I'm sure the vast majority you reading this article have visited a PC vendor online and used an online configurator to spec up a brand new PC, regardless of whether or not you've gone through with the purchase. That configuration of a certain SKU - what CPU speed you want, how much memory will the system have, do you choose a DVD writer over the standard CD drive offered, should you get a WiFi card, etc. - is something that happens twice in the product's life cycle, the first time coming long before you make your choices on that set of online forms.
Way before you ever do so, the vendor selling the SKU has done exactly the same thing, but pretty much in reverse. What CPU choices will they offer you? What are the memory configurations the SKU can support? Should all configurations be offered? Should they make the DVD writer the standard option now?
Knowing that happens, have you ever thought about what goes into that particular process? It's a huge amount of effort, once which I personally hadn't considered before I sat down to tap these words out. The amount of planning and thinking that goes into preparing and bringing to market a brand new PC product is immense.
Costs have to be forecast and planned for, availability from suppliers needs to be investigated and verified, the right components need to be selected. Maybe most important of all, the right people need to be there to build it once you've made your choices.
As a consumer, you've got it really easy. How do I know? Long time partners of ours Scan International invited us down to take a look at the closing stages of a new SKU they have. The Horwich-based company allowed us to see one of the final samples of this new beast that they've created, the aim was to give you a peak by proxy at how one of the UK's leading computing retailers go about creating a new PC SKU they're proud of, that you'll undoubtedly lust after.
I see it like this: all the consideration, component choice, assembly and testing that you or I would go through when putting together our own PCs from parts we've bought ourselves, all the money, blood, sweat and tears that's experienced in a self-build, all that happens tenfold at a place like Scan. Their major losses happen when a PC is returned for repair, because something's gone wrong.
If it's a component that's died, that's a fairly easy thing to rectify for a vendor, minimising the financial impact. But if it's one of those niggling things that takes a while to fault-find, diagnose and sort out, that drawn-out sequence of events costs time, and therefore money.
An engineer that takes a day to sort out a gremlin on just one PC is an engineer that hasn't helped to fix a half dozen others. The longer you keep a customer waiting for a fix, the less likely they'll spend new money with you and the more likely they are to tell others that you're not worth a look-in.
So when creating a new product SKU, weeks of testing is done to make sure the shipped product is fit for use. Don't you wish you could spend a month with new hardware to see if it works out for you, before spending the money on it? We'd be out of business if you could! Everyone relies on the vendor to sort things out before hand, and that's the real business of new SKU creation. That's the business that Scan let me have a squint at.
Join us as I have an early look at Scan's newest PC, the Chameleon, built around the same basic ethos as their Cobra SLI machines we looked at following SLI's introduction, as it enters final QA and decision making before sale. Performance is 99% settled on, components are chosen, configuration is set and the last things left to do are fairly minor. The Chameleon is just about ready to rock, time for a closer look.