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The Political Toll on Engineering

Hardware and software design aren’t easy, but those jobs become more difficult when taking into account the changing landscape of customer capability, tariffs, and supply chains.

Designing hardware and software can often turn into arduous tasks. Though new tools, platforms, and technologies have made the jobs easier, connectivity trends like the Internet of Things (IoT) have pushed communication and security to the forefront, adding to the complexity of already complex systems. Other technologies such as machine learning influence how systems are designed as well.

Incorporating all of these new technologies and issues might keep hardware and software manageable, but these days they’re not the only things to worry about. Political effects are having major impact on how systems are developed, designed, and sold. Below are just some of the issues cropping up.

Let’s start with some simple issues like connectivity and 5G, which are always part of the IoT discussion. Most high-speed wireless technologies like 4G/LTE and 5G require infrastructure that’s not very extensive outside of travel corridors and larger cities. Rural areas often lack high-speed connectivity options that would render sales and deployment of embedded systems requiring this type of connectivity impractical. Even wired infrastructure has been limited in these areas as well.

The trend toward tariff-related negotiations, attempts to ban sales, and limit exchange of technologies has brought the greatest amount of uncertainty to the mix. Unfortunately, these can’t be ignored, and the source and impact vary considerably. These issues can affect physical supply chains as well as intellectual ones. Having overseas diversity of technology and development sites was once an advantage, but these may also be disrupted by the changing political climate. Concerns about availability of workers, communication links, and security of intellectual property can’t be overlooked, otherwise significant consequences can arise.

Managers who deal with globally spaced development groups need to consider issues such as what tools will be available and what deliverables will be allowed. Safety and security of workers may also be a concern, even as politics force changes in the cost of living and hence the cost of doing business globally.

The ripple effect is the hardest to track, and it’s something that will likely impact managers and developers over the long haul. Likewise, changes that take effect quickly, such as tariffs, can have lasting consequences that are difficult to change in the future due to shifts in supply lines and even technology exchange agreements.

The latest software tools and hardware enhancements can make developing and selling embedded systems interesting and profitable. These days, the challenges aren’t limited to how these tools and enhancements can be utilized to deliver products and services.

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