Where’s the Line Between Free Support and NRE?

By Rich Nass

Executive Vice President

Embedded Computing Design

December 03, 2021


Where’s the Line Between Free Support and NRE?

There’s been a confluence of negative trends as of late that are impacting the embedded design community.

First—the chip shortage. But in this column, I’m going to address a different problem that seems to be plaguing us, and that has to do with engineering support.

The idea grew from a letter I received recently from a small business owner, someone with a company that designs and sells power-management chips, modules, and related technologies. He asked to remain anonymous, so I will honor that, but I think his gripes need to be aired. So here is his letter:

Some customers require massive engineering support. Some of these are folks who either:

  1. Don’t read the documentation
  2. Don’t understand the documentation
  3. Don’t think the documentation is correct or that it applies to them.

I’m not talking about small volume customers—these are engineering teams from companies known to most of Embedded readers. To be fair, about 5% to 10% of the time the issue is with us; something was wrong or confusing in the documentation, or there was a bug. And of course this feedback is useful to us and appreciated.

So what’s the answer? An upfront NRE would punish innocent customers. Charging by the hour for excessive support is also problematic, especially if we don’t mention this possibility at the onset of a project (and who wants to suggest a team may not be up to par at the start of a relationship?).

Clearly, this person is frustrated. Are you seeing the same? What is the solution?

Richard Nass’ key responsibilities include setting the direction for all aspects of OSM’s ECD portfolio, including digital, print, and live events. Previously, Nass was the Brand Director for Design News. Prior, he led the content team for UBM’s Medical Devices Group, and all custom properties and events. Nass has been in the engineering OEM industry for more than 30 years. In prior stints, he led the Content Team at EE Times, Embedded.com, and TechOnLine. Nass holds a BSEE degree from NJIT.

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