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Shift to 'applied innovation' in engineering and scientific world speeds up, says National Instruments: interview

AvantiKumar | Feb. 7, 2014
National Instruments ASEAN MD Chandran Nair offers Malaysian perspectives on opportunities in the scientific, engineering and embedded systems sectors.

Towards the end of 2013, design, test and measurement solutions provider National Instruments organised its Graphical System Design (GSD) Summit for engineers, scientists, educators, researchers and industry partners.  During the event, National Instruments managing director, ASEAN, Chandran Nair, said, "Conversations in the engineering and scientific world are shifting towards accelerated innovation and applied innovation."  The company has been active in the region Chandran said, during an interview with Computerworld Malaysia.


Chandran Nair_Jan2014 main modified

Photo - Chandran Nair, Managing Director, ASEAN, National Instruments, is based in Singapore.

You mentioned the speeding up of the move to applied innovation: How can Malaysia best position itself to benefit from this?

Applied innovation is a key driver for growth in today's intensely competitive marketplace. Governments and businesses both recognize the importance of creating and integrating innovative business models and products, and developing a talent pool that imbibes this culture of innovation, in order to address challenges both locally and globally.

Malaysia is already one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia.  Key growth drivers are in place such as a growing base of highly skilled local engineers, well-developed transportation and telecommunications infrastructure, and sound legal and business practices.  

The Government champions programmes and policies that enable technology innovators and support the rapid growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Initiatives that allow security interests in intangible assets such as intellectual property to be used as collateral for funding are commendable and agencies such as the Multimedia Development Corporation [MDeC] and SMECorp have successfully supported the local SME community by providing easy access to the latest technologies.

For as long as there is strong focus on driving applied innovation at a national scale, involving all sectors of society and putting an emphasis on technology education, Malaysia will be well on its way to sustainable progress.  

How long has National Instruments had a base in Malaysia and what were initial motivators for entering this market?

National Instruments established an office in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, and over the past two decades been providing engineers and scientists in Malaysia with productivity and innovation tools. In 2011, National Instruments invested US$80 million to build a R&D and manufacturing facility in Penang, which demonstrates our long-term commitment to the market.

We are motivated to invest heavily in Malaysia for several reasons. Primarily, we are encouraged by the rapid growth in engineering and technology-related industries such as electronics manufacturing, semiconductor and automotive industries. There is also a good ecosystem of engineering talent and support from the Malaysia government to push for a knowledge-based economy.

Could you detail some of the drivers behind the annual Graphical Design Summit in this region?

Graphical System Design Summit is an avenue for us and our customers to exchange ideas on meeting the latest market needs using Graphical System Design.

Held across 11 cities in Southeast Asia, the GSD Summit brings latest technologies in control, design, test and measurement and automation to engineers, scientists, educators, researchers and National Instruments' partners.

It showcases how the graphical system design approach can help in accelerating innovation, discovery and productivity; and it is a great venue for leading academicians to learn and share the latest trends and latest teaching methods used in universities and colleges.

Moving ahead, what kind of role does National Instruments envision it will play in Malaysia?

Malaysia is a key market for us in this region. The main industries are electronic manufacturing, R&D, semiconductor, automotive, telecommunications and energy/oil & gas. We also have long-standing partnerships in the academic and research sectors in the country.

We are very much committed to strengthen our partnerships with the academia, the SME sector and the government agencies towards helping raise technological capabilities and innovation in the country. One of our flagship private-public partnerships with the government of Malaysia, and which we believe will greatly support our long-term commitment to the market, is the National Instruments Academy and Innovation Nucleus (NI-AIN).

Set-up in collaboration with Technology Park Malaysia and SMECorp, NI-AIN is National Instruments' largest shared services lab facility in the world with RM20 million [US$6.02 million] worth of hardware and software technology tools. Through NI-AIN, SMEs and entrepreneurs can access a fully equipped facility to research and develop solutions or products, attend talent enrichment programs, and develop proof-of-concepts, solutions and intellectual property for various industries including oil & gas, control & instrumentation, transportation, wireless communication, green technology and renewable energy.

Work-life balance and corporate culture forms an increasing factor in attracting and retaining the best talent: what kind of success have you had with local staff so far?

Our employees and culture are definitely our greatest and most sustainable competitive advantage. We ensure that our "people advantage" strategy is preserved as our company continues its steady growth and global expansion by hiring the best and brightest employees through a meticulous recruitment process, nurturing a great work environment with superior career development opportunities, and maintaining a vibrant work-life harmony culture through relevant and impactful employee and company programs.

The culture at National Instruments is built on a foundation of trust, employee empowerment and a work environment that is framed by guidelines rather than hard-line policies. All NI employees are empowered to make decisions and given the freedom to operate and achieve our goals as long as it is within the framework.

What distinguishes National Instruments' new portfolio of solutions?

2014 will see National Instruments focusing on a few key areas including Big Analog Data, FPGA technologies and RF instrumentation.

Big Analog Data in 2014 will be important as technologies converge and the world becomes tightly interconnected. As companies attempt to extract value and intelligence out of the huge amount of data they generate daily through data acquisition (sensors, smart cameras & microphones etc.), they will need highly advanced tools for data intensive applications such as cloud computing, data transfer, management, and analytics, as well as systems management for the many data acquisition and automated test systems nodes.

We recently announced platform updates to the NI LabVIEW reconfigurable I/O (RIO) architecture, which include new instrument driver FPGA extensions. These combine the flexibility of the open FPGA with the compatibility engineers expect from an industry-standard instrument driver to make it even easier for those with little to no FPGA programming experience to access the benefits of an open FPGA to better meet application demands with additional processing and control.

Closely entwined with FPGA developments is National Instruments' innovation in RF instrumentation. From a mere measurement device, the modern RF instrument has now become an important tool for system design, thanks to the rise of software defined radio (SDR) technologies.

The "SDR-ification" of RF test equipment provides substantial benefits in traditional RF test applications while helping engineers use applications that were previously impossible to solve with RF instrumentation. The fundamental architecture of the modern RF instruments now incorporates the powers of multicore CPU processing technology and harnesses the flexibility of user programmable FPGAs, thus allowing engineers to integrate the real-time control capabilities of FPGA with the time-critical functions of testing and see test time improvements of up to 100X.

What other initiatives are you looking forward to in 2014?

There is so much to look forward to in 2014 especially in Southeast Asia. The region remains as one of our fastest growing markets and we continue to ramp up our investments in countries like Malaysia in terms of growing headcount, introducing new solutions, and expanding our industry partnerships.


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