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Note: Since this announcement, Siemens PLM Software released the latest versions of its Teamcenter 8 and Tecnomatix 9 software suites. Check out Manufacturing AUTOMATION's coverage.IBM and Siemens PLM Software announced joint offerings to help companies share manufacturing plans and product data, and improve the management of products throughout their lifecycle–from design and manufacturing to end-of-life planning and recycling."As products become more sophisticated and the number of suppliers and manufacturers increases around the globe," the company says, "companies need a more intelligent and well-connected framework to support the accurate exchange of millions of data transactions. These transactions are important in the design and manufacturing of mechanical, software and electrical components critical in products from planes and ships to global positioning systems and cell phones."Using IBM's Product Development Integration Framework (PDIF) as a development platform and primary integration environment, Siemens will deliver "ready-to-use" solutions built on its Teamcenter PLM software portfolio and IBM WebSphere and Information Management (DB2). PDIF also enables a richer integration between Siemens Teamcenter and Rational Software Platform for Systems.Additionally, IBM and Siemens will jointly provide a range of services including consulting and implementation, systems integration and application hosting." ""By using a flexible software environment, companies have a framework for marrying key PLM business processes to technology initiatives that offer a structured approach to managing the life of a product," said Michael Wheeler, vice-president of IBM PLM and Supply Chain Solutions.""For line-of-business users from product development to supply chain it means faster access to information and better performance to support collaboration for global product development," stated Michael Burkett, leading industry analyst and vice-president of AMR Research. "The technology certification is significant in its depth where Teamcenter PLM is now optimized to run on IBM applications including WebSphere and DB2," he added.By exploiting the open computing flexibility of IBM's service-oriented architecture (SOA) and IBM's PDIF, companies can address the challenge of making sure millions of pieces of data and design plans are exchanged accurately throughout the product lifecycle communities." The companies says this combination helps companies build, extend and transform their existing infrastructures incrementally over time by allowing multiple systems to re-use business services and incorporate new technologies such as web-based collaboration across the product supply chain.www.ibm.com/solutions/plmwww.siemens.com/plm
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - COSS Systems has launched a new ERP product for manufacturers, in partnership with Microsoft. The product was introduced to COSS customers at the Microsoft Canada office in Mississauga earlier this month.
Manufacturers move from Lean to agile manufacturing to adapt to dynamic global marketsLean manufacturing is a term applied to companies that are very good at managing what is in their control, and finding ways to continuously improve areas within their shop management that prove to be inefficient. But manufacturers that have worked for years to get Lean and become Leaner may be wondering, "What's next?"Agility is the ability to thrive and prosper in an environment of constant and unpredictable change. Agile manufacturing deals with the things that are not readily controlled. This relatively new concept is seen as the next step after Lean in the evolution of production methodologies, but many have not yet begun to implement these new tactics. In fact, a recent study found that while 40 percent of respondents are engaged in Lean manufacturing, less than four percent pursued agile manufacturing.The basic concept of agile manufacturing is developing what could best be called a nimble mindset when it comes to understanding market environments. In short, rapid changes in the market environment are not something to be feared, but should be seen as opportunities to beat the competition to the punch. Rapid changes in the market call for rapid responses. This notion of changeability is at the heart of new movements in manufacturing based on production agility.AGILE MANUFACTURING IN THE JOB SHOPAgile manufacturing represents a complete shift in the mindset of production industries in the 21st century; one in which there is both a greater relationship between technology and worker skills, and greater customer access to, and demands upon, the core competencies of their manufacturers/vendors.By its denoted value, agile manufacturing implies a sense of flexibility. In today's dynamic global marketplace, where the business variables are often unknown and changing, it is incumbent on the manufacturer to be able to respond to evolving demands at a pace that, in the past, would simply be considered unrealistic. However, the modern job shop has itself evolved to this point of accommodating increasingly shortened lead times and 90-degree engineering changes. Paperless routers facilitate computerized linkages from sales order generation to the tracking of shipments. Shop floor wireless systems account for inventory levels, automated purchasing and materials movement. Engineering schemata (particularly changes in design and construction) can be relayed directly to machine operators via graphical user interfaces as they are generated.In other words, technology and technique have evolved in manufacturing so much so that agility could very well be considered state of the art. Agility is a result of streamlining to sharpen processes on the shop floor to hasten order fulfillment and, in doing so, maximize capacity for increased productivity. THE ROLE OF ERPTechnology is an enabling factor in agile manufacturing. Identifying the right technology that helps the whole shop share a common database of parts and products, and production capacities and trouble spots within the supply chain, is key. Responding deftly to customer demands, materials shortages or other contingencies is crucial, considering that small initial problems are typically amplified down the line.A first step toward becoming an agile manufacturer is developing the means by which business intelligence of the marketplace is made meaningful, and production is wholly synthesized through integration. ERP software brings all areas of the manufacturing operation into a single, real-time database where the actions of one department never happen in isolation; where all aspects of the operation are capable of responding quickly to customer demands. Particularly suited for agile manufacturing, ERP software provides the basis for rapid communications and the exchange of data, as well as the means by which responsive actions can be made quickly to ensure competitive advantage.The manufacturer that has made the effort to instill agility through ERP has the competitive advantage when it comes to quickly transforming knowledge into new products and services for its customers. AGILE MANUFACTURING IN THE REAL WORLDWhile agile manufacturing is still a novel concept and has not yet been fully implemented across the broader spectrum of manufacturing, some early adopters are already seeing the benefits.Humanetics, a precision metal works company based in Dallas, Tex., is an example of the sort of agile thinking taking place in manufacturing today. Not only is its workforce occupationally dimensional, the production model is one that takes advantage of the unique strengths of each of the company's four facilities. With the acquisition of a plant in Wuxi, China, Humanetics is able to produce products for the Asian market using local labour and resource efficiencies. However, Humanetics has also found that it can create a hybrid manufacturing model by combining Chinese overhead efficiencies (initial labour and materials) in alliance with American quality standards (for finishing) to provide low-cost, high-quality finished goods for a global marketplace.To maintain real-time connectivity between a large database of shop information, Humanetics implemented a robust ERP software system that provides the company with the capability to navigate production schedules, inventory management and cost accounting for the information flowing from all four of its geographically dispersed plants. As orders are taken, processes are planned accordingly to ensure that throughput is efficient, international movement of parts is smooth, quality is maintained and delivery is on time. Ultimately, it is its agile ERP software system that provides a sense of total flexibility to what Humanetics does as a multi-location manufacturer.AGILE MANUFACTURING TOMORROWIn a global economy, windows of opportunity open quickly and can close just as fast. The more agile the manufacturer, the greater the rewards to be gained from being the first responder to customer needs. Expanding the customer-base through emerging and diverse markets necessitates the quick reflexes that result from the consistent improvement of business intelligence.Innovation in the market provides the greatest growth opportunities for companies who are quickest because of their concerted efforts to be agile. Dusty Alexander is the president of Global Shop Solutions, an ERP software provider based in The Woodlands, Tex.
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - Autodesk, Inc., a provider of 2-D and 3-D design software, has launched the AutoCAD Exchange, an online destination for AutoCAD users to connect and learn from experts, provide feedback to the product developers, and access professional tools that can help them do their jobs better.
Manufacturers constantly struggle to link sales and planning information with the data collected on the shop floor. There is often a gap between the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems that collect orders and generate build plans, and the Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) that orchestrate shop floor operations. SAP's aggressive movement to address this gap has recently been met by a variety of Oracle announcements. The differences between the vendors' strategies indicate where the entire market is heading.ORACLE ADOPTS A HUB STRATEGY Oracle is pushing directly into traditional MES territory. Oracle E-Business Suite 12, for example, introduced integrated MES functionality that supports shop floor kiosks for both workers and managers. Oracle also recently released new offerings to fulfill its vision of "information-driven value chains."The core of its strategy is Oracle Manufacturing Operations Center, which competes with SAP's Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (MII). It was first described at Open World in November 2007 when it was referred to as a manufacturing hub. It acts as a repository for data from shop floor systems such as data historians and PLCs. The underlying data model is based on the ISA-95 standard, and the product integrates with Oracle's Fusion Middleware, making the data available to reporting and event management systems. In practice, the system is bidirectional and delivers ERP data such as costs, work orders and requirements to plant floor systems. It will also gather data from MES, quality management, PLC and SCADA through OPC adapters.SAP MOVES FIRST TO CROSS THE MANUFACTURING CHASM SAP is bridging the ERP/MES gap by aggressively building relationships. Existing MES vendors can use MII to build links between their offerings and SAP. MII came from SAP's 2005 acquisition of Lighthammer, a vendor that specialized in software tools for monitoring shop floor information and integrating it with planning systems. SAP's strategy was bolstered by the introduction of the SAP Lean Planning and Operations (LPO) module, acquired from Factory Logic in 2006. Visiprise, Invensys, Pavilion Technologies and GE Fanuc Automation are all currently working with SAP.KEY TAKEAWAYS Industry solutions are back in vogue. Four years ago, the leading enterprise vendors trumpeted their acquisitions. Two years ago, they discussed how they would integrate these acquisitions. This year they are finally back to addressing real industry needs. Fortunately, the acquisitions and integration technologies have become a fundamental part of their industry strategies. Expect additional industry-specific templates and implementation plans.The partner strategies differ. SAP has been very aggressive developing partnerships for linking ERP and MES data. For SAP, these partners are crucial for developing technology to facilitate data linkages. Oracle's approach is very different. Its introduction of MES into core offerings is threatening to many potential partners. Instead, Oracle is using its partner network for domain experience in deep verticals such as life sciences and government contracting where compliance issues are particularly onerous. The road maps are still incomplete. Both vendors have made a great deal of progress in bridging the data gap, but their roadmaps still leave out a great deal of functionality. It is still unclear, for example, how MII or the Oracle Manufacturing Operations Center will integrate with modules for logistics management or customer service. Similarly, there are practical issues such as documentation management, electronic signatures or data archiving that remain unaddressed. Both vendors have technology that can address these issues and have identified them as concerns, but have not yet built appropriate templates or roadmaps.The competition is coming. Oracle and SAP aren't the only ERP vendors in the game. Other vendors with large manufacturing interests, such as Infor and IFS, are taking note and rolling out their own strategies. It remains to be seen which strategy they will fast-follow, Oracle's or SAP's.SAP and Oracle have both rolled out strategies to cross the data chasm between the executive floor and the manufacturing floor. The differences in their strategies reveal the developing market trends.George R. Goodall is a senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in Toronto. You can reach him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
DENVER, Colo. - The CAD Society is now accepting nominations of CAD industry developers, pundits and experts for the 2009 CAD Society Industry Awards, which acknowledge the contributions made by individuals who have affected and developed the CAD, engineering, manufacturing and architecture software industries.
ORLANDO, Fla. - At 8:30 a.m. on Monday, February 9, 2009, for a brief moment, it was easy to forget about the global economic challenges facing the manufacturing industry. The location was the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla., where 4,300-plus engineers gathered for the SolidWorks World 2009 International User Conference and Exposition.
EDMONTON, Alta. - The OPC Training Institute (OPCTI) recently released a vendor-neutral whitepaper that discusses how automation integrators can use standards-based OPC technology to share data between two or more control systems.The whitepaper discusses the need to "bridge" control systems and explains how to do it using third-party applications. The paper addresses many of the questions and concerns engineers, process control personnel, integrators, end-users and automation professionals have when using OPC Technology to bridge control systems. To read the whitepaper, visit http://www.opcti.com/docs/whitepapers/OPC_Bridging_Transfers_Data_between_Systems.pdf.
Lannding gear has come a long way since the sled-like skis of the Wright Brothers' glider in 1901. Fortunately, so have the methods for engineering and manufacturing.
Significant global growth goals and fierce international competition are two key factors driving MEGA Brands' new product innovation strategy and the company's emphasis on quality and cost.
A series of Canadian application stories from leading CAD/CAM, PLM and ERP providers.
In order to maintain their quality commitment to Ford for assembling key automotive components, Automodular needed to make sure that all their people not only were fully qualified and certified for the processes they performed, but also that each person had all the information needed to assemble each part, at the right time.To make this happen in their plant in Oakville, Ont., Automodular turned to PinPoint Information Systems to develop a software system to communicate and verify information and track conformance to standards in real time. Auto parts assembler Automodular is not a parts manufacturer. It buys no materials; its business model consists of setting up state of the art facilities, within close range of an OEM assembly plant, receiving component material from the OEM’s tier I supply base, and assembling complex value-added modules, and shipping in sequence to the assembly plant. In essence, Automodular sells complex assembly services to clients like Ford and General Motors in southern Ontario, and the Midwest U.S. Every two to five minutes each day, clients like Ford send orders to Automodular electronically. The information in these orders include not only the type of part, quantity and delivery date, but complete specifications including exactly how the parts are to be assembled, torque tolerances and packaging instructions. It’s up to Automodular not just to assemble the moduless, as and when ordered, but also to ensure that all their employees operating any machines or workstations are fully certified to use that equipment to make the part in question. And they also have to be able to prove all that for an audit. Two and a half years ago, Automodular built a new 265,000-square-foot plant in Oakville and recently completed a second 140,000 square-foot plant, specifically to serve Ford of Canada. Today, that operation makes instrument panels, power-train modules, front suspension and front cradle for the Ford Edge, its twin the Lincoln MKX, and the brand-new Ford Flex. "With those three models, and various options and builds, there can be as many as 200 different variations of instrument panels alone," says plant general manager Denis Thibodeau. The only way to guarantee that Ford gets what it wants, how it wants it and when it wants it, is to be sure that every person involved in production knows exactly what the order entails. To ensure that all their equipment operators had the information they needed at their workstations when they needed it, Automodular turned to Burlington-based PinPoint, a company they had used before to develop specialized software for its Oshawa-based facility serving General Motors Oshawa Autoplex. PinPoint worked closely with the auto parts assembler, and over eight months developed a unique, customized system that they installed as the new plant was being built. When the factory went on-line, PinPoint’s system, incorporating state of the art touch-screen technology at every workstation, was live.The smart factory"The PinPoint system continuously receives broadcast messages from Ford, which describes what they need, when and how they need it. That information has to get communicated to the plant floor, right down to the five different assembly lines," explains Corey Simon of PinPoint. PinPoint’s production database sorts the information from Ford’s order and distributes it where it’s needed. Product descriptions and all the specifications each worker needs is delivered to that worker’s touchscreen workstation. But the system goes beyond distributing information: at heart, it’s an error-control system. When the worker arrives at the workstation, they have to log into the SmartScreen client application, which then checks with the production database whether the worker has the certifications necessary to operate the equipment at hand, and whether they have the necessary training on the product being assembled. If not, the system will not allow the worker to perform the assembly. "The SmartScreen shows every worker the latest order information and specifications needed by the customer," says PinPoint’s Jarda Smrz. "It makes sure that the second shift has the same information as the first, and also that someone coming back after a two-week vacation is able to work with any changes or new information that may have come in during that absence." Assuming the worker is qualified, the SmartScreen provides the worker with the information needed for producing that day’s orders. "As the module moves down the assembly line to the next workstation, bar-code scanners ensure it’s the right part in the right place. SmartScreens display the information about the order, which parts the worker needs, where the fastenings and joints are and so on," says Thibodeau. "The screen tells the worker the number of parts needed, where the fastenings should be and the torque required on every screw. If anything’s missed, the software won’t allow the part of move out to the next stage on the assembly line." This level of verification and control persists to the shipping dock. "The PinPoint system validates that the parts have been taken from the line in the proper order to meet Ford’s assembly instructions," says Thibodeau. The SmartScreen terminal also communicates back to the production database. This keeps management up to date, but also provides an audit trail for the customer. Management can use a simple web browser to see all the information about production. "The vehicle information number (VIN) can tell you everything about the car, or at least the components manufactured by systems in our database. It can tell you who built every part and every assembly, and whether that person was certified to do the work he or she did," Smrz explains. The system also provides critical feedback to the individual worker and to the manager. At the workstation, the touch-screen shows productivity data and real-time error rates; management gets an overall picture of the production flowing through the plant, and over the lunchroom door, a big-screen LCD communicates overall reports including general productivity, new instructions and the overall productivity and error rates for the plant. "All manufacturers struggle with the same quality control issues," says Smrz. "They have to ensure that all the latest, most relevant work instructions are available at the workstations where they’re needed. They also have to be able to guarantee that the people who built the product are qualified to do that job. And they have to be able to track each product back to the time, the place, the workstation and the person who produced it."The importance of flexibilityHaving all the necessary information immediately helps Automodular make changeovers from product to product relatively easy. This helps keep the company nimble, able to accommodate the rapid changes of today’s global economy. "As Ford moves to more flexible manufacturing systems, where one plant can build several different vehicles, they need their suppliers to be able to do the same," says Smrz."Automodular does not buy, own or manufacture parts," Thibodeau explains. "We are solely an assembler of our customers’ products. PinPoint helps us ensure that we have completed our value-added responsibility." Scott Bury is a journalist and educator based in Kanata, Ont. He regularly covers high technology and manufacturing. You can reach him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Manufacturer uses Siemens PLM Software to create high-performance transmissions in racing time
As enterprise IT organizations continue to adopt green principles, they’ll take another look at technologies that reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, both within the IT shop and across the business. Enterprises going green will give a nudge to technology markets such as collaboration, videoconferencing, thin-client systems, and data centre outsourcing. With the number of enterprises adopting green IT practices increasing, IT managers will take a hard look at technologies that can help their operations become more efficient and sustainable. Two technology markets – collaboration and visualization software – that are already soaring will get an additional boost from companies implementing a green IT initiative. Collaboration software like team workspaces, Web conferencing and other messaging and social computing tools for individuals and teams is a fast-rising priority for enterprise IT organizations. In 2007, a Forrester survey found that 15 per cent of enterprises in Europe and North America rated implementing a collaboration strategy as a critical priority, and another 34 per cent called it a priority. With enhanced collaboration and teleworking tools, enterprises can cut carbon emissions from employee commuting and reduce their office space footprint. The advent of green IT may provide afterburners to the virtualization market’s rocket ride. The consolidation of application workloads that results from server virtualization is widely recognized as a powerful impetus to green IT initiatives, offering users both operating (power) and capital expense reductions. Other technology markets that don’t have the same strong uptake as collaboration and virtualization may also get a boost from enterprise customers looking to green their IT operations. Videoconferencing has long been a stepchild of IT and communications systems. Expensive bandwidth, balky interfaces, and unsatisfactory user experiences have impeded adoption and use. Green IT may change this picture by introducing environmental responsibility as a new factor in a company’s consideration of videoconferencing systems. New HD-based conference room systems have dramatically upgraded the usability and overall experience of video communication, but the six-figure-per-room price tag of such equipment can be hard to justify. However, reduced travel costs can be substantial, as seen by Cisco, where company travel expenses were reduced by $240 million. The benefits of putting most PC processing power in a managed data centre environment, leaving only a keyboard, monitor, and virtual PC operating system at the desktop – known as thin-client systems – improves the manageability and security of distributed computing, ensuring, for example, that all users have the same software image. Despite the benefits, questions and resistance remain, and the standard "fat-client" desktop PC is still by far the choice of corporate IT. But in that same survey, another 20 per cent to 25 per cent of enterprise respondents were either planning to implement or were interested in thin-client alternatives. Environmental factors such as reduced power consumption and longer product life cycles were among the reasons that these users will take another look at thin-client options. Long envisioned by pundits as the ideal future state of corporate IT infrastructure, data centre outsourcing has never achieved adoption in line with its theoretical attractiveness. Our survey data from 2007 indicates that fewer than one in five corporate IT shops outsource data centre management or mainframe computing operations – and that a quarter of companies that do outsource plan to bring those services back in-house. But this meager adoption may get a lift from green IT. Activity aimed at making corporate data centres energy efficient has reached a fever pitch. For a number of companies, outsourcing part or all of their infrastructure will be the way to tap service providers that are much more energy efficient, thereby reducing energy costs and cutting carbon emissions. Companies taking a second look at data centre outsourcing will follow one – or a mixture – of three primary paths. The first is traditional outsourcing where companies offload their entire data centre infrastructure and personnel to an IT services provider. The second is colocation where companies put customer-owned IT equipment into data centre facilities that service providers. This is an option for companies that want to avoid the capital outlays associated with expanding, optimizing, or building new data centres. The third path is a new umbrella term – cloud computing – that encompasses both new data centre architectures and software-as-a-service (SaaS) business models. Outsourcing application workloads to such cloud computing centres will often give user companies the added fillip of tapping greener energy sources to power their computing services, reducing the carbon footprint of their IT operations. Christopher Mines is a senior vice-president with Forrester Research (www.forrester.com). His research focuses on how green IT will change the design, marketing and operation of IT systems.
If there was a software tool that could help you find the information you didn't know you had, could leverage the knowledge of your customer base while you’re developing new products, and could speed the time to market for those new products, would you use it?   Manufacturers are definitely interested in the functionalities called “Web 2.0,” in the possible use of blogs, podcasts and wikis in their businesses. But there seems to be some hesitation about implementing them internally.     What is Web 2.0? A buzzword credited to author and publisher Tim O’Reilly, “Web two-point-oh” refers to a new wave of technologies like wikis, blogs, RSS and “social networking” that, in general, allow for greater interaction, communication and collaboration on projects through the Web. Web 2.0 technologies also have the ability for people with little formal training in computer programming to develop new tools by combining others into “mashups.”     Web 2.0 also includes the often controversial “social networking” systems like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, which allow people with no computer programming ability to share ideas and post videos on the Internet.     While Web 2.0 holds great appeal for Gen Y, manufacturing businesses stand to gain a lot from implementing the technology. “Something like Facebook for the enterprise is not really that new a concept,” says Jim Murphy, Research Director, Knowledge and Content Management with AMR Research in Boston. “Companies like Boeing and others in the aerospace and defense industry were doing that 20 years ago. But the consumer Web has popularized these new applications.”     One of the most common and obvious examples of a Web 2.0 application for business is the user forum. Apple, Dell and Intel are just three high-tech manufacturers who sell to consumers to sponsor user forums, with sign-in, search and threaded discussions. “They’re scratching the surface of the technology,” says Hugh Thompson, head of Digital Home Canada and a Web 2.0 consultant based in Toronto.     Such discussion forums can reduce customer service costs, by diverting a large number of phone calls to the Website; it also leverages the knowledge of the user base, augmenting that of the staff experts, and bringing the knowledge of third parties under the manufacturer’s umbrella.   New capabilities for manufacturers “The software can be really transformational,” says Susan Minassian, Product Manager for Lotus Connections at IBM. Both a user and a developer of Web 2.0 software, Minassian is enthusiastic about the business process benefits the technology offers. “Software like this can provide direct channels to feedback from customers and employees. Feedback is essential product designers and engineers, because it can point out drawbacks or weaknesses from the customers’ point of view, and can help you decide where to focus time and resources.”   IBM, and other companies, are also using Facebook-type “social networking” software to capture not only feedback, but also knowledge from employees across the enterprise.   “It provides a significant productivity boost for projects, because of the amount of information that employees have is now available in many different channels, allowing more people to leverage what’s been learned by their colleagues elsewhere in the organization,” says Minassian.     Creating a user forum is not that difficult, and many companies have been using internal “bulletin boards” on their intranets for years. What Web 2.0 applications do, however, is provide standardized tools to make that even quicker, and make it possible for individuals to create new tools that fit the way they want to work.     The notion of the “mashup,” the combination of two or more programs into one function, has also been around for a long time; Murphy points to companies that combine Google Maps or Yahoo Maps with their customer relationship management systems to show the closest retailers, dealers or service locations on their websites. “Standardization of software elements has made it possible to combine functionality,” Murphy says. The Web has become a platform that allows users to put applications together.   Web as intermediary “E-mailing spreadsheets back and forth is just too old-world,” laughs Ken Toews, President of Kanata, Ont.-based of BCT International Inc., a contract manufacturer of electronic and mechanical assemblies, plastic injection moulding systems, cables, and provider of die casting and metal stamping.     BCT has mashed together a FileMaker database and the Web to allow people in its manufacturing facilities in Hong Kong, Shenzen, China and New Delhi to keep the head office up to date on projects and products automatically. Using the database, managers on both sides of the world can see and update order status. The database also can export data and send it in a format directly to BCT’s customers’ supply chain systems.     “It cuts labour and transaction costs, because the customer doesn’t have to call someone at our office to find out their order status — they get a report in their system automatically,” Toews explains.     This use of the Web as both a delivery medium and application platform is a key characteristic of Web 2.0: in the U.S., Ford Motor Co. has a specialized Web portal open only to dealers that allows them to log in, select images and build a customized brochure. The software then orders quantities from approved printers.     “A wiki could help support product innovation or new product introduction by capturing what was learned in the past, with previous new product introductions,” says AMR’s Murphy.   “Web 2.0 applications provide a level of interactivity combined with new technologies that allow people to do new things easily,” says Thompson.   The majors notice But aren’t data integration, knowledge management and networking what the big enterprise-wide software systems are all about? Does Web 2.0 threaten to replace them, at least at the low end with smaller companies?     The big software firms have noticed Web 2.0. In 2006, Google — itself a Web 2.0 developer — bought YouTube. Last year, it launched Google Apps, free office-type software (word processing, spreadsheets) available through a Web browser.     IBM developed its suite of Web 2.0 applications from systems its people had developed for their own use on other IBM projects. “By 2002 to 2003, more people were using ‘social networking’ types of applications to share information and ideas, and what started to emerge were ‘communities of interest,’” explains IBM’s Minassian. “A lot of people were also writing blogs on our intranet to hold discussions across different locations.” IBM started to see real benefits from this type of application: faster spreading and sharing of knowledge and solutions across the enterprise, better collaboration and better research. Eventually, the company put these together into a suite sold under the Lotus brand, called Lotus Connections.     Lotus Connections includes Profiles, which lists people by profile and helps users find knowledge, experience and expertise; Communities, the equivalent of social networking, which allows users to organize according to interest, expertise, or job requirements; Blogs, for personal sharing of information, ideas and opinions; Dogear, which is a “social bookmarking” system that allows users to “tag” Web pages, e-mails, files and just about any other digital asset and make them available to others in their Communities; and Activities, which helps users organize tasks and projects, share files and e-mails, paths and other tools. Each application is available separately, but are also completely integrated: users can move tags from Dogear to help organize Activities, use Profiles to help build a project team, and use Activities to share with others in their Communities.   Microsoft’s SharePoint is a web-based platform that provides and manages access to shared files and servers, and can thus produce things like wikis, blogs and other collaboration systems. Users can create task lists, discussion forums and more.     SAP, one of the leaders in enterprise software systems worldwide, has launched NetWeaver, which gives users the ability to put together different functions into dashboards — analogous to the Web mashup. NetWeaver also makes it — relatively — simple (compared to using most SAP applications, anyway) to organize and manage collaboration, teams, projects and digital assets, or files.   Failure to launch “The use of Web 2.0 by businesses is really still in its infancy,” says Thompson of Digital Home. “Companies will put up discussion forums for their customers to share solutions, but some are worried about negative comments — one retailer even cancelled a discussion forum for fear that someone might endorse a product they don’t carry.”     Jim Murphy of AMR Research points out that Web 2.0 is not without its risks. “The consumer Web has made things like FaceBook and blogs popular, and businesses have to either adopt similar functionality within their organizations and the IT structure, or they face a risk when people start using them on their own.”     Businesses, particularly those heavily dependent on their IT infrastructure and the knowledge of their people, will face increasing pressure to implement at least the functionality of Web 2.0 tools.     Consulting firm McKinsey & Co.’s 2007 global survey, “How businesses are using Web 2.0” finds that nearly three quarters of respondents to a survey of executives said they planned to maintain or increase company investments in Web 2.0 technologies.     “Companies using Web 2.0 technologies have developed a new way of bringing technology into business,” the report states. “This new approach is easier to implement and more flexible than traditional top-down approaches.     “Companies aren’t necessarily relying on the best-known Web 2.0 trends, such as blogs; instead, they place the greatest importance on technologies that enable automation and networking.”   And North Americans may not be the leaders this time around. “Executives from China and Latin America … now plan to invest at the same rate or even faster than those in Europe and North America,” says McKinsey’s report.     “They’re enabling technologies,” says Murphy. “They enable people to find information, share it and support their projects and tasks. Then allow businesses to bring information and feedback in from their user communities, and use feedback more effectively.     “What often happens when a product hits the market and takes off is that another company realizes they had the same idea a year earlier, but it didn’t go anywhere for a variety of reasons. Better ability to capture the knowledge they already have can help businesses increase their speed to market and learn from previous experiences.”     Scott Bury is a journalist and educator based in Kanata, Ont. He regularly covers high technology and manufacturing. You can reach him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
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