Health Tech: Brian Edmond On How Crank Software’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness
An Interview With Dave Philistin
Don’t forget the human. It’s very easy to let a software development team build, test, and deliver a product that has little to no input from the actual users. Not only can this lead to a poor experience, it can actually prevent people from using your technology effectively.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Edmond.
Brian co-founded Crank Software in 2007, after leading the graphics development group at QNX Software Systems where he spent the majority of his career working and consulting on UI design, embedded software architecture, and web browser technology. As he watched embedded graphics teams struggle, he developed an acute understanding of the common workflow problem between the designers and engineers. Brian built Crank Storyboard out of this need to help these teams collaborate more effectively, optimize for exceptional performance, and get their award-winning touch screens to market, close to 50% faster. A triathlon and mountain biking enthusiast (explaining the name Crank Software). Brian is a regular Ironman and cyclocross participant, and can often be found biking the trails with his co-founders behind the Crank offices in Kanata, Ottawa. Brian holds an Electrical Engineering degree from the Technical University of Nova Scotia.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I was always interested in computers, software programming, and the interaction between humans and technology. When I was young, I got my first Atari game console and almost immediately traded it to my uncle for a Commodore VIC-20 computer so I could start making my own programs. Despite this direction towards technology and computers, my first real passion was flying and I wanted to be a pilot. I received my pilot’s license when I was 16 but was drawn back into computers, taking electrical engineering in university and majoring in computer software. This blend of technology and its applications eventually led to co-founding Crank Software (now AMETEK Crank) in the early 2000s.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Back in the early days of Crank Software, we were on a sales call with a software development team based out of Japan. They had found me on a random newsgroup — back when those were a thing — and wanted to see what we could do. We went through our usual pitch and the team decided to go another way but soon afterwards, I got a call from someone that had been in that meeting. We ended up with a three-year contract through that person. It demonstrated the importance of having a solid message and passion behind what you do as you never know who’s listening.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The obvious answer, which happens to also be true, is my father. He instilled the value of hard work and honesty in me that has driven my actions, and the belief that nothing comes without hard work and dedication to your task. I also started Crank Software with two other people that I respect, Jason Clarke and Thomas Fletcher, and saw through its acquisition into AMETEK Crank. They each brought their own skill sets and points of view that pushed our commitment to innovation forward and made our team successful in ways that a single individual could not.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My mindset aligns closely with this quote by Harry S. Truman, “Work Hard. Do your best. Keep your word.” I have always felt that you get something out of what you put into it, and this principle has served me well in both business and athletic pursuits.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
These traits have not only helped myself but also the team at AMETEK Crank and staying true to ourselves and delivering value to our customers:
- Honesty and integrity. You need to be honest with your team and your customers to be successful and respected. If that means turning away work and helping customers find other solutions that would be a better fit for them, then that’s the right approach to help both sides. People appreciate and remember that.
- Be goal oriented. Setting goals up front allows you to focus efforts on anything you want to accomplish, whether it’s business, personal, or athletic pursuits. Setting small goals on the path to something larger helps keep your motivation up and give you those small wins to keep you going.
- Humility. You need to understand that you don’t always have the answer and there are people in the room with better solutions to problems. Sometimes you’re wrong and the best, most productive solution is to admit it and learn from the experience.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
Technology has been the greatest enabler towards better health and wellness in the last fifty years but it isn’t always accessible by everyone. You have companies like Apple and Google at the cutting edge of consumer health and fitness products but not everyone can afford them. How do you deliver more cost-effective solutions without compromising user experience? By the same token, you have large medical technology manufacturers struggling to overcome their traditional way of doing things to deliver new products that meet the needs of healthcare professionals that expect smartphone-like connectivity and features. How do you make it easier for them to build the user interface so they can focus on their core value of creating better patient outcomes? AMETEK Crank helps them reach new audiences by providing new ways to create sophisticated user experiences without breaking the budget.
How do you think your technology can address this?
Our technology is built upon decades of experience in building graphical user interfaces on lower cost and power efficient devices. If you think back to when your kitchen stove or automotive infotainment system went from simple controls and displays to the touch screens they are now, we helped enable that. It’s about bridging the gap between the creativity of UX designers and the technical constraints of software and physical hardware to develop incredible user interfaces that run in a tightly-constrained performance environment. We help manufacturers realize that you don’t need powerful computers and chipsets to deliver what consumers want.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Myself and my co-founders, Thomas Fletcher and Jason Clarke, were working at QNX Software Systems and saw the same use case over and over again: manufacturers launching poor-quality touchscreens on what were supposed to be smart, connected devices. The biggest challenge they had was enabling designers and software developers to work together to create beautiful, engaging experiences — without compromise on either side. We knew there was a better way to innovate, by bringing the creative and technical roles together under the same development platform, and the Crank Storyboard product was born.
How do you think this might change the world?
Democratizing access to touchscreen GUI development helps manufacturers deliver products at any price point and feature level, making it easier for consumers to adopt the technology appropriate for them. If someone wants a fitness tracker wearable that runs for a week on a single charge, they don’t have to spend luxury brand prices to get it. Similarly, if a medical ventilator manufacturer wants to combine several features that used to be separate into one device that simplifies treatment for practitioners, the GUI is where they start. Helping smart people improve the UX of their technology helps users become smarter too.
While streamlining the GUI development process means manufacturers can get their products out faster, there’s the risk of not meeting the needs or even excluding different user groups. Designing and building with accessibility, language, culture, and socioeconomic considerations in mind must always be at the forefront of the manufacturing process — especially as they bring more life-changing features to more people.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
Creating social-positive technology takes a community, from academics to industry to users. Here are some tips when it comes to building things that people interact with directly:
- Don’t forget the human. It’s very easy to let a software development team build, test, and deliver a product that has little to no input from the actual users. Not only can this lead to a poor experience, it can actually prevent people from using your technology effectively.
- Bring all stakeholders to the table. If designing a new user experience, take in feedback from UX experts, designers, artists, and other creative disciplines to set the stage for the developers.
- Embrace change. Most teams believe in prototyping and testing before delivery but few have the mindset or processes to actively evolve based on feedback. Changes take time to understand and incorporate but it almost always leads to better results, from the first product release to the last.
- Use technology to build technology. Embedded systems have been helping humans since the first Apollo computers in the 1960s and sometimes it feels like we must use the same processes and tools that they did. Modern software and techniques have reduced the amount of effort and risk we need to take in making these critical systems, so why not take advantage of it?
- Build to scale. There are a million great ideas out there, a few of them actually make it, and even fewer reach the audiences that matter. By ensuring your designs and implementations can adapt and grow, the more people you will reach.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I’m an avid cyclist and would love to meet Jens Voigt, who came from East Germany, saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, and wore the yellow jersey twice at the Tour de France.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.