April 1, 1997

4 Min Read
Dealing with Change in Device Development

Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry Magazine | MDDI Article Index

An MD&DI April 1997 Column

SNAPSHOT

In more than 20 years of ultrasonic product development and marketing, Jacques Souquet, PhD, has both witnessed and helped cause dramatic changes in the industry. In fact, Souquet, who is the senior vice president of Advanced Technology Laboratories (Bothell, WA) and the recipient of six patents in ultrasonic imaging, can remember the rudimentary beginnings of ultrasound products.

"I have four children," Souquet says. "For kid number 1, my wife didn't have an ultrasound; for kid number 2, my wife had an ultrasound, but at the time you really needed to trust the doctor to tell you 'this is a baby, this is a head, this is the rest of the body.' It was simply a mishmash of black and white and not recognizable. But by kid number 4, the images had gray scale, and you could see facial detail."

According to Souquet, the most important technological change in ultrasonic devices occurred relatively recently. "There is a dramatic impact from the use of software components in ultrasound products, something we weren't faced with even five years ago," he says. This change in technology means that qualifications for ultrasonic device developers are changing. "The mix of competence in companies is shifting to the software area," he adds.

A native of France who has worked in the device industry in France as well as the United States, Souquet notes that like the devices themselves, the marketplace and the ultrasound manufacturing companies have become much more sophisticated than when he began his career.

There are a greater number of competitors in the ultrasound device market, says Souquet. "There are also products that occupy very specific niches in the market. For example, there are now products that are targeted toward only muscular or skeletal applications," he says.

Companies are also developing a more advanced approach to product development. Using the company he now works for as an example, Souquet says that "there has been a shift toward understanding the customer. There is a better fusion of the different groups--marketing works closely with product generation, or engineering, and finance is tied in more closely. There doesn't seem to be the separation that existed in the past, when finance, engineering, and marketing were all distinct, and it was lucky if the three could march at the same speed. Now because product cost is important, understanding customer needs is important, and technology is important, we see fusion of different groups in a company being much better handled."

Weathering the rapid changes of the past two decades has left Souquet with a better understanding of how those who are entering product development can best succeed in a future that promises to hold as many surprises as the past has.

"First and foremost," says Souquet, the successful product designer must "integrate customer needs with technological innovation. We should not develop technology in a vacuum; we have to develop technology that addresses our customers' needs."

He recalls that one of his own successes hinged on following this advice. "About 15 years ago in cardiology imaging, part of the population--it was 30% at the time--couldn't be imaged because we couldn't go through the ribs. And the idea I had was to put a probe on the tip of a gastroscope that we would slide down the esophagus, to get much closer to the heart and to be able to use a higher frequency, which delivers better resolution, and by doing so to image the heart without the problem of getting through fat tissues or between ribs. All of that was delivered because of listening to unmet needs of the customers who, not being technologically versed, didn't know this could be done.

"I am assuming that the person who would get into medical product design would be versed in technology," continues Souquet. "I would advise that person to look at the other side of the coin, and learn better what our medical needs are, so that he or she can apply technological savvy to the things that need to be done, and not develop technology just for the sake of technology."

Souquet says that the successful product developer must also take advantage of future changes. "A young person getting into a business like ours should keep an entrepreneurial spirit to exploit changes in the market," he says, "and should also realize that the future is not simply an extrapolation of the past. To be successful we need innovation and creativity, not just redoing in a better way what was done in the past."

Leslie Laine is a senior editor for MD&DI.

Copyright © 1997 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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