William McFadden is the COO of fabless semiconductor company DecaWave, overseeing operations in the day-to-day activities associated with managing, creating and delivering products and services.
Can you put in context how extensive DecaWave’s IT operations are, and how complex is the infrastructure you manage?
Both the external and internal IT infrastructure have evolved in line with growing sales volumes, expanding to global operations and the shortening of design cycles to develop next-generation parts.
For customer support and sales, we are evolving from Microsoft Office-based tools to cloud computing applications in the areas of CRM, sales pipeline management and ERP systems.
For IC (integrated circuit) product delivery, we have a supply chain in place to manage the Foundry, OSAT (Outsourced Assembly and Test) and logistics operations, with IT systems in place to manage the delivery of the end product to the customer from the initial order. Running in parallel with this, in real-time we use systems to monitor the quality and yield of the ICs from our supply partners.
In addition, we have distribution agreements in place with some of the biggest semiconductor websites, such as Digi-Key and SemiconductorStore, who offer a global reach to our sales and distribution operation.
For internal – mainly R&D – operations, some applications can be more easily ported to web-based applications. Not so with EDA tool outputs. We use dedicated servers for specific IC development applications and storage capacity and bandwidth must keep apace with EDA tools advances and design cycle reduction, not forgetting Moore’s Law.
What are the mission-critical systems that the company uses?
Our inventory management and supply chain are mission-critical systems. On a more general note, external hosting of email and phone systems increase availability and reduce cost compared to in-sourcing of this infrastructure.
What’s the role of IT in the business: does it bring new projects and ideas directly to senior management, or is it more of an ‘order taker’, carrying out tasks that the business wants?
Our CRM and support tools form the basis of sales lead generation and can lead to new projects. The use of our technology is limited only by one’s imagination, and we regularly have customers think of applications that we have not previously considered.
How would you sum up DecaWave’s IT strategy, and how are you delivering on that in practice?
Flexible, anticipate the needs of the business and move to more professional applications as the business scales with increased demand for our products.
What does a typical day look like for you: are you very hands-on, or is it much more of a management role where you work closely with the team to deliver IT to the business?
It’s the latter; I work closely with the team to deliver IT.
What is it like to be the IT person in a technology-centric company, such as DecaWave, where there’s probably a lot of engineers around; does it feel sometimes like everyone else is thinking ‘that’s not how I would have done it’?
Speaking for our IT manager, we are still a relatively small company. Engineers who are interested will get a chance to contribute, and we usually assembly a team to evaluate any new application.
On the flip side of that, is it easier to get budget approval for technology in a company like DecaWave than it might be if you were working in a non-technology sector?
No; a cost-benefit analysis is always required for any budget spend.
What are the things you’re doing to make your IT budget stretch as far as it can go?
Cloud-based applications are becoming more affordable, and we also ensure we are buying only the features or tools we need by spending more time at the evaluation and requirements phase. For R&D CPU resources, we start with a system that is scalable.
In addition, better deals can be negotiated with equipment providers – for example, extended warranties on core IT infrastructural equipment. Infrastructure can also be configured for increased utilisation, such as moving from a distributed to a more centralised and virtualised environment.
How would you classify the state of DecaWave’s internal IT: is it all about repeatable, measurable processes, or are you still putting that kind of structure in place?
We are moving to more automated professional systems. It’s an ongoing process to define procedures that are repeatable – for example, presenting a consistent documented IT environment for new hires in various company functions. Similarly, a queueing system will record and track ongoing internal/external customer support issues/requests to allow more insight into service availability.
The company recently announced it’s opening an office in the US. What kind of challenges will that pose from an IT service perspective?
Not so much initially as it will use web-based applications. Particularly as current expansion is in the area of sales and FAE personnel.
Has your role gotten easier or more difficult since you joined, and why?
As COO, the operations role initially was associated with the management and creation of products, supply chain development and IT infrastructure/EDA tools to support these tasks. This is always an intensive phase for a start-up for every engineer.
Now that we are delivering product, much of the emphasis is on CRM and management of inventory, bookings, billings and backlog. The role is now more expansive – probably the same intensity, but equally exciting.