Avnet, Inc. is a technology business-to-business (B2B) distributor headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. It is one of the largest distributors of electronic components, including connectors and semiconductors, technology solutions, computer products and embedded technology.
GM Krishna, associate director–segment marketing at Avnet Electronics Marketing Asia, spoke to Ashwin Gopinath of EFY about the marketing strategies of Avnet in India along with prospective areas for design houses in the country.
A. Avnet Design Services (ADS) is a unit within Avnet Electronics Marketing, Asia. ADS began offering electronics design services to customers from its flagship design centre in Bengaluru, India way back in 1995 and over the years has grown into larger organisation within Avnet, with seven design centres spread across key Asian markets. ADS’ mission is to design and deliver turnkey and reference system designs to its large pool of customers in various market segments. In addition, ADS also helps to connect Independent Design Houses (IDHs) with customers/opportunities, through the thousands of sales and application engineers Avnet has in the field.
Q. What is ADS working on at the moment?
A. At any given point of time, ADS engineers would be working on multiple technologies/ applications, building reference design in anticipation of forthcoming demand or designing turkey solutions to meet customers’ specific requirements. Currently, ADS engineers in different locations are working on several applications and technologies including smart metering, low-power and high-power RF, wireless audio, industrial control, automotive body control and lighting, vehicle tracking, various power supplies and LED lighting, among others.
Q. Does ADS have any evolutionary offerings that would revolutionise the market?
A. At ADS, due to the nature of our business and our customer base, we are not focused on fundamental research. We are basically a design services provider and not an R&D set-up. To most of our customers, ADS is an extended arm of their product development team. We are more focussed on providing what the customer needs / may need in near future. We do work on some customer-specific projects that may be revolutionary, but our role is focused on implementing customers’ revolutionary ideas in the electronic designs we do for them. The ‘idea’ or the ‘IP’ belongs to the customer.
Q. What are the latest trends in your design house?
A. An interesting trend we are seeing is that some customers are coming to Avnet, not for getting their designs done but only to test their designs. As compared to a stand-alone ‘test facility’, where the customers can only test their products and would have to pay every time they use the facility, at ADS – they not only get to test their products, but also get free consultancy and design support from ADS engineers. By doing this, the customers acknowledge that they can reduce the number of design iterations and hence the number of visits to the product certifying authority / lab. This saves them considerable amount of time and money, which they value very much.
Q. What about trends from a technology perspective?
A. From a technology perspective, we are seeing more and more customers seeking support for 32-bit designs, as 32-bit processors are becoming commonplace even in cost-sensitive applications. We also see increased interest in low-power RF applications, advanced tamper-proof energy metre designs, asset / vehicle tracking, and LED Street Lighting design.
Q. In what application vertical do you see greatest demand?
A. Different markets in Asia have different levels of demand for various vertical applications. Specific to India, there are quite a few–lighting, smart metering, automotive electronics and consumer electronics, to name some.
Q. In the next five years, what are the prospective areas for design houses?
A. With lot of MNCs in automotive, consumers and power sector setting up manufacturing facilities in India and indigenising their products to suit local/regional needs, design houses will certainly have lot of supporting role to play in the coming years.
Q. Could you explain a technical challenge that your team faced recently and how you solved it?
A. Being closer to the customer and part of their product design process, our engineers face technical challenges every day. There is a lot of learning that needs to be done ‘on the job’. A recent case-in-point is when one of the ADS customers wanted our help to design the hardware for a complex vehicle tracking system in a short span of 8 weeks’ time – from concept to prototype. When our design team met the customer, all that they had was a design concept on paper. Given that the design involved multiple technologies (GSM, GPS, 32-bit processor, NFC etc.) be built on a small form-factor, it was a challenge for our team. We quickly put together a group of experienced design engineers working in different locations in Asia, worked closely with our customer and components suppliers and successfully delivered the design within the stipulated time-frame.
Q. Do you help clients to design products that adhere to certifications? If yes, could you please speak about some challenges that you have faced while doing so?
A. ADS does design products that adhere or comply with various standards and certification requirements but we do not certify the products or the designs. As a ‘product owner’, it is our customers’ responsibility to get their products certified.
Q. In the design house market, what do you think sets you apart from the multitude of Indian/MNC design houses?
A. ADS is very different from the traditional Indian or MNC design houses. The fundamental difference is in the business model and objectives. While a traditional design house, due to the nature of the business model, depends on the design fees (NRE) and/or royalty, our business model allows us to work on very low or even zero NRE fees. The objective of Avnet’s design centres is not to make money out of design services but to enable our core business–which is distribution of components. This sets us distinctly apart from other Indian/MNC design houses.
Q. What are your views on the industry-readiness of fresher’s from institutes like NITs?
A. NITs (National Institute of Technology) are considered to be one of the good institutes. The Government of India took the initiative of establishing NITs at several locations due to demand/supply gap and lack of good institutions providing quality and affordable education. Overall, the industry is always looking for good quality candidates.
Q. What kind of training do you impart to freshers?
A. Avnet Design Services (ADS) doesn’t normally recruit fresh graduates. However, we have supported and allowed graduates to join as interns to do their project work as part of their graduation. They are guided by our experienced engineers.
Q. Do you give importance to the projects that a student has done while in college or to the academic scores?
A. Avnet certainly gives importance to academic scores and the project done while in college but that is only for first-level screening. In the second level, higher importance is given to their understanding of the ‘basics’ which is key for any technical person. The next level screening is for aptitude, communication and other soft skills.
Q. What marketing strategies does Avnet use?
A. Avnet adopts multiple go-to-market strategies depending on the business case and need. We primarily market our services through our internal sales and marketing teams in various geographies. Avnet also has a small team of marketers within ADS who help promote our services within and outside Avnet. Besides, Avnet engages with our suppliers in various NPI (new product introduction) programmes, where we build demo or application boards for the products, few months in advance of their planned release date to market.
At Avnet, we are also focused on technology education as it reflects our commitment to customer service. We leverage our strong partnership with our suppliers and our expertise in products and technology. Avnet also provides a variety of technical seminars and workshops, sharing what’s hot and bringing the latest technology to our customers.
The most recent example was the X-fest 2012 technical training series that ran through 16 cities in Asia including Bengaluru. X-fest was a full-day how-to training for FPGA, DSP, MCU and embedded systems designer, where engineers could learn from training courses and see the live demonstration and product displays at the exhibition, have direct interaction with the technical and product experts from Avnet and our supplier partners. Through X-fest, engineers were able to learn the system level design solutions for FPGA circuitry and the surrounding components. X-fest India finally had more than 300 engineers attending which was a record-breaking number compared to the previous events in Bengaluru. In all of Asia, X-fest had achieved a satisfactory result with close to 4,000 engineers attending the event.