Jeff Bier’s Impulse Response—The Getting-the-Box Experience

Submitted by Jeff Bier on Wed, 05/20/2009 - 15:00

Whenever I talk to chip and tool vendors about the ease-of-use of their products, they invariably brag about how much time they’ve invested in ensuring a good “out-of-the-box experience.”  What they mean is that, when a customer first starts using one of their products (say, a development kit), the customer finds it easy to get the tool up and running.  This is important, and it’s hard to do well.  We here at BDTI often run into glitches in this area: things like missing files, documentation that’s out of sync with the software or hardware, bugs in the install program, etc.  But, worthy topic though it is, the typical out-of-the-box experience is not the subject of today’s rant.

No, my rant is about a related, but equally important topic that is never mentioned—something I like to call the “getting-the-box experience.”  That is, how hard is it, and how long does it take, for a customer to get their hands on the development kit or whatever they’re trying to obtain? In my experience, the answer is “very” and “very.” Considering how much everyone talks about shortened design cycles and the need to be efficient, it surprises me how often obtaining a product feels like Monty Python’s Holy Grail. 

Should you be so unfortunate as to be tasked with obtaining a box of something, you will likely hear things like this:

“Sorry, we’re out of stock.  We might have more in eight weeks.  Distributors?  I dunno.”  Or, “We can’t sell to you until you’ve established an account.  Please fill out these forms.”  Or, “We’re not sure we want to sell to you.  Please fill out these forms, and we’ll get back to you... but it might take a month.”

Or (and this one just happened to us) “Thank you for your order. You can expect to receive your development tools by mail, in six to eight weeks.”   

By mail? In six to eight weeks!? That’s so 1982. Who the heck can wait that long to start working on a project?

If you’re a system developer, I’m betting this sounds familiar. If you’re an executive at a chip or tool vendor, I’m betting you’re in denial. You are probably thinking to yourself, “We’re not like that. Sure, our competitors have delivery issues, but our execution is world-class.” 

I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you’re probably wrong.  And you may be shocked by how wrong you are.  Want proof?  That’s easy, just pretend to be a customer.  Not a household-name, high-profile customer, just a run-of-the-mill customer.  And then try to buy one of your own products.  In a hurry.  My bet is that you’re not going to like what you find.

Jeff Bier is the president of Berkeley Design Technology, Inc. (, a benchmarking and consulting firm focusing on embedded processing technology. Jennifer Eyre White of BDTI contributed to this column.

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