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An ongoing series of informational entries

BIM be mandated in UK

(EAM)

January 11, 2017

The UK government has mandated all the publicly procured projects use building information modelling starting from 2016. The High Speed 2 (HS2), a new high speed railway line that form the spine of Britain’s railway system, connecting from London to Birmingham, incorporates the BIM standard from the beginning.


Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the management of information through the whole life cycle of a built asset, from initial design all the way through to construction, maintaining and finally decommissioning, through the use of digital modeling. BIM is all about collaboration - between engineers, owners, architects and contractors in a three dimensional virtual construction environment (common data environment), and it shares information across these disciplines.


We kept our attention on the BIM development and saw a series of new standard be released over the past several years such as BS 8536 and PAS 1192. It is believed BIM will provide significant value to projects, for instance, by aligning the BIM standard with the asset management vision and strategy, HS2 is expected to save £ 210 million in the first phase of the project. To know more about BIM standard and related practices, contact us at [email protected].com  (AB)

A flexible SAP component - Management of Change 

(SAP)

February 15, 2017

We just participated in and will successfully deliver a new SAP Management of Change (MOC) implementation for a client. It is a SAP new techniques, as it uses web-Dynpro based technique instead of traditional GUI, so there is no transaction codes, and a web based method such as portal is required.


MOC is used mainly used to managing changes that could cause additional risks to the company. The changes can be equipment change, functional location change or process change. From project experience, this technique turns to be more flexible and can pretty well suited for other process flows such contains an formalized flow and/or a tree structure in the document architecture, 


The benefit of the MOC function is obvious, as it could standardize the business process and provides an easy solution to include adobe forms as embedded documentation. A benefit is it could loosely connect to ERP core modules, such as work order, equipment, material, purchase order. Its strength of loose connection is the flexibility of building inter-dependency or no dependency at all. In terms of implementation cost, comparing to other similar scale solution, it is not so high. However, a good functional consultant and developer are always required to conquer technical tricks. If you have interest to know more about MOC, feel free to ask. (AB)

Recent Trend in WMS

March 17, 2017

There are many EWMS (extended warehouse management system) implementation projects started during these months, really an atrractive area for IT and business consultants. However, we also heard bad stories and just recently saw a big EWM project got stopped and cancelled eventually.


The problem does not lie with the system itself, or the quality of the implementation consultants, but mainly due to the complexity of extended warehouse management process and the strategic decision form the business: whether they should really invest in the EWMS or maybe just leave the entire warehouse and the system to be managed by 3PLs.


The US based supply chain management organization APICS has released many standards about whether it makes sense or not to operate a warehouse by the company itself or oursource it. But it never gets easy, as company looks for long term strategic success and warehouse efficiency sometimes is the core value. There are three key pieces to consider, all from long term prospective: process - by giving this to 3PLs how to make sure speak the same language; system - how to compete with new IT technology through an EWMS operated by 3PLs; people - does the oursourcing strategically enhance the value contribution per internal capita. To successfully implement a system, IT consultant needs to have good information technology knowledge, as well as a strong business sense. (AB)

Architecture: following framework or technology?

April 24, 2017

Enterprise architect has always been one of the most popular profession in the IT world. The concept of Enterprise Architecture (EA) is typically associated with those popular EA frameworks. Many of the architects start from following one of the most famous frameworks, such as TOGAF, Zachman, FEAF... 


Nowadays, EA frameworks are far from the practical realities and typically adapted or simplified to fit the needs of specific organizations. Even if used as information sources, they hardly explain the real essence of an EA practice.This is becoming increasingly challenging with the fast pace of new IT technologies.  IT architects start to wonder whether they should follow the framework like before or start follow new technology trends.


From our experience, we believe it is time to start take a "Frameworks-Free Look at Enterprise Architecture". Even in most traditional utilities company you will hardly find any EA simply follow framework, the new technology raises more questions about what to adopt and what to abandon almost all the time. Realizing the fact EA is also extremely complex and multifaceted instrument, simply relying on a framework is not enough.  To get a successful career EA also requires a deep understanding of new technologies as well as the business objective, therefore can assess what is good fit. (PS)

Demand Planning: Maths or Art?

May 12, 2017

It has been a myth for many supply chain professionals whether demand planning is more as a Maths or an Art.  Traditionally the good planners are defined by using advanced mathematical modelling tool to precisely forecast the demand pattern, then recently S&OP introduced the importance of how a harmonized coordination is of vital importance of successful planning. Now here comes the big data... Maths seems to be more important again.


First to be clear is within the demand planning, for us it is the "forecast" piece where statistics plays the most important role. However planning is not only about forecasting, there are many other aspects to work with, such as demand balancing... S&OP has provided a good standard, although not easy to follow.  


Then in the forecast models classically fall into three categories: qualitative, quantitative and hybrid. Qualitative models are experience-driven, relying on subjective inputs from knowledgeable personnel. For many supply chain scenarios, it’s typically best to employ a variety of methods to obtain optimal forecasts, such as Modified Holt, Modified Croston, Demand Profile, Moving Average, Proportional Profile, Promotion, Events.. Modern big data technique applies all these into calculation and usually generate good estimate for us but a good interpration still requires strong business expertise.  (AB)

Design thinking: why important?

June 30, 2017

An IT professional typically is imagined as someone sitting at the computer desk, working soly with the program code, someone pretty "technically", an alien not so socialized. Now this needs to be changed. 


With more applications moving into the cloud or mobile platform, the cost and effort to support backend system will continue to decrease. More and more IT profssional's work focus will move to the "design" side, including user interface design, integration design, architecture design and data design.  We predict the capability of design will become more important for IT professionals in the new era, to differentiate a good one from others.  


A good design does not only mean to help user effectively carry out their actitvity, but also with a wonderful experience. To achieve this you will need to get touch with other people's life, to be able to understand what the users will feel, to "empathize" - this is important for design thinking. Design will become part of each IT professinal's daily life, whether as a functional consultant, developer or system administrator, so start to get used to it.   (AB)

How does this "Agile" and "Lean" project management fail?

July 21, 2017

A new project manager was recently assigned to one complicated SAP project of a large utilities client. Due to the cost and time pressure, he applied a series of "advanced agile and lean" project management techniques, trying to guide the project success by minimizing the project cost and achieving deadline.  


He has setup a tight work limitation on some of the resources, who he considered as "expensive", such as SAP functional consutlant. This saved cost was then allocated to the "developers and business analysts". He allows the architect to work directly with users to accept new changes. He postpones functional test to reduce "rework" since the scope now keeps changing. He requested all the team members to report detailed weekly activity hours and benchmark with his preset "targets".    


So does this "advanced" techniques proven to help? Unfortunately not. The project was busy on development while a lot of the requirement did not get a chance to be fully analyzed across the team. The scope was significantly increased without functional validation. A postponed functional test also discovers defects later - about 60 when project close to the deadline. This project takes much longer than expected but the project members still feel very pressued. In the end, there are a lot of rework, misunderstanding and waste. 


"Agility and Lean" does not mean project can be managed against normal standard. Trying to cutting corners at every aspect will only sacrifice quality, and endanger project. Micromanagement in IT project does not help. A good atmosphere is built based on trust and communication.  (AB)

Architecture towards agility, examples

August 17, 2017

Technology evolvement has directed more and more companies' IT architecture towards loose coupled, cloud or micro service based structure. Still, there are companies do not feel ready from current solutions. However, this does not mean agility can't be achieved in these traditional IT archiectures. Below are some examples we recently applied to traditional in house ERP systems.     


One client found a system bug when upgrading SAP system. An error message code was changed by the vendor and caused an existing customized interface failed. Such problem happened 4 years ago in another upgrade. We suggested to write a program to map error codes,  and detect changes in future release. In another case, some customized methods are found lack of naming conventions causing difficulty in code investigation. A new naming standard was built,  a customized object "inventory" was setup , and a new program was even written to detect any exceptions when program changes.


These activities saved huge effort in the ad hoc program investigation. Another benefit, is the reduction or even replacement of the high effort aimless functional regression test during system upgrade or project delivery, by using a series of prebuilt program to check the impact systematically.  Agility is not previlege of only new IT architectures.  (AB)

Supply Chain Management in Digital World: Use Brain First

September 25, 2017

It is true that we are undergoing a tremendous technology innovation,  everything is becoming digitalized. People are imaging that computers will soon do more than human being, and artifial intelligence can solve all the problems around the world. So, in the SCM world, what do we need, except new techs?     


Well, technology developed many years, there are still myths in SCM area, isn't it? We do feel confusions and challenges even with more advanced computer technologies. For example, how many financial managers are wondering negative working capital is the key success factor? How many SCM managers are trying to increase safety stock to handle global demand flutuation? How many CEOs believe following global SCM best practice could guarantee their success? Fact is, most of them got wrong and paid a big price. 


Our experience shows, people should not be misled by the illusion that techniques will solve all problems, an unrealistic objective can be achieved through technical innovation. Question your myths and be causious of assumptions. Even artificial intelligence is based on good assumption and wisdom. Use Brains before use machines, don't let technology fool you.  (AB)

Improving user experience, SAP Screen Personas 3.0

October 20, 2017

SAP has gone through a long way to achieve a better user experience, from the old guiXT technique, to Personas 2.0, Personas 3.0, and new Fiori applications. Recently, we got the chance to use the most updated Screen Personas product in one of the project to help improve the user experience.


A standard SAP solution was initially chosen to replace the client's legacy system. The function is proven to be working but the user experience was not accepted. Users all felt the GUI solution tedious, complicated and cumbersome. Screen Personas was chosen to enhance the front end user interface. Within 6 months, a new solution with Personas was built. The front end look and feel was completely changed. Many of the SAP standard tedious and mandatory steps were skipped or combined, this significantly streamlined the end to end business process.


The Personas development is still quite heavy, from our experience, Screen Personas was not as advertised - "drag and drop". A lot of complicated JavaScript is required to achieve the advanced control and step simplication. Nevertheless, comparing to Fiori, Personas is a better choice in this case, where a lot SAP back end business logic was pre-built. Personas can help focus the change on front end flow, rather than replicating the back end functional controls. (AB)

Asset Management: new subject specific guideline: Demand Analysis

November 30, 2017

UK based international profession body of asset management, Institute of Asset Management (IAM) has recently released their new subject specific guideline (3): Demand Analysis. 


With the fast speed of technique innovation and changes of business model, how should the demand analysis in asset management work now? Like other SSGs IAM has published, this focusing on demand analysis SSG provides a systematic approach to apply.  It starts by clarifying what is the true definition of demand? Demand by sectors, followed by a detailed anatomy of demand changes. Then a six step demand analysis approach is provided.


In this SSG, you will find the new techniques are enbraced and utlizied in the analysis approach. For instance, data mining, neutral networks... However, it still keeps focus on the processes, on the indepth reasonings, factors, instread of relying on superficial statistics numbers, and unreliable assumptions. For government, utilities company or other asset intensive companies, this is a highly valuable reference materials to be resorted to. (AB)

Moving to Cloud: Cost Considerations

December 31, 2017

Not every company is convinced that Cloud is their right choice and beneficial for them, at least at a short term, even though no one denies the fact that cloud does provide a lot of cost saving opportunities.


Think like a SAP client using EPR more than 15 years, the license, support, consulting, development, and infrastructure, each one costs a lot every year. Now even SAP brands themselves as "moving to cloud". Transforming into cloud, not only saves license fee, there is also significant saving in the platform, infrastructure and data center, as well as support, maintenance.. update cloud  is also more frequently: released quarterly, as compared to on premise system update: once per year.


But how much cost and how big the business disruption to move into cloud? And how about the potential ongoing expense of data integration, and limitation of customization? Some companies have concerns of data security, privacy, Some are worried of facing legal or labor side challenges. The biggest concern for all, is that without knowing well of the cloud business mechanism, moving into it could be relatively easy, but moving back to on premise would be really hard, if not entirely impossible. Now we know cloud also provides various options, such as private cloud, public cloud or even hybrid cloud, each with its own features and business models. Although not all the concerns can be addressed immediately, often we saw technology innovation brings social changes, and further forces companies to follow inevitable trends, even though at current time there are still so many complicated factors to consider. (AB)

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