The National Instruments Co. (NI) provides integrated software and hardware to scientists and engineers. Founded in 1976, three college students (James Truchard, PhD, Jeff Kodosky, and Bill Nowlin) developed this technology-based enterprise. The company's instrumentation hardware and graphical system design software convert standard PCs into industrial automation and test and measurement systems. These "virtual instruments" can observe, measure, and control electrical signals and physical attributes such as voltage and pressure. The company also offers programming environments (LabVIEW and Measurement Studio) for creating customizable graphical interfaces, controlling instruments, and capturing and analyzing data. In addition, NI provides test management software for running automated factory test systems.
The company’s main headquarters is in Austin, Texas and it has offices in 40 different countries including Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, Europe, Japan, South Africa and Poland. Grossing $1.04 billion/year, NI has approximately 6,400 employees and services 35,000 customers. In order to serve the broad business reach, the company has quite a diverse mix of products manufactured and sold. Having more than 15,000 orderable part numbers or unique products, its goal is to ship products within 1-2 days of lead-time ordering. This is rare for most test and measurement companies.
NI’s main competitors are Emerson Electric Co., which grosses $24.2 billion/year, Danaher Corp., which grosses $18.9 billion/year, and Kyocera Corp., which grosses $14.7 billion/year.
NI’s corporate culture promotes innovation, openness, and collaboration. Despite the large size of the company, innovation is included with every aspect of each department. From engineering to marketing to public relations, everyone is encouraged to come to the table with an idea and ways to get bring it into fruition. Because there is a lot of research involved with keeping up with the changes in technology, the founders of the company, (two of which are very active in managing the company today) wanted to have a company that was a great place to work was. In order to accomplish this, there is a constant learning, team-based, environment that promotes growth. This includes having a plan that maps out the next 100 years of where NI wants to go, and what it plans to do. This plan is referred to on a quarterly and annual basis.
Hands-on training and full participation in projects is required from all employees. This full participation ensures that everyone learns, and can explain about the product in detail. Richard McDonell, Director of Americas Strategic and Technical Marketing explained, “As students, we would go visit a high tech company to spend the day in the life of an engineer. One semester in my sophomore year, we came to NI, here in Austin. I was so blown away by the culture and company at that point in time; it stuck with me until I was getting ready to graduate. I knew I would want to interview with NI. The only person in the office that has an office with four walls is our chief legal counsel; everyone else in the company has a cube. That type of mentality conveys a strong culture and ability to collaborate across the company. I have worked for NI for 13 years now.”
Renowned computer scientist, Alan Kay, stated, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Dr. Truchard firmly believes in Alan Kay’s statement and has implemented a rather bold approach on inventing the future with NI’s products. Yearly, NI conducts a weeklong conference displaying its new, innovative and useful products that have been tested by certain companies and are now available to the public. During this conference, demonstrations on its new products along with NI’s LabVIEW software are done for the media, scientists and engineers. These demonstrations are conducted in hourly workshops and floorshows.
To train the next generation of engineers and scientists to use LabVIEW, NI actually has a bus called the LabVIEW Campus Tour, which is touring the U.S. with demos to target educators, researchers and students. To target high school and university level students, NI provides both hands-on and online training courses.
Although NI has locations in 40 countries, it has a very aggressive geographical and product-wise growth plan. In countries where technology markets are emerging, NI provides engineers and scientists with tools that these professionals lack. NI concentrates on innovation heavily to provide a better alternative than traditional approach. Because there is a lot of demand from companies that want to take advantage of these exciting, new technologies, NI is preparing engineers and scientists to be proficient in LabVIEW. Proactively, NI makes sure that it is helping to provide as many trained LabVIEW programmers or developers as possible.
Ten years ago, the majority of its customer conversations were around solving a particular technical challenge. That’s still very much a part of the conversation today, probably more so since problems are more complex, along with the business aspects. Customers seek ways to not only solve technical challenges, but also business constraints (smaller budget, smaller team, faster time to market). Therefore, NI serves as a consultant for customers helping them to meet their goals.