David Hall

Talking to NI About Their Rebranding Initiative

Sept. 10, 2020
National Instruments, now NI, unveiled an updated brand identity with a new logo, visual identity, enhanced digital experiences, and a branding campaign.

The disruptive period of change the electronics industry is going through has been changing everything from the core technologies involved to the business models of the companies themselves. Companies that once made passives and other components now make modules and subassemblies, distributors are trying to remake themselves into community development hubs. In this context, test, measurement, and evaluation has gone from a sometimes-useful discipline to a critical development aspect in product creation.

Recognizing the changed role and growing importance of a pervasive test and evaluation philosophy at every point of design creation and realization, National Instruments recently unveiled an updated brand identity including a new logo and visual identity. Now known simply as NI, the company is recommitting itself to connecting people, ideas, and technologies.     

To get a better grasp of what the company intends with this action, and what it means to the design community, we contacted David Hall, Market Director for the company’s Semiconductor Business Unit. We chatted about the company, its goals, and how this rebranding addresses them. 

EE: The first question I would want to ask, David, is why such a big effort to change a company that most people already had called NI, to NI? 

David Hall: One of the important things to realize is that the rebrand of NI is a lot more than just changing the name, and it's more about changing how people perceive the company. And part of our goal with the rebrand was to adjust the perception to better reflect our goals, and vision, and mission as a company. 

EE: Everyone has nothing but respect for NI. I mean you're recognized as leaders in the industry. LabVIEW, it was groundbreaking when it first came out. What more do you feel is being achieved with the name change? 

David Hall: I guess I have a little bit of a different perspective. I agree with everything you said, but I think from a lot of other parts of NI's business, because I'm coming out of the semiconductor group and what we're trying to do with the semiconductor group is create solutions for High-Volume Production Test fast with something that competes with a classic big-iron ATE.  

So what we're attempting to deliver as a solution is very much a solution where you have products, and technology, and services, and support, and there's a trust and a relationship, and the customer ultimately will choose your solution because they're convinced that you're going to support them for 10-plus years, not because you have a killer product that's a little bit better than the one that they had, or even significantly better than the one they had before. So I think when I think about the rebrand, a lot of the rebrand is to take what's happening right now in some of that system's business and broaden it to be all of NI, if that makes sense. 

EE: In the sense that you're rebranding to highlight change, I can get that. So it's just, like I said, as someone who's been in the industry for so long, NI has always come to mean so much, that's why I was curious about it from that direction. To address that more, how does NI see engineering evolving that they feel the need that they have to make a strategic effort to address where engineering is going? 

David Hall: That's a good question. I think when you look at how high-technology companies develop products, what we've seen is an evolution from companies developing products to adopting customers, and there's a difference. You can build a widget that's a better widget than the one before, but the companies that are ultimately successful pick individuals or pick groups of individuals who have a specific set of problems and they solve the set of problems in a way that's better than anyone else solved the problem for that particular set of individuals. And that's where you really create value as a company. 

I think that's reflective of how we've adjusted our approach to product and technology strategy, where back in the LabVIEW days, or back in the days where we were pumping out really differentiated data acquisition boards, and some of those products were better than any other product that someone could produce, but what I think the shift in mindset is is to shift from thinking about what's the best widget we can make to what is the customer's problem, and how can we address all of the different facets of the customer's problem in a way that really creates value. And I think that's a big fundamental shift in how we're thinking about when product development. 

EE: Got it. Now, speaking of evolving engineering, obviously the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted how people design. My knee-jerk thought would be collaborative software should go through the roof. What are your thoughts, what are NI's thoughts on that? 

David Hall: Yeah, I think your knee-jerk reaction is correct. One of the things that we've observed particularly, and I'll highlight this specifically for the semiconductor industry because I'm the closest to it, but if you zoom into the product validation or product characterization part of an engineering organization, today that is done through a combination of manual and automated testing.  

If anything, the work from home has accelerated the desire and value of doing automated testing because it allows an organization to characterize a batch of parts that doesn't require as much in-person personal touch and allows you to do that effectively while working from home. So we have seen a much higher shift towards engineers looking to automate measurements that they may have automated eventually, but it just accelerates that part. 

EE: Got it. Now considering how things are changing, has that given NI any new ideas on how to deal with collaboration, collaborative software, those technologies? Did someone say, "I didn't realize, but now that I'm doing this all the time for reals, I need this"? Has anybody come up with any new insights as to collaborative technologies and software? 

David Hall: Yeah, it's hard to point out specific ideas that have been born out of the current pandemic. I think part of the reason for that is we entered the pandemic in a situation where many of our organizations and many of the customers that we serve are highly distributed anyway.  

So you look at a company like NXP, for example, I mean NXP has offices in Phoenix, and Taiwan, and the Netherlands. It's all over the place. And so given the distributed nature of many of our customers, we've been eyeing this idea of software that allows customers to share data from multiple sites for years in the past.  

EE: Well then actually I would say it's more than the pandemic will be the impetus to make everyone finally employ such solutions. You know what I mean? Up until now people are like, "That's interesting, but I don't need it." Now they're like, "I need it." So I think this pandemic will also change the way we look at work, and go from a time-oriented work day to a task-oriented work day. And I think engineering is well suited for that. 

David Hall: Yep, I think you're correct. And that's very much true. 

EE: So then let's talk a little bit about where you see things going. We're looking at more artificial intelligence in edge computing. We're looking at more sophisticated software, advanced typologies, and better power management. For example, we've got sensor fusion. How much software development muscle are you going to ... I mean there is already a lot there, but how much do you see that artificial intelligence learning algorithms should be part of LabVIEW and things along those lines? 

David Hall: Yeah, I think that's a pretty critical part. And I think this goes back a little bit to some of the ideas behind the rebrand in the first place, where if you were to look at how a product company would approach products, and we asked our customers, "What do you need?" They might say, "Well, we need a better oscilloscope." So you build a better oscilloscope, and you get it to them, and they like it, and it solves the need. 

But then when you adopt their problem, and when you adopt even an organizational problem, one of the problems that we're observing in the industry is the amount of time and complexity it takes for a product to go from initial idea to actual high-volume manufacturing. It simply takes too long. There's all kinds of reasons why it takes too long. There's global pressure, intense competition, increasing product complexity. Supply chain issues. 

So if you adopt that problem and you shift to a mindset of, well there's the problem, we're going to adopt the customer. It's our customer, it's our problem. Let's use the technology we have to solve this problem in a way that's more productive, one of the ways that we're solving it today is through the use of data, and ultimately that's going to involve artificial intelligence.  

Part of the reason for that is when you look at what's slowing down today's product development workflow, part of what's slowing it down is the fact that any given device is characterized or tested dozens of times between the initial idea or the initial model in an EDA environment through the test, that package part and production test. 

Shortening that cycle reduces the number of times the product has to get tested, and to better share data across the design flow to reduce the correlation efforts to make sure that the EDA simulation data matches the production test data at the end of the chain. And so that's an example of a problem that requires high degrees of software development and potentially can utilize technologies like artificial intelligence.  

Obviously there's a tremendous amount of cloud computing required to solve that type of problem. So I think that's a really good example of both the use of new computing technologies and an example that's well aligned with our current desire and vision as a company to solve our customer's most pressing problems. 

EE: There were some who thought the Cloud was going to grow towards a lingua franca, instead they're making sure everybody speaks all 25 languages of the realm. 

David Hall: Yeah, that's right. 

EE: But that puts a big challenge in front of the designer. 

David Hall: Yeah, and I think it's important to know that, if you look at NI's role in all of this, there's a lot of commercial off-the-shelf technologies around cloud computing and heterogeneous computing, that if we have large amounts of data that we need to get processed in a certain way, there's multiple ways that we can do that, and have our customers do that cost-effectively without actually requiring that we deploy LabVIEW to a multi-computing-type cluster. 

EE: Got it. All right then. So hey, David, do you have any other things that you wanted to bring up or any final words you wanted to leave our audience with? 

David Hall: I think one of the important things, as we look at NI's brand transition, is it in many ways reflects what's already been happening internally to the company. So it's easy to look at it from the external and see everything looks completely different, the logo's different, the colors are different, we're calling it NI instead of National Instruments. 

The way that I think we're talking about ourselves as a company is very much a reflection of what's already happened inside the company, in terms of our approach to developing products, the way that we're serving our customers. So even though some customers may see a shift in how we operate as a company, many of our customers won't, and they won't because they've already seen us begin to operate as a systems provider already as we've shifted our product development strategy to more of a systems orientation. 

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