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"Tired of waiting?" - Yes I am - BT's next gen data network
Written by Ian Edwards   
Wednesday, 28 April 2010

BT are rolling out their next gen broadband network and are marketing this under the banner "Tired of waiting?" - the idea being that if you find your current broadband provision slow then this is the answer. I can't argue with that, but what I do take exception to is being subjected to this marketing message when 20meg braodband is not available in my area, nor is it likely to be in the foreseeable future. In fact I am tired of waiting for 2meg broadband let alone 20. I just happen to be midway between two semi rural exchanges and can usually only get about 800kbps (although my router says its got a 1kbps connection). So save your marketing budget BT and please don't send marketing material to customers that you can't serve - unless of course you really want to irritate them.

If you want to know if you are on the list for 20 meg (from BT - other network operators are available - just not where I am) then exchanges scheduled for upgrade are listed here.

Product Lifecycle Management- Aras Open Source PLM
Written by Ian Edwards   
Wednesday, 07 April 2010

It is still not uncommon for businesses to mismanage data, or even fail to manage it at all. Left to their own devices your staff / colleagues will devise their own methods for keeping track of the information that is necessary for them to do their jobs. Techniques used might range from a card file for contacts to an access database or excel spreadsheet containing customer or product information. Alternatively contacts could be stored in an organiser application such as Outlook and files possibly in shared directories on a file server somewhere. If these file shares have been setup properly then users will only have access to documents that concern them. If it hasn't been setup properly there will be no control over who is accessing or modifying what, although part of the problem here is the crude and practically ineffective permissions management in current operating systems - but that's another story.

Microsoft have attempted to address this problem of unstructured data with Sharepoint which has become a commercially very successful collaboration and document sharing and workflow platform and, through being bundled in it's basic version as part of the Windows server operating system, has become almost as ubiquitous as Windows itself. Sharepoint is a platform which gives the user tools to build an application appropriate to their needs, which means a level of skill in developing such an application is required. You may have these skills in house or may ask a specialist IT company to do the work for you, but, and  this relates to my earlier post on the mis-use of office suites in businesses, why go to the trouble of hacking out your own application, with all the problems that implies, when there is specialist software out there that can do the job for you practically out of the box? The usual answer to this question is cost. Specialist applications, particularly in the manufacturing sector, cost serious money and in most cases still require costly consultancy to setup and maintain. For completeness I should mention that Microsoft do produce a manufacturing module for their Navision range of business software which is generally a mid range cost option, Sharepoint isn't intended as a manufacturing solution but has the potential to be used in this way.

Thankfully the landscape is changing largely as a result of the onward march of open source software forcing the most proprietary of vendors such as Microsoft to reconsider their approach. The Microsoft response to open source is their "Enterprise Open Source" model. Here software vendors develop to the Microsoft platform (Windows) but provide the software free of licencing costs, the vendor making their money on upgrades and support.

One such application is PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) software from Arras. This is free to download and use and with some basic configuration offers fully featured product lifecycle management for the manufacturing sector, although application in other sectors is possible. It is not my intention to offer a full review of Aras here, maybe save that for another post, but the software is browser based (users access it from a web browser with all the advantages that brings, although I gather this has to be IE unfortunately ) and allows a manufacturer to maintain full control of the documents, drawing (including CAD files and viewers)  BOM (Bill of Materials), workflow and other items involved in product development and manufacture. And don't think that because this is free it's a toy, Aras is used by major corporations including Motorola, Xerox and Rolls Royce (Rolls Royce marine in the US), but it is scalable to the requirements of an SME.

So what are the benefits of PLM? A case study that will be used for a very long time is that of the recent problems to hit Toyota. Whilst it may be argued that Toyota were a bit slow in owning up to the problem - once it had been identified they were able to contact every affected customer and arrange repair. They  identified the batch of components that caused the problem, which vehicles the defective parts had been installed in and were then able to trace the current owners of those vehicles. This was only possible because they had full control of their product data throughout it's lifecycle.

You can find out more about Aras here. If you are in manufacturing and would like to discuss the application of PLM to your business please contact me.