The MATLAB Quandry is not unique

It is around midnight so I will try to keep it as short as possible.

I have been asking my wife to introduce me to MATLAB programming for months now. She finally started doing that this weekend. Why am I so interested in learning MATLAB ? Afterall, it is not one of the “desired” programming languages these days.

Long before there was Python or R or even the words “Data Science”, MATLAB was used by academia, defense and public sector to develop algorithms that we are now able to develop using open source tools like Python and R. Most engineering students in my generation had at least one coursework that leveraged it (most probably a Six Sigma course?….nope….that was MINITAB I believe).

Predictive analytics in manufacturing is a rage today but do you know that some automobile manufacturers in Europe have been using MATLAB based algorithms to plan smart maintenance for years ? There is so much MATLAB associated expertise, insights and knowledge out there in the manufacturing analytics domain that I knew I must learn MATLAB to experiment (and sleep better at night with satisfaction 😊).

Their code has helped man get rovers to Mars since it was leveraged by NASA. Most of the top secret algorithm development work in defense sector is still done in MATLAB.

So as I got my hands on some old books and research compilations in the area of Manufacturing analytics, that used MATLAB, I wondered why they are not that widely used now ? At the top, the big reason may seem that MATLAB is not free, like Python or R. But peel the layers a bit and you will find where they missed the bus, initially.

Despite their glorious past, the parent company MathWorks is facing a challenge ahead. With the advent of open source tools, it is losing its market share, more so in the private sector/Industry. (Strictly my opinion, based on my analysis- my wife refuses to agree since they take such good care of her (and we are fortunate that she has such a caring employer). The level of empathy that I see in interactions among colleagues is amazing ).

MathWorks had all the chances to create a value proposition as soon as they saw these open source tools on the horizon. They had decades of rich expert knowledge that no one else had at that point. Remember, MATLAB or Python or R does not create the magic. They are programming languages and in isolation do not mean sh*t. The magic comes from identifying, understanding and structuring a problem and then designing a solution around it. And MathWorks had decades of lead in that area.

But maybe it initially decided to ignore these tools. And now they have made some dent.

Making their expertise a primary offering, and MATLAB as a tool, they could have built an unbreachable strategy- of being a solutions and product rather than a pure product company. I think they are focussing on solutions more and more now, working with customers to help design them solutions, using MathWorks tools. Starting that early would have led them much ahead of where they are right now.

But they are still foundationally strong. And their foundation is their expertise in something that has now become democratized due to advanced in tech. They need to harness that democratization and make some rich inroads vs competing against it.

The company culture though has the fundamentals to make that work -I love the culture that I see,as I see my wife work. I am sure they will do good. They need to press the gas now.

And this challenge is not unique to MathWorks. Many organizations that once had glory days, ignored early signs of disruption. MathWorks has been lucky that they still have monopoly outside private sector and the fundamentals to get ahead. Others may not be. There are no “Forever” core competencies now. You need to operate a fluid business model.

Three things that we must not forget in this decade:

  • Keep an eye out for every trend in your ecosystem and extrapolate the impact
  • If what was your strength has become baggage, get rid of it
  • Re-orient the business model, sooner rather than later.

Time to sleep !


Views expressed are my own and I hope my wife does not visit my blog this week. If you do not see this post two days from now, it is because she got mad at me for writing about her dear employer. 😁😂😊

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