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Choose wisely and once: Part 5 - Interoperability.

Selecting a new suite of software tools is more than an exercise in having some means of delivering the correct computer aided design outputs for your electrical systems integration (part 4) – although we have seen that is around 25% of the answer to your problems. This project of drafting and evaluating responses to an RFQ is more than this plus ensuring that the solution satisfies your need to adequately model your process and the finished product (another 25% of the answer see Part 2). Half-way to the finish of the job is to understand and measure the business benefits you expect to accrue from proud ownership of the means to assist design and production (see Part 3). 

It is time to consider how to go the last 25% of the way – the final step. Like quantifying the business value in owning a tool, this step is bound up in the strategic relationships, the business operations. You are going to be expected to be a good corporate team player. Your domain does not exist in isolation from the Mechanical CAD (MCAD) information systems, the Product Lifecyle data infrastructure (PLM & PDM systems) and may even need to interact with sales (CRM) and finance (for quotation tracking, engineering change management control) and enterprise resource planning ERP.  Dig into the interdependence relationships between systems a little further and you may uncover requirements to interface to manufacturing tools  involved in harness testing prior to shipping and installation, cut/strip/terminate automation machines.  That’s sometimes described as the “back end” of the design to manufacture process. Up at the “front end” sometimes, although CHS has modeling and simulation for analysis, for mixed domain analysis you need to be able to extract the electrical information to run a different type of simulation in another information technology too.  Requirements for all the interfacing should be defined, understood justified and documented.  There are few things more difficult to deal with implementing a new system  (and costly) than discovering you cannot retire a piece of software because things downstream suprising flop like a house of cards on a table with an elephant jumping on it.  I dread to hear the sentence “The CEO is not pleased that his executive information system went blank last night because you switched off his feed.’  Such unpleasant discoveries you can count on surfacing at the wrong time in the stickiest part of the deployment – when process change is most exposed, production schedules are most under threat. Yes, there is a often a recovery. Yes, it can sometimes be the death blow.  

The expense of systems integration can often be prohibitive. If your budget bid and commercial justification does not include a provision for systems integration, then your informations systems professionals will catch up with the deficiency and rectify the fault later, delaying your time to productivity and increasing your costs. Factor it in from the start.  You are working to a common goal   – the health and growth of your company – and there are usually more people than you first think who share this interest! If you ask for help in taking your electrical CAD and data needs out of the silo which is labeled “Those things those people do and we don’t quite know what it is or why” and seeing it in the overall context of the enterprise then generally you will get attention and assistance.

What I advise customers is to exercise a little restraint in defining the interaction between systems they require when writing an RFQ. Be as precise as possible, as comprehensive in describing the needs as you can. However don’t be bogged down in the technology.  For example you have a carrier format  e.g. the NWF (neutral wire format) of ProEngineer™ describe it and how you are using it and what customizations to the out-of-the box have taken place. A full specification, piles of data examples here doesn’t have a place in an RFQ. Save that for evaluation.   Avoid mentioning specific technologies e.g. “PERL scripting” unless there is an overwhelming cost to using another technology. Alternatives may be better suited to your environment, but you lack the staff expertise to initiate a first use of the technology. If the vendor does it for you then the cost of ownership, and associated costs of forward maintenance may be less and become your preferred method.

DO keep your eye out for maintenance implications.  What happens if format X or standard Y or system Z changes in six months or six years time? Predict the frequency and type of modifications to a base set of interfaces.

Look at your interoperability and interfacing requirements. Does this tell you that you need a point tool vendor or a partner with more extensive capabilities? If your vendor cannot make the grade in keeping the links to your extended enterprise’s information systems functioning and adapting to the future, you must recognize the burden of the task will then fall on your own organization. So when you are evaluating responses, the testimonials from the vendor, the credentials in the industry in terms of collaborating with other players in Mechanical CAD for example could assume an elevated importance for you. 

Systems interconnection example CHS shown as the originating data point

Systems interconnection example CHS shown as the originating data point


The graphic is an example – not derived from a real customer environment. If you are embarking on the exercise to select a system this is a good illustration of why you will need some help from your co-workers to understand the interdependence of systems and data.  Once you master this, well, that’s the end of it. You have reached 100% coverage of requirements.  Congratulations. 


You can now run a vendor selection process in weeks instead of months and save time and money.

RFI, RFQ, CHS, Interoperability

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About Paul Johnston

Paul JohnstonI help Mentor Graphics customers to be successful, accomplish a more rapid return on investment. My professonal focus is on the Capital product line. Customers need a good technical and commercial understanding when making software system purchasing and adopting decisions and in addressing issues through to best resolution. I am one of the team of experts Mentor employs to support the Capital worldwide. I was born just outside of Manchester England, am now resident in the metro Detroit area of Michigan USA. I have worked for Mentor Graphics for more than 15 years. Visit Paul Johnston's Blog

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