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The Agile Software Revolution – Information Technology in US Manufacturing Today

A global market economy – what is means for U.S. manufacturers and IT providers

Global competition is making it more difficult for American manufacturing companies to make a profit. Manufacturers need to become more agile to compete globally with economies where the cost of labor is an almost insignificant part of the cost of goods and they have access to the same high tech manufacturing equipment. It is time for forward thinking, competitively focused comanies to move to the next generation of IT tools, and strengthen their manufacturing and management information systems. Technology providers need to provide manufacturers with cost effective, highly mobile, highly adaptable, thin-client competitive capabilities. These capabilities will come in the form of software which is web-based (or web-native), object-oriented, model-driven, thin-client, configurable and offered as a service (SaaS).


Old ERP technology – the first generation

The truth is that first generation ERP applications lack the flexibility to add or change functionality and they just aren’t capable of full web funtionality. Because of their age and code foundations, most existing ERP vendors just can’t provide the full range of functionality made possible by the internet-native technologies. The ability of the native browser-based applications to interact with any device that can run a browser i.e. PDAs, cell phones and various data capture devices makes them intrinsically more valuable than the old ERP systems. These old legacy systems are difficult to expand and modify to make use of these wireless devices, or to change and add any new functionality to the system. It is also costly and laborious. Some vendors try to present the old systems in a browser and call the applications “web-enabled”, using a technique known as “screen-scraping”. But don’t be fooled. Web-enabled does not mean web-browser native. These applications lack all of the abilities and advantages of a truly browser-native application. These first generation ERP vendors are racing to convert their aging, first generation offerings to the new, object-oriented, browser- based model of software. This is a difficult task, since the internal source code for these older packages is fundamentally unsuited for the web and cannot make use of the native functionality of the web browser. The total cost of owernship (TCO) for first generation systems is high, due to the legacy code burden, thick-client server setup and heavy support infrastructure. Much more IT workforce is needed to support a first generation ERP application.


A new vision for information technology – next generation software

The ultimate goal for any manufacturing organization is graphic, actionable, timely information when ever and where ever it’s needed to support performance. Next generation software makes that goal attainable. Every manufacturer wants supply side and finished goods inventory reductions, energy use reductions, operational efficiency improvements and increased overall efficiency. Browser-based software applications which are easily configured are allowing manufacturers to become lean. A lean organization is one which can quickly and effectively adapt and make changes which lead to better productivity. The success of any software implementation needs to be measured by the achievement of benefits such as a reduction in manufacturing operational costs, a reduction of administrative costs, improved complete and on-time shipments, improved customer satisfaction and improved manufacturing schedule compliance. Next generation software, which is fundamentally different in design, function and form from legacy applications, is the beginning of the software revolution. Although the first generation systems have had their place and time, business practices of the new millennia, wireless technology, and the need for flexible systems is more than these aging systems were designed to deliver. The time has come to move on to a new generation of browser-based, object-oriented, model-driven toolsets which have the flexibility and functionality needed to carry us to the next level. The ultimate goal, real-time availability of information, is now attainable.

How does next generation software technology make an organization better able to adapt?

Adding functionality to software systems is a historical problem for first generation ERP vendors. This is because of the legacy code it is built upon. A next generation ERP provider does not have that problem, due to the use of an object-oriented software architecture. Making changes to or even adding functionality to an existing software system already in use is more easily and quickly done. Tuppas has also developed a set of rapid application development tools to which make modifications even faster. An application which might take a man year to develop using traditional methods such as asp.net, would take a matter of weeks with our development tools. Due to the relative ease with which they can be configured and changed, object-oriented software tools have brought drastic price reductions to normally high priced integrated management support software. Now not only can the largest organizations afford these software applications, small and medium sized businesses can too. The ease with which these applications can be reconfigured allows a vendor to collaborate with clients to quickly build customized software. This is extremely beneficial to corporations with a number of diverse plants. Tuppas can even help the customer learn to use their development tools so that they can modify the software themselves at their discretion. New business practices can be readily incorporated into an existing system. Our toolset gives us the kind of flexibility which allows us to create highly configured solutions for the corporate level and the plant level. Having the ability to modify the software that helps run the company as their needs change is a huge advantage in a highly competitive market. The system becomes more that just a software purchase. It is an adaptable tool to help them grow and innovate now and in the future.


Wireless adaptability accelerates decision making with real-time or just-in-time information

The faster that mission critical information can be recognized and made available, the faster the reaction time can be. The wireless capabilities of next generation software are providing unprecedented opportunities to accelerate the decision making process due to the decrease in time to acquire critical information. Wireless technology can be used to connect corporate entities, mobilize a sales force, track warehouse inventory, trace products and jobs, empower field personnel and more. The applications are really limitless. Having the ability to collect and organize timely information in a global environment, whether it be a field service technician, a sales person or a CXO, extends the power of any organization.


SaaS-Software-as-a-Service

The idea of software delivered over the web and hosted by a vendor has been around for a while, but it is just now beginning to come into it’s own as a viable option for software buyers. The benefits are numerous. Making monthly or quarterly payments for a system allows many more buyers into the market for high end software applications than traditional licensing purchases. Other benefits include lwer cost of entry, quicker start up, faster return on investment, decreased internal support costs, reduced risk (initial investment is small), and better service and support since customers must be happy to be retained. Typically, the vendor or a third party host provide the maintenance, upgrades and security for the system relieving the customer of these burdens too. The absence of on-site servers, software, security and IT professionals means significantly lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for buyers.


The advantages of the thin-client system

A thin client strategy allows for the use of inexpensive work stations along with various other devices, such as palm computers, cell phones and more. It means anywhere, anytime access to information within the system from any browser capable device. It has made complete connectivity very cost effective. Thin-client software is browser-based software which resides on a dedicated server. The server may belong to the client, the vendor or a host. Users have full access the system via “thin client terminals”, which really only require access through a browser to the dedicated server. This differs from traditional software installations, which require that a copy of the application be installed locally on each computer where it is to be used. This makes software upgrades infinitely easier, since only the program on the dedicated server needs to be upgraded, and not numerous client computers. This also saves time and disruption of work flow. Another advantage is the reduction in hardware needed at individual work stations to operate the software.


Model-driven design makes integration and upgrades easier

In conclusion

When you combine all of the features of the next generation software applications, what you end up with is a new class of software. Together, model driven development tools, object-oriented design, browser-based development, rapid development tools and wireless possibilities have created a revolution in software design and development. These applications mean greater flexibility at a significantly lower cost than first generation systems offered. U.S. manufacturers need to become more able to quickly react, move and respond to changing markets, regulations, finances and the competition in order to survive. This adaptability will soon become a necessary trait for any manufacturer who wants to survive in our new global marketplace.

Model-driven software applications allow users to focus on functionality and core business processes without having to worry about technology platforms, technology upgrades and integration issues. Model-driven applications separate the business, or application logic from the underlying platform. It means that the software is created with two layers, so that one can change and upgrade the user side independently of the technical under-layer, and vice-versa. Software based on model-driven development eases platform integration issues and is a wise IT investment in the uncertain world of changing platform technology. It means reduced cost of ownership, reduced development time for new applications, rapid inclusion of emerging technology into systems and an increased return on technology investments. Model-driven design provides the framework which frees users to evolve their software and practices independently of the underlying technology or platform. It enables better, faster and less expensive system integration.

Pregnancy Takes Nine Months, Gestation Of Leading-Edge Technology Takes Time Too

Many healthy companies fall into the trap of their success. They tend to be more
‘technology’ driven mode rather than being ‘market’ driven. Many companies developed
the product first then start out looking for the market. Successful companies look at the
market first then start developing the products.

Exxon Chemicals was the first largest faxed machine supplier in the world. But Exxon
Chemicals was ahead of its time and after making horrendous financial losses, decided to
give up. Instead the late entrants, Japanese companies such as Canon, made a success of
the fax technology. In the 1980s, many videotext services such as the Singapore
Telecoms Teletext made losses. The technology of videotext appeared very promising,
with each household been able to access electronic data and information from the
television screens. The only problem was that the market application and services were
not widespread enough to create a critical mass. It took time for the wide acceptance of
videotext services to kick in. The Internet technology took over the top spot of online
services instead although the Internet is a much less sophisticated technology and an
earlier head-start than videotext. Also, notwithstanding the more powerful colour picture
quality and technology of the videotext as compared to the Internet, the Internet has the
advantage of wider market acceptance. As a result, videotext applications were dwarfed
by the Internet ones.

The following shows that the other gestation period between a technological invention
and commercial production is shortening.

Invention, Invention date, Production date, Waiting time

Fluorescent lighting 1851,1934, 82 years

Radar 1887,1933, 46 years

Ballpoint pen 1888,1938, 50 years

Zipper 1891,1923, 32 years

Diesel locomotive 1895,1934, 39 years

Power steering 1900,1930, 30 years

Helicopter 1904,1936, 32 years

Television 1907,1936, 29 years

It takes a long time for the technology to pick up. However, the lapse of timing between
invention and production is speeding up and narrowing.

In technology, there is a trigger point when the price gets low enough, the application
gets widened and people think that they want to have it. The technology can stay latent
for a long time before hitting the trigger point as the market is not quite ready to embrace
the applications of the technology. The key is to prepare for the trigger point and ride
with the wave and revolution when it arrives.

When the technology is triggered off and embraced it will permanently change the way
we do business. Just as fax technology phases out the telex, e:mail technology may one
day phase out faxes. CD is phasing out videotape technology and one day CD itself may
be phased out by DVD.

A few years ago, people would buy computers and not ask for a DVD drive, now they
expect to have it. Not so long ago, wireless phones were not common, today even
students must have it as part of their school kits. In the 1980s, Internet was not popular.

Today any business which is not registered on the website is not in business.
However, it was foolhardy for many dot.com companies that thought that the New
Economy revolution would radically change the consumers’ habits within months of the
introduction of a new product or service. An example is the telecommunications market,
where start-up after start-up promised new technology to bring data, voice and video
together. They failed to deliver not because the technology was not ready, but rather the
market was not yet ripe. Their debt loads finally killed many of these start-ups.

To gain competitive edge, you want to position your company in the leading edge. You
want to leverage on technology advancements and be prepared for the flashpoint.
Pioneers do face arrows and the leading edge all too often translates into the bleeding
edge. If you are a small company, you do not have the resources to develop leading-edge
technology. You position your organisation ready for the trigger point by finding tools to
apply with existing technology.

This is why Rosabeth Moss Kanter said: “The problem before us is not to invent more
tools but to use the ones we already have.”

Fifty Years of Technology Gone?

Technology has come a long way in the past fifty years. So if I told you something about all the great technology in the past fifty years I could go on forever!

But instead lets just focus on some of the great technology we’ve enjoyed for the past fifty years, but has unfortunately disappeared much too soon due to the replacement of even newer technology.

Let’s begin back around the late 1960’s, and into the 1970’s with the development of the simple 8 track cassette which was the new technology for listening to music at the time. In order to listen to the 8 Track Cassette you just had to have an 8 Track Player, and if you did you were all set to enjoy some music.

Now personally I’m old enough to have been around during that great period of time to have seen the success, and the fall of the 8 Track player. Can you believe that I actually still have some of my old 8 Tracks from back at that time, but I’m not able to play them due to no longer having an 8 Track Player to actually play them on.

But besides 8 Tracks there were also the 4 Track Cassettes which at the time was actually developed just prior to the 8 Track, but had a short life primarily because it had only two tracks, meaning that when you actually wanted to listen to a different song you would have to push a button on the player to change the track. But with the 8 Track you actually had four tracks which gave you a better selection of songs to choose from which was much more popular with people who bought them.

As time proceeded much smaller Cassettes were on the market also for listening to music, but these cassettes were much more compact than the 8 Track Cassettes were. So now we had both the 8 Track Cassettes as well as the compact smaller Cassettes to enjoy listening to music, but as time continued on before you could say “8 Track Cassettes” they we’re gone! Leaving us with only the smaller Cassettes to listen to and to enjoy.

So the only other format to listen to music at that time was the standard Photograph Record Player which of course had been around for many years. But as time passed by once again soon the Cassettes were no longer available as well. So now you would no longer have to worry about tapes breaking, or coming out of the cartridges with either the 8 Tracks, or the Cassettes alike, so now both Cassettes are gone. While we still had the Photograph Record Player to enjoy listening to music however it may just be until the next big technology came along, and so just what and when would that be?

So that next big technology that allowed us to listen to music that sounded better than ever was the Compact Disc (CD), and this format was no longer a tape, but a disc. I personally can still remember the time when the local record store took all of the photograph records off their selves, and replaced them all with Compact Disc’s (CD) that was impressive for me because that was a major change from the Records that I grew up with, and had enjoyed playing for years, but were no longer available at what was one time called the “record store” as it had all changed now to the CD’s.

Now for changing the players from the standard Record Player to the CD Player, and to enjoy listening to music was probably one of the biggest changes ever for the listening of music. This technology change from records to CD’s was a much better sound which eliminated the “pops” that records typically would have. So today we still have CD’s available, but with all the other means that people have to enjoy music on the internet, and elsewhere the CD’s are just not as popular as in the past, and perhaps the day may just not be too far off before it also becomes difficult to find them as well.

Now what about the technology that brought us the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR)? Well first with the Video Cassette Recorder basically there were two different types of tapes that were available to use on your VCR. First there was the Beta Cassette, and latter there was the VHS Cassette. You can still purchase the VHS Cassette even though it may be very difficult to do so, but as for the Beta you can no longer find it due to the simple fact that the Beta Cassette was much smaller than the VHS Cassette was, and so as a result less storage space to record was available.

The Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) was nice because you could record your favorite TV Show at any time, and then play it back to watch it at your convenience anytime you choose to do so. I personally recorded, and purchased many different Cassette’s that soon had grown into a large Video Cassette Library that I still in fact have. But are you aware that Beta, and VHS were both tapes as were the 8 Tracks, and the small Cassettes, and now that’s all old technology, and you may recall what happened to them. YES… they were replaced with the new technology just as the Video Cassette Recorder was.

Now what new technology was going to be next? What great technology replaced the Video Cassette Recorder? The answer is the DVD Player! and it is still a current technology enjoyed today, but again has no tape because its simply a disc. Does this sound familiar? Of course the 8 Track Tape technology which changed to CD’s, and now with Video Tapes on the VCR changing the technology to DVD’s.

So when you set down to enjoy music as well as watching movies all this technology may only be the beginning. And to fairly discuss all technology advances would require something short of writing a book. So I have focused only on the technology in which I have discussed in part due to it actually being a big part of my life as I grew up. So no matter if you personally experienced this technology or not I sincerely hope that you will find it all as fascinating as I did, and you will follow the continuous changes of technology as it is related to music, and movie entertainment.

So now we can only wait for the next great technology change that gives us something we’ve never experienced before, in the mean time continue to follow the forever changes in technology.

How to Write a Video Game Script

Writing a video game script offers a challenge that goes well beyond the normal realm of writing. But it is also something that can be tremendously rewarding in the scope of its creativity. Here are some guidelines and tips for writing a video game script.

Today’s video games are based in complex worlds and they tell stories. No longer does a player simply advance through repetitive screens slaying goblins and ghouls in a quest toward the goal. A player now expects to progress through a world where there is a rich history and a plethora of decisions to be made. This adds to the complexity of writing a video game script and it also adds to the richness of the creativity involved.

The first thing you need to think about is that writing a video game script is that it is not the same as writing a movie script. The two processes are similar and you do write a movie like script for your video game but that is only part of the process. There is a whole host of accompanying materials that you need to write for your game script. Here is an overview of what you need to write and why.

Write An Executive overview of the story in prose

This is the most important part of your game script and this is what will sink or float your script. This overview has to tell a compelling and unique story and it should tell the complete story from the opening scene of the game through the major steps all the way to the completion of the game. An overview like this can be almost any size and it would be very easy for this to be ten written pages or more. Remember that today’s video games are very complex and the stories can be very complex. This overview is also the most important part of the script. You would shop this to game developers to see if they are interested in developing it into a game.

Write a History and Background of the world

Video games are complete worlds and game designers need to know what the world is like and what kind of history it has. This will help the designers to visualize what the world will look like.

Create a Flowchart for the entire game

Your game is going to be very complex and there will be many decisions that the player will have to make and each decision opens up a whole new path for the player to take. Creating a flowchart is the best way to keep track of all the possible paths through the game.

Create sub-quests and write a prose overview of each quest

Sub quests can be simple or complex but each one is a story in itself and you must tell these stories.

Create character descriptions and bios for all the major characters in the game.

Game designers need a complete picture of the characters in the game. Many of the non-player characters you create will pop up time and time again. And their story is woven deeply into the fabric of your world. You need to describe this relationship in detail to the game designers.

Write interactions with non-player characters

Your game will probably involve interaction with non-player characters (NPC’s). You should write out the dialogue and flowchart the choices the game player can make. These interactions are often critical to the story and they can take the player on very different paths toward the conclusion of the game.

Write Cut scenes

Cut Scenes are short animations or movies that come before or after major plot points in your story. A cut scene should always be written to enhance or describe the story. A cut scene is also a reward given to the player for achieving a major milestone in game play.

Writing the actual storyboard script

This is the final step in the whole video game script writing process and it is the most detailed. You do this step last because you need all the supporting materials to understand and describe this correctly. This part is very similar to that of a movie script. You progress through each scene of your story and you detail all the necessary information. Here is an example:

Scene 1:

Location: A dark cathedral with stained glass windows. An NPC is kneeling before a stone casket in the center of the main room

Music: background music of an organ playing introduces the scene but subsides

Characters: Main player, NPC named Thomas, seven were creatures

Player Goal: Discover the location of the underground lair

Action: Player must initiate discussion with Thomas, upon first contact we activate cut scene (1) where Thomas morphs into a were-creature and summons his were-minions. Main character must battle the were-minions then re-initiate discussion with Thomas.

Flowchart: No decisions made at this point: If battle is completed Thomas reveals the entrance to the underground lair and player advances to that level. If player is defeated in battle revert to death cut scene (11) and move to try again screen.

Notes: Player is locked in the cathedral and there is no exit. The only viable way out is to initiate contact with Thomas. Random were-creatures can be activated if player explores cathedral before talking with NPC.

Scene End

When writing a video game script you have to remember that your primary audience is not the game player but the game developer and what the developer needs is a complete picture of what your game is about. This means that you are not just writing a story but you are creating a world complete with a tone, sounds, characters, story, plot, and subplots. To successfully communicate this to the developer you need to use a whole set of creative tools and this is where video game scripts depart from normal scripts and open up a whole realm of creative possibilities.

Disruptive Technologies, Part 2: Music Editors and Steam Engines are Still Related

I have illustrated on how music editors are related to steam engines in Part 1. Why so loose a connection? Because I want to stress the universal timeline from the early days of steam engines to the modernity of music editors, during which technology has evolved in waves of disruption.

Now somebody might break that already loose relationship.

John C. Dvorak, a very reputed columnist, fervently argues that there is no Clay Christensen disruptive technology in its very own coined definition: disruptive technologies are low performers, “less expensive technologies that enter a heated scene where the established technology is outpacing people’s ability to adapt to it”.

Is my music editors – steam engines connection invalid then, as there is no disruptive, let alone sustaining, technology? I thought so. Yes, I thought so, as in his paper, Dvorak rebukes so persuasively all purported disruptive technologies: the microcomputers are not cheaper than the minicomputers, and neither do internet sales supplant bookstores. His points are convincing, covering even the titans among the believed disruptive technologies of digital photography and Linux.

But I think again, “independently”. And let me re-affirm with you that despite the distant connection, music editors and steam engines are indeed parts of the twin aspects of technology, disruptive and sustaining.

Microcomputers were not cheaper, because the smaller-sized disks were more expensive. However, microcomputers were not the disruptive technology. It is the smaller-sized disk drives. When the sustaining technology of cost-saving capacity improvement came, the disruptive technology of smaller-sized drives truly took over as they achieved the same price points as larger-sized drives. The smaller-sized drives are thus cheaper in utility terms. Isn’t it now a disruptor?

Internet sales, on the other hand, might not outperform bookstores yet. But even that fits into the definition of a disruptive technology: it is an initial low performer. That internet sales would exceed bookstore revenues, especially when there are more credit card holders than ever nowadays, seems a good bet.

Thus, in similar arguments, it is fair to state that perhaps the conclusion that Linux and digital photography not being disruptive technologies is somewhat untimely. And who knows if digital photography is not cheaper because it can’t be cheaper or because it is so in demand its economic price can’t be lower?

If you are not yet convinced, Napster and VoIP technologies will make you. They fit into every aspect of Clay Christensen’s definition of disruptive technologies.

Napster was inferior, it was sued for copyrights violation and eventually shut down. But this first peer-to-peer music sharing program was not only cheaper (in fact, users only needed to pay for their internet access and the music editors if they wish to morph the songs before sharing) than what conventional music producers offer, but also quickly revolutionized the way people listen to music (so quickly that it had to be shut down as the then legal framework had yet to accommodate its form). Napster is non-existent now. But its variants are growing strong. And the sustaining industry of music editor softwares has carved out a niche market for its own. This is typical of a disruptive technology, one that not only changes the way things are, but also brings on other flows of goods and services.

In addition, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is another epitome of disruptive technologies. Telephony is getting cheaper, but VoIP is free (except for the internet access). And VoIP boasts efficient pioneers the like of Skype and Vonage that threaten to outdate traditional telephony practices. In fact, telecommunication services have become so complex consumers could not fully utilize their functions, thus turning to simpler services and paying only for what is relevant to their needs. That is how Sweden’s Comviq has seized 39% of the market from the incumbent Telia by offering half as many handset features and simpler pricing plans. But telecommunications will soon be free; VoIP will soon disrupt even the like of Comviq. And the sustainers that will keep VoIP evolving will be the class of voice changer softwares and cheaper and faster internet connection.

Ala, my music editors and steam engines are still related.