA2012
Did you attend NAFEMS North America 2012? I found it to be a really good event. I was surprised by how many presentations there were on Simulation Data Management as well as Simulation Automation. Really good use cases by very large companies. But the most valuable moment of the event, at least for me, came after my presentation on the first day. One of the other presenters approached me to discuss some of my points.
After that, however, the discussion went in a very different direction. I started asking about his presentation, which focused on how extensively this organization had adopted simulation and how involved his executives were in the process. That's when he said it, and it smacked me right in the face: "you have to get the finance guys involved."
To Sway Executives, Enlist Friends
So here I was, at a conference on simulation, and the most poignant moment was talking about how to get finance engaged. At first blush, it sounds funny. But it simply makes sense.
If you've been involved in strategic initiatives that require some purchase of technology, then you know when push comes to shove, everything is about return-on-investment. You can have executive sitting on the edge of their seat, but ultimately, any investment has to eventually get back in the black.
Now, where this story departs from the traditional one is how you generate that ROI. Champions of simulation have looked at a wide variety of business cases models based on various approaches. You can reduce prototyping. You can eliminate a few rounds of testing. You can shrink the number of change orders. We've all been down that road before. The difference in this case is that getting the beancounters involved early on can dramatically change that ROI model. Why? Well, because they know intimately the cost savings opportunities in the company. Heck, the executives talk about them all the time, even if they're not sure how to realize those savings.
The idea here is to get the finance guys involved early on. Then you start iterating on different approaches on the ROI model. Funny enough, the activity is almost like a design trade study. And we all are pretty familiar with that. That process of assessing feasibility and refinement ensures that by the time the business case gets to the executive's desk, it's pretty ironclad. Furthermore, you have a beancounter backing you up.
You Can't Just Snap Your Fingers
So… yeah... it's just that easy... right?
Well, not quite. Finance folks deal with numbers all day long. And for them, numbers don't lie. They aren't interested in soft costs or side benefits to engineering and design. There will be some give and take. Be prepared for some pretty frank conversations. And to be honest, you really need to listen. It's good practice for that conversation you'll have with the executive when the time comes.But furthermore, and most importantly, engaging the finance folks require some political correctness, good listening skills and patience. I know. It's not the easiest thing to do. That's for sure. However, it's important to get them engaged and keep them invested in this effort. Soft skills are actually pretty important here.
That's a Wrap
Ultimately, lots of folks struggle with how to champion simulation within their organizations. You certainly aren't alone in that regard. But to be honest, successfully advancing simulation doesn't lie in the deep details of the technology. It lies in the implications it has for the organization. And at some point, that has to turn into ROI. Furthermore, you can't follow a template to generate ROI. It needs to be organically tailored to your organization. The best way to do that is to follow these three simple words.