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Software automates engineering project tasks

Posted: 08 Jan 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ravi gorur? ee? electronic engineer? electrical engineer? engineer?

Ravi Gorur wants to free EEs from the burdens of administrative tasks related to product development and let them stick to what they do bestengineering. Gorur has co-invented the CrossPoint software program that's intended to do just that. By automating duties like writing status reports, the program from startup Intersect Software Inc. helps engineering teams improve the products they build, get them to market faster and generate higher profits, he said.

Gorur, who was the director of software development at the former Newbridge Networks Corp., and David Leslie, a sales executive from the same company, got the idea for CrossPoint in early 1997, when they were looking to reconcile and coordinate the work of that company's expanding engineering team and couldn't find an off-the-shelf tool to solve their problem.

"We needed software that would smooth the transition our company was going through, acquiring another large company with its own engineering group," Gorur explained.

Although there was software to assist engineers in planning product development, no tool existed to help them execute on such projects. In addition, Gorur and Leslie were also looking for a way to allow different groupssuch as hardware development, ASIC development and software teamsto work together on large projects.

Realizing a need wasn't being addressed, Gorur and Leslie fashioned a new category of "enterprise engineering management" software, and in November 1999 they founded Intersect in a Washington, D.C., suburb to develop, market and sell the software. They wanted to create a program that would fit with the way engineers worksomething with a very logical layout and screen design that's clear enough to give engineers the tools and let them do their thing.

Because it's been designed expressly for engineers, and not adapted from another discipline, Gorur believes CrossPoint could affect the engineering world the same way that Siebel Systems Inc.'s software revolutionized sales and marketing management.

"We want to be the Siebel of R&D," quipped Rob Vonderhaar, vice president of marketing at Intersect.

After receiving $22 million in venture capital funding, operating for two and a half years in stealth mode, hiring 85 employees and conducting 1,000h of development work, Intersect is ready to roll out CrossPoint commercially this month. Beta product installations are under way at several blue-chip companies that are not ready to announce their use of the product. But according to Kiran Dandekar, Intersect Software's vice president of product management, many engineering groups at major corporations like Intel and Cisco Systems have tested the software and found it helpful.

"When the firm goes on sales calls, the reception is the same," said Dandekar. "[Using CrossPoint] is like going from the horse-drawn carriage to the automobile, and the response from all the engineering groups is the same: They ask, 'when can I get my hands on it?' "

Even though the commercial version of CrossPoint is just coming to market, Gorur, who is vice president of engineering at Intersect, said he sensed early on that the product would be a hit.

That was evident the day Gorur and some other developers visited the vice president of engineering at Citrix Systems Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to pitch CrossPoint. Gorur said the engineers loved the idea of streamlining their projects by automating tasks they've always done by hand.

"I said, 'holy smokes,' " Gorur recalled. " 'These guys face the same issues that I face.' "

Engineering input

CrossPoint employs technologies created by the dot-com world, such as a rules engine, a Web search engine and a Web interface, and incorporates knowledge of what engineering teams do and what kinds of tasks they need to automate to streamline product development. Intersect conducted countless interviews with engineers to understand their work flow and consulted with the engineering organizations of six to eight major blue-chip firms to drive the product's direction and content. They also watched how EEs spend their time, to ensure that the tool would address time-consuming tasks.

One of the things they observed was that most EEs prefer e-mail, chat and Web site communication over a phone call. That preference was worked into the product.

In addition, they noted that engineers like to have known experts they can call on to help with a project. CrossPoint gives EEs access to a virtual community of experts that's created automatically when they enter information about team members' competencies.

CrossPoint is designed for groups of six to 10 employees who work to generate intellectual property for a company. It can create an engineering database of team members listed according to skill level and availability. That sets up an easy way to manage team-to-team relationships, communications and deliverables, and allows for the creation of an operational history of how the team manages the execution of new productsall by means of non-intrusive information capture, the company said.

The software lets engineers know what everyone else on a project is doing, and how their work fits into the whole. It keeps a historical record, for future reference, of what work has been done and whether it was successfully applied to a project.

Team leaders can quickly staff new projects, easily accommodate changes in personnel and schedules, and save time by reusing templates that define the actual processes employed to design products at their company, according to Intersect executives.

CrossPoint won't replace project-planning software or computer-aided design tools, but will address the administrative layer of R&D teams, Gorur said.

He claimed that if an engineering organization of 1,000 persons equipped all EEs with CrossPoint, "with the information gathered, a company could more efficiently deploy at least 5 percent of the people."

Surprising efficiencies

Intersect Software has tried the software internally to prove that it works. According to Gorur, the company quickly gained efficiencies, something that surprised a lot of its own EEs.

Moreover, Gorur said that EEs at most companies will like the product's low fixed price and easy installation. Though Gorur and his colleagues declined to reveal how much CrossPoint sells for, they said that if it could save an average EE 15min a month, that savings would cover the cost of the raw software.

Intersect Software will work with engineering teams to measure the product's success. Executives also promised that CrossPoint software can be deployed with minimal disruption to the normal engineering-team work flow.

Gorur said EEs typically express "disbelief" when they see a demo of CrossPoint. He believes that reaction will spark demand for what he thinks will become one of the key tools pressed into service in the design of new products.

Margaret Quan

EE Times

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