Matt Murphy, the CEO of U.S. chipmaker Marvell Technology, predicted in October that the semiconductor shortage will extend into 2022 and beyond. The shortage is already having a huge impact across the world, with German carmaker Opel announcing the pause of some of its operations until the start of next year.
And this is far from an isolated incident — the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders recently revealed that the number of new cars registered in the U.K. in September was the lowest since 1998. Across the world, automotive manufacturers are struggling with the semiconductor shortage, unable to build and sell enough cars to meet demand.
The impact, however, is even broader. Having seen a surge in demand through the pandemic, consumer electronics are also starting to be affected by the semiconductor shortage, with research suggesting that smartphone production will be hit harder than initially predicted. Microsoft’s executive vice president of gaming, Phil Spencer, predicted that both Xbox and PlayStation game consoles will continue to be in short supply into next year.
This is further demonstrated in research we at The Qt Company recently undertook with Forrester, which looked at the challenges facing the global manufacturing industry. A startling 80% of organizations we spoke to are currently struggling to produce digital products and services, and 62% attributed this to delays in semiconductor provision.
No quick fix
Through 2020, demand for digital products and services grew at an unprecedented rate, and this demand has not yet wavered. The research, which we undertook in the first half of 2021, further revealed that 82% of organizations stated that they need to quickly introduce new smart or connected products and services in order to maintain or grow their market position. For nearly eight out of 10 organizations (79%), this means focusing their attention on accelerating their software R&D lifecycle.
As speed remains paramount for businesses, delays in semiconductor provision and software development cycles are causing significant issues. For many, these delays are lasting for several months. And let’s not forget that sitting firmly alongside the challenges in firmware is the ever-present specter of the developer skills shortage.
While there is no quick fix to talent and semiconductor shortages, there are changes businesses can make that can have an immediate and beneficial impact. And at the heart are the designers and developers who create and deliver the products and services that rely on semiconductors and embedded devices.
Challenging the development process
Businesses must look at their ways of working in order to make fast and effective improvements now to avoid falling into a crisis. When looking at the product life cycle, most businesses have a very siloed approach to design and development, not only in terms of the way the teams interact — or, in most cases, don’t — from the outset of a project but also when considering the software and tools they use.
This leads directly to one of the core challenges in fast, efficient mobile app development — overly complex developer/design feedback loops. There is often a disconnect between developers who are tasked with making digital products and the designers who are more concerned about things like user experience and user interface.
The two operate in distinct silos when they should be working in tandem. Enabling collaboration between developers and designers is critical to expediting this process and making up some of the lost ground caused by the chip shortage.
Unifying development and design tools and practices can turn design iterations from interruptions into contributions to the development process and break the cycle of painstaking feedback loops, helping brands bring products to market much faster.
Unifying design and development as “DevDes” — in the same way we think about software development with DevOps — means silos are broken down, workloads are lightened and delivery is simplified.
Cross-platform frameworks and tools are vital to blunt the effects of these market challenges, and digital product decision-makers will need to remain flexible and use what can be sourced whenever it can be sourced. For example, investing in flexible software tools and platforms that support a wide variety of silicon can reduce the impact of supply chain shortages.
But that isn’t the only benefit. Looking beyond the semiconductor shortage, product teams are often tasked with quickly developing and deploying products that can be used across multiple devices but still provide the end user with a seamless, native experience. Once again, taking out silos and embracing a DevDes approach with cross-platform frameworks can expedite the process while allowing the team to work in their native environments.
While we are all glad to be moving out of the eye of the pandemic and focusing on a more sustainable future, the lessons we have learned over these past 20 months cannot and should not be forgotten.
While we are unlikely to see such a sudden surge in demand for devices as we have, we are likely to see peaks again. And the expectations from consumers and businesses alike for faster delivery of better quality products — and a seamless experience over an increasing number of devices — is certainly a trend that will continue.
Developer burnout has been talked about widely, and the pressure to deliver more and faster without offering the necessary support is not sustainable. As we continue to train more developers to meet the skills shortage, enabling them to work in a truly integrated way with other parts of the product teams will be critical.
The semiconductor shortage is going to cause disruption for some time yet to come, so it is up to businesses to look now at the steps they can make in their existing processes, which will not only help them navigate this challenging time but set them up as future-proof. And that starts with the people and processes at the heart of the development lifecycle.