Electronic Integrated Product Development as Enabled by a Global
Information Environment: A Requirement for Success in the
This paper discusses the needs manufacturing organizations will face in the near future in working electronically and collaboratively to develop, market, and support products for the global marketplace. One of the necessary conditions for success is a rich and robust information environment. It is essential that this information environment be implemented to keep pace with the practical needs of the organizations that use it. Users and enablers must mutually support each other if the journey is to be made in time for the travelers to survive and prosper.
Statement of the Problem
Manufacturing organizations today face a confusing and constantly changing global marketplace. Customers have fewer resources to procure products and services. They are less tolerant of performance below expectations, and their expectations are higher. Budgets are tight and getting tighter as economic constraints force industrial companies and customer organizations to become lean. Competition is fierce. Outsourcing requires an integration of services that is far more difficult than when the services resided within the same organization. Product delivery times must be reduced, with no loss in quality. Cost has joined performance as a primary discriminator in competition, and the cost time frame encompasses the entire life cycle of a product.
It is the rare company that can address the competitive needs of the marketplace entirely with its own resources. Many organizations are reverting to a simple and proven approach, with a modern twist that offers great promise but also brings great difficulties. The simple approach is generally referred to as concurrent engineeringgetting the right people together, in a timely manner, giving them the right information and tools, and supporting them as they work. The modern twist is that the people, information, tools, and support elements are not usually cohesive or localized, and tend to change in composition over time.
The people are from different organizations, and seldom can more than a few be assembled in the same place. The time frames in which they must work have been greatly collapsed. The information they need to do the job is in various electronic and paper forms scattered in all directions. The tools are often software applications that should, but usually do not, play well together. The automation infrastructure necessary to tie all together is often reminiscent of a railway system spanning countries with different gauges of track.
The need is for integrated development of a product, executed globally and electronically, by what is referred to as a virtual enterprise. Industrial organizations are beginning to work this way, albeit in an embryonic or at best adolescent sense. But enough has been done to prove it is possible. The challenge is to make it practical. The compound question to be answered is this: What is required to emplace an environment that facilitates globally distributed teamsof people and organizations, customers and providersto collaboratively develop products and support them worldwide throughout their useful life, at costs that are affordable, with performance that meets or exceeds expectations? It is the classic engineering problem of producing optimal results within practical constraints. In this case, these constraints are resources, technology, culture, and time.
This paper is written from the perspective of an aerospace manufacturer. Although some differences with other industries exist, the essence of the needs, problems, and solutions for electronic integrated product development should be similar across industry sectors.
Aerospace is a high-technology industry that necessarily pushes the envelope of the possible. It has been said that aerospace therefore is not a good example of the manufacturing industry as a whole. If that were ever true, it is certainly not so today. Although aerospace manufacturing technologies are often state of the art, they must increasingly be applied within constraints of practicality; there must be a business pull. We must be innovative in how we work, do more with less, and concentrate on making an affordable product, not a masterpiece. These are common needs among manufacturing organizations today. Fortunately, aerospace can return to its roots for salvation, and other industries should be able to do the same.
The Early Days
In the early decades of this century, airplane manufacturers assembled their resources in a hangar and loft. Design, manufacture, and assembly were carried out by the same group of people, who often had close ties with those who would operate and support the product. Experienced staff and funds were scarce. Innovation and teamwork were necessary conditions for success. The processes by which work was accomplished were identified implicitly by the workers, who were usually considerable stakeholders in the enterprise. Processes were reengineered on the fly, and all concerned knew why and with what results. This scenario can differ little from those in other industries in their early days of growth.
Growth and Decline
What happened, of course, is that as airplanes grew more complex, and specifications from different customers began to diverge, specialties grew and companies reorganized to gain efficiencies. As markets expanded commercially and governments began to focus on aviation, performance often became more important than product cost; and product cost was considered that of acquisition only rather than including support through a number of years. Upstream innovation to help downstream functions was mostly lost. Information of a "total-product" nature was not available, as functions concentrated on what was needed from their narrow perspectives. A world war followed by the beginning of the Cold War put increasing emphasis on survival, and thus on product performance in increasingly complex missions. Cost retreated further as a major consideration.
The boundary conditions began to change in the last decade or so. As the capability of the threat increased, the likelihood of drawn-out conflict decreased. The ability to keep weapons systems available for action a larger percent of the time became increasingly important. As product complexity grew to meet the growing threat, cost regained its place as a prime factor in product selection, and a product's life-cycle aspect emerged. With the disappearance of the threat to survival in the last few years, coupled with the lethargy of the global economy and its effect on commercial aircraft sales, aerospace was suddenly presented with a completely new marketplace, with new rules and conditions, not yet stabilized. The question of survival began to apply not to the nation but rather to the company.
The resulting gyrations of downsizing and becoming lean to meet market realities are well known. Though perhaps in some cases the scope and degree are less, other industries are experiencing similar trauma. There are fatalities, mergers, and a return to a focus on base expertise. Increasingly organizations are analyzing where they need to go, from what basis; when they have to arrive to survive and prosper; and how they might proceed within practical constraints.
Return to Basics
Aerospace has begun, and has actually made considerable progress. The experience of McDonnell Douglas Corporation (MDC) over the past several years is probably typical of many high-technology companies. We have recognized that affordability of products from a life-cycle perspective is a paramount consideration. This of course assumes that the products will meet or exceed customer expectations. We have realized that improved business processes are a most important element and have concentrated on the documentation, analysis, and improvement of those processes key to product development. Increasingly, management of our business is based on management of our processes.
We have also realized that we must return to the base values and practices of our industry. We have reorganized along the lines of concurrent engineering, MDC's term for this being integrated product development (IPD). This has been done in our functional support units as well as in our aircraft and missile programs. We have also returned to our base expertise, divesting ourselves of interests not closely aligned with the core elements of our products. We have outsourced much of our automation support and have aggressively struck teaming relationships with companies around the world, some of which continue to be our competitors in other acquisitions. Our IPD teams include customers, teaming partners, subcontractors, and suppliers. As we execute IPD, we have come to understand the prime importance of our information assets, and we are taking steps to analyze and evolve these assetsold and newto make their provision to IPD teams adequate for the purposes of decisionmaking and task execution in an electronic IPD environment.
Status and Challenge
MDC is pleased with its progress, but far from satisfied. The F/A-18E/F Hornet approaches first flight in December 1995 with the program on schedule and within budget, and with the aircraft meeting technical performance parameters and being below its weight specification. The program critical design review (CDR) found fewer than ten action items to be addressednone critical. This compares with several hundred required actions found historically across the industry at CDR. The major credit for this performance is given to the collaborative IPD teams that are developing the aircraft with the highly visible, aggressive, and positive participation of an involved and enthusiastic Navy customer. There are no surprises on the F/A-18E/F.
As part of this initial success story, MDC has applied practical automation enablers in key areas. The aircraft is all digital. We execute an electronic development process that substitutes digital geometry models for the traditional physical mockup. We define structural and systems interfaces with our major subcontractor, Northrop Grumman, and perform design reviews and resolve fit and function issues in real time, with data models shared electronically between St. Louis and Hawthorne, California. The product is defined in terms of assembly layout, build-to, buy-to, and support-to packages, containing all the information necessary for a qualified source to provide the part, assembly, system, or service. Discipline in the execution of the processes by which these packages are created, reviewed, approved, and released for manufacture or acquisition is applied by a control and release system that also ensures the integrity, completeness, and consistency of the data. Customers, co-contractors, subcontractors, and key suppliers are linked electronically.
Although pleased with this progress, we have also learned how far we must still go to be truly competitive in tomorrow's world. We must be able to execute electronic IPD as effectively and as efficiently as Charles Lindbergh and the folks at Ryan Airlines applied traditional concurrent engineering to the design and construction of The Spirit of St. Louis, in a hangar in San Diego during a critical 2 months in the spring of 1927. We must do this with teammates from organizations distributed around the world, including sophisticated giants and simple machine shops that nevertheless provide individual links that will set the strength of the chain. We must be able to collaborate, in real time, on unforeseen problems in short time frames. We must have immediate access to the information critical to the task at hand, be it a management corrective action or making an information package deliverable against a tight schedule. The information access must be controlled, the data exchanges must be secure, and the information provided must be correct, complete, consistent, and pertaining to the right configuration of the part or system.
This future state is necessary for our continued participation as a major player in our marketplace, just as it must be necessary to the success of every modern organization for which collaboration and information are essential to survival. And the time frame in which we must emplace the enabling environment is short. Certainly by the turn of the century, successful organizations will work in this way.
We should be optimistic rather than overwhelmed, since enough capability has been demonstrated to prove the concept. Yet the issues are substantial. Progress must also be substantial, immediate, and continuing if we are to arrive at our destination in time to remain competitive.
Not the least of the elements that enable electronic IPD is the provision of information in a cost-effective manner to diverse teammates around the worldinformation that resides in a vast heterogeneous "information space" itself distributed globally. However, all the elements are interrelated, and a certain level of understanding of them all is necessary to provide integrated solutions to specific needs.
Common among successful manufacturing organizations will be their ability to assemble themselves in whatever virtual configurations are necessary to identify, scope, pursue, and capture business, and then perform to specifications within budget and schedule constraints. Business will be won and executed by virtual enterprises. These will not be static over the life of a product but will change with conditions and the ebb and flow of requirements and capabilities. Participants will include customer organizations, high-technology partners and subcontractors, and suppliers with various levels of capability and sophistication.
The mechanisms by which teams interface and operate must in large measure be common, as solutions specific to only one opportunity will be too costly for most players. Work processes will be executed in a collaborative manner, in real time where appropriate, by teammates distributed physically and in time. Collocation will be electronic, and information needed for the task at hand will be immediately accessible and usable with little or no preparation. Information will be provided through a variety of electronic mediatext, graphics, voice, and video. Huge volumes of data will be stored, accessed, viewed, and moved. This will have to occur efficiently, accurately, securely, and affordably.
There is little question that this scenario must be realized in the immediate future for successful enterprises. The prosperity of a nation will be proportional to the success of its commercial and government entities as they participate in the interaction of the global scene. The obstacles to the emplacement and effective operation of this environment are significant, and the cost of solutions in time, labor, and money will be as well. It is essential that government and industry, while retaining the essence of fair competition that is a core American value, become partners in providing cost-effective common solutions to shared obstacles that prevent establishing the proverbial level playing field.
Some of the elements necessary for success in the collaborative global marketplace that is upon us are discussed in the following sections. We identify some obstacles to their successful emplacement, suggest an approach for implementation, and discuss options for joint pursuit of common objectives.
Elements Necessary for Success
There is a close relationship between the collaborative processes by which we must do business and the policies, procedures, standards, and automation by which the necessary information is provided in a timely way to the team members executing (and evolving) the work processes. Processes and information are both necessary elements for success. Neither processes nor tools are sufficient by themselves. They must not only coexist but also actively support each other. Innovation in identifying better ways to work is often materially dependent on the availability of key information and the timely participation of dispersed teammates. The many opportunities
for innovation in providing essential information quickly, or electronically collocating key participants, are beyond all practical means of simultaneous pursuit. The opportunities need to be prioritized, scoped, and scheduled based on practical requirements for business success.
This suggests that the current emphasis on business process reengineering is appropriate and that it should proceed with a clear appreciation of the importance of providing information to process steps and players. It is hard to identify points of process integration, or key collaborations or decisions, in which information flow and content do not play a deciding role. Processes must change, but in a manner that is consistent with the practical ability of information technology to provide the right data to the right participants at the right time.
Information in electronic form is growing at a tremendous rate. This growth has now reached the point that it can easily drown a team as it attempts to find and use information related to its objectives. Being able to effectively locate and access pertinent information is important, but it is equally important to do so with the user in control, and protected from the onslaught of unwanted data and the uncertainty and inefficiencies of unstructured searches.
There are any number of ways to categorize the automation enablers of information provision. We have chosen for our purposes to identify four aspects:
All these enablers must function well and in an integrated sense if the information provision environment is to be effectively available to individuals and teams executing business processes. In the desired near-future state, they must also perform in much the same way for the variety of virtual enterprises in which individual organizations may find themselves.
Lessons from Experience
To help identify specific requirements and obstacles, we now summarize MDC's practical experiences to date in our initial exercise of electronic IPD.
As mentioned previously, MDC has concentrated heavily on the electronic development process for the F/A-18E/F, collaborating with Northrop Grumman. This has given us valuable experience in the sharing and exchange of large amounts of data in various electronic forms. Policies, processes, procedures, automated tools, and infrastructure have evolved. Security and communications requirements have been identified and met. For a close and intensive interaction with a large sophisticated partner, we are comfortable with our ability to perform.
To extend interaction to our customers, and to subcontractors and suppliers with whom we interact more simply or less often, we have established a simple mechanism that we call the CITIS Node. It had its genesis several years ago in our new business area, as a proof of concept of the spirit of controlled access to data and applications suggested by the draft MIL-STD-974 for a contractor integrated technical information service
(CITIS). Based on a database of user profiles, within the constraints of a security firewall and the data access granularity of specific applications, we allowed execution of applications, and through them access to data. In some cases, this was access "in place"that is, access at the source of the data store. In other cases, data were uploaded to the CITIS Node server and either accessed there or transferred to the requester's system.
No attempt was made initially to include the basic or optional functions identified in MIL-STD-974; this functionality was to be added instead as required for a CITIS under specific contracts. What we found as we demonstrated this proof of concept to various customers and suppliers was that there were immediate opportunities to use the CITIS Node, in all its simplicity, for exchange of production data. Suppliers were especially eager to do so. Over the space of several years, initially with individual suppliers to our new products area but increasingly with customers and suppliers in all our current programs, we have added users to the CITIS Node and have augmented its operation.
Today the CITIS Node supports over 750 users, with growth to 2,000 users expected by the end of 1995. A strategic alliance has been formed with a small disadvantaged business, Aerotech Services Group, for the Node's administration and support. Aerotech also provides hookup and help services to suppliers if they so desire. Over the next few years the CITIS Node will be expanded to accommodate the needs of all our programs and production centers, with additional functionality added to address the kinds of operations specified by both military and commercial perspectives of CITIS.
The significance of this story is not MDC's current capability. Other organizations today can present a similar status. The significance is our growing understanding of the obstacles encountered and the lessons we are learning, through the dual experiences of F/A-18E/F electronic collaboration and the extension of electronic IPD to a broad range of suppliers and customers through the CITIS Node.
Here are some our findings:
The need for U.S. organizations of all kinds and sizes to be able to participate in the collaborative global marketplace is obvious. Many of the obstacles are too large for specific solutions worked by individual players, or even by industry sectors or government agencies. For reasons of cost sharing and timely progress, U.S. industry and government must work together and must jointly cooperate with the rest of the world. The problems are global in nature. All concerned will profit if the solutions are also global.
The information environment must be defined and implemented with a clear understanding of its use, in the sense both of providing support for current production needs and providing for future growth by timely identification and validation of extended capabilities.
There has been much discussion of the information superhighway and of the associated visions of the defense information infrastructure, the national information infrastructure (NII), and the global information infrastructure (GII). These are well worth pursuing, but it is also useful to consider the example of the transportation system in defining a practical information environment, setting priorities, and supporting the implementation and integration of the various elements.
Besides superhighways, a national transportation system must have access and exit ramps, outer roads, local roads, and streets leading to neighborhoods of homes, schools, stores, and industrial parks. It must have laws, regulations, and tests to accommodate experienced drivers, beginners, and those with special needs. It must have stop lights, stop signs, and informational signs. It must provide maps of various levels of detail, and triptychs where appropriate. It must provide a measure of free advice and assistance, as well as affordable services for fuel, maintenance, repair, and other needs. And its users must be prepared for travel in similar but different environments in other countries around the world, with common regulations negotiated at the national level, as well as reciprocal acceptance of national standards.
It is beyond the scope of this paper to complete a detailed comparison of the information provision environment with the transportation environment we all know so well. One difference is worth noting: The buildup of the transportation system was mostly serial, expanding from a local base, and it occurred during a more leisurely time. The elements of the information environment must be addressed in parallel because of the pressure of fast-moving events, and no elements can be ignored, no matter how insignificant they may seem. All are necessary for its successful operation.
A Collaborative Information Environment
Our primary recommendation is that industry and government together must define and describe an information environment to support electronic integrated product developmentand most other kinds of business interactionsas carried out in virtual enterprises. They must then jointly implement and enhance this
environment over time, concentrating on addressing key aspects that can best be worked in common for the benefit of all, and taking special care to enable small and medium-size businesses to become active players.
This will require traditional planning and project management efforts. It will also require an innovative approach to gathering requirements, validating elements of the environment, and aggressively addressing common problems and issues in much shorter time frames than those experienced today. A proactive collaborative approach is necessary to quickly identify and emplace a basic information environment that can then be developed as aggressively as available resources, technology, and culture will allow.
There follow recommendations on specific obstacles, based on McDonnell Douglas's experience to date. The concluding section discusses mechanisms for a joint effort to define, emplace, and enhance the overall information environment.
Small and Medium-Size Businesses
We need to offer small and medium-size businesses special help. This should include help with understanding the environment and how to get started and grow in capability at a practical rate. It should include advice and training opportunities. One aspect should be a free initial consultation; a second should be identification of a set of service providers who offer continuing assistance at a reasonable cost.
Several government-funded providers of such services exist. Two of these are the NIST/Manufacturing Technology Centers and the Electronic Commerce Resource Centers, funded by NIST. There are undoubtedly others. One essential task is to identify such existing entities and recommend how they might best cooperate to meet the need and minimize redundancy.
Standards bodies need to be driven by users and to acquire a sense of the urgency of the real world. There should be effective mechanisms to collect and channel real requirements and to facilitate rapid prototyping and accelerated validation of draft standards. Users need to take back the initiative from the standards bodies and the vendor community. Standards are also information products, and they will benefit from collaborative development.
Affordable and Timely Implementation
The investment in new automation to execute electronic IPD is daunting for large organizations. There is a legacy of software and hardware that cannot easily be replaced without hard evidence of reasonable return on investment in a short time frame. In addition, however inefficiently they may be supported with current processes and tools, production work and new business efforts are ongoing and cannot be put at risk during the transition to a better world. Often there is a catch-22. For example, Department of Defense production contracts include no funds for government upgrades in processes and tools to complement contractor internal upgrades. Business cases to obtain funding usually require verified benefits in a production environment. Automation vendors are often reluctant to support contractors and their customers in such pilots, merely in the hope of eventual broad production use.
This does not mean progress is not made, but it is slow and painful to line up the participating parties and their resources. The completion of desired connections through existing physical paths can also be exceedingly slow, taking a minimum of 60 to 90 days, often much longer. This inhibits aggressive expansion and prevents the flexibility needed to take advantage of short-fused opportunities.
There is a need for an innovative sense of joint partnership to define and validate new processes and tools quickly, with shared risk, among the players. Ways must be found to emplace the overall environment in an affordable manner and to pay for implementation, enhancement, and ongoing support in a shared way from captured business benefits.
Access and Security
Electronic collaboration requires ready access to information. But of equal importance is limiting access to and operations on information in accordance with assigned privilegesnot only for reasons of commercial or national security, but also to ensure the integrity of the data against malicious or inadvertent alteration. Access and security make opposing demands on an information environment, and we must find ways to strike a practical balance. Understanding the requirements of electronic collaboration in support of production work, and collaboratively addressing them, is the preferred approach.
The logical course is to move to the Open Software Foundation Distributed Computing Environment, supplemented with security products based on public-key encryption such as RSA (named after its authors, Rivest, Shamir, and Adelman). Robust firewall systems must provide security for controlled entry into an organization's data environment, with systems such as those provided by product data management vendors to further limit access to, and operations on, specific data.
Self-Diagnosis and Prescription
We are entering a complex and fast-changing world. All the involved organizations, perhaps especially the smaller players, should continually evaluate where they are, where they need to be, and how to get there in a reasonable manner. There is a need for a practical way to make this evaluation and to plan corrective action and future growth. A capability model is required that can be self-applied. It should be as simple as possible and still give the needed answers. It should support the growth of capability in a series of finite steps from initial simple participation to attainment of the full sophistication of a virtual enterprise, with easily understood entrance and exit criteria for each step.
Two related and complementary efforts along these lines come to mind. The first is a CALS Enterprise Integration Capability model under development by the EDI World Institute in Montreal, under the leadership of Susan Gillies. The second is a CALS Electronic Commerce Continuum model proposed by Mike McGrath at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The CALS Industry Steering Group is currently serving as a forum to support and relate both efforts.
An Information Environment Atlas
Industry and government need an atlas of the near-term global information environment that identifies and explains the elements and their relationships, and how they can be used to support electronic integrated product development. This should be a natural by-product of a plan to emplace the information environment. It should identify and describe the elements and their interrelations. It should give guidance for connecting into the environment initially and for growing in ability to use its sophisticated capabilities. It should identify where to go for advice and help, from both government and commercial sources. It should include models and techniques for self-assessment of status and for determining readiness to move to a higher level of capability. It should include references for more detailed information. Finally, it should describe the forums and mechanisms by which the information environment is supported and advanced, and how individuals and organizations can become active in the forums and participate through the mechanisms.
Forums and Mechanisms
We need forums and mechanisms to define and execute the plan to emplace and support the information environment we have been discussing. This includes defining practical scenarios of how we must work and from which we can draw requirements for policies, processes, and automation enablers valid across industry sectors. We then need to validate these elements in support of real production work and capture the metrics and lessons learned with which to justify broad implementation.
It is difficult for individual industries or government agencies to address this need. We should instead have a means to assemble the appropriate representatives and do the job for all. This is not to say that individual elements should not be addressed by the most appropriate organizations. But the description of the environment, the generation of an overall work plan to achieve and sustain it, and the monitoring of its implementation and enhancement should be done by an entity that is representative of all the players.
Two ways come to mind to accomplish this. One is to convene an ad hoc team, and the other is to use an existing organization of a multiplayer nature. In either case, a description of the environment and a work plan should be generated quickly. The work plan should be of sufficient detail to allow selection of the best means to achieve each major deliverable.
An existing organization that would be a viable candidate is the CALS Industry Steering Group (ISG). It is chaired by USAF LtGen (retired) Jim Abrahamson and has members from many industries as well as close liaison with government agencies. It has recently restructured to emphasize the requirements of both the commercial sector and the government, and seeks to enable the reengineering of business processes through the effective and efficient sharing and exchange of data electronically. It has begun to negotiate agreements with organizations having similar interests to support a focus on common problems and to avoid redundant and perhaps competing uses of resources.
One advantage an existing organization has is that it would be positioned by its charter and interests to act in a coordinating, monitoring, and steering role, as well as offering a mechanism for actually executing parts of the plan. It could collect common requirements and issues and act as an ''honest broker" in facilitating common solutions. It could also coordinate production validation of solutions through pilots in its member organizations, as well as support prototyping of new technologies. It is user driven, which is essential if the new environment so facilitated is to be practical and responsive.
If an organization such as the CALS ISG were chosen as a prime mechanism, it would be important that full-time staff be provided to complement the mostly volunteer resources that currently support its efforts. There is no substitute for the enthusiasm and ability of the dedicated and talented volunteer, but the realities of the business world necessarily limit the time and energy these individuals can provide.