Computer system & e-solutions
The advent of computer has changed the way the world moves. Distance factor is no longer a problem. The physical might appear a big place with things at far off places but the world in virtual form doesn’t believe in distance. Everything can be achieved within minutes if not seconds. The whole technology behind this mega change is based on computer and is termed as Information Technology. This technology has led to the creation of a cyber world or electronically generated world with the help of computers connected to each other through suitable wires. Now words like cybercafé, cyber chat, cyberspace, cyber shopping, etc. have started making rounds. People can send electronic mails to far off places within seconds. Details and information are getting transferred within few seconds. People in Shanghai and New York are just seconds away. Transferring data in electronic form is actually the fastest way to transfer things. It’s not only the message transfer that has been revolutionized but also the business world. There are virtual shopping malls with website offering you a range of products ranging from computer peripherals to groceries. Companies are now providing details of their product through their website and are accepting customers’ requests of information and now even orders for products are being accepted. Everything is available. Money transfer can easily be done through wire transfer techniques. People do not wait.
This world is not ruled by armed soldiers or any nuclear weapon. It’s the information which rules. The physical world just has to react on the outcome. Its role is just for receiving and sending. This high performing virtual world has made significant change in the performance of the actual world (Tanenbaum, 2003). Things in real world are now easier to comprehend. Outsourcing has helped in accessing low cost labor in far off Asian nations like India and China. Multinational companies like Microsoft, IBM, GM., GE etc. have offices in almost in each part of the world with performance of each of these units can be monitored from any of its offices. Their offices have been networked though LANs i.e., Local Area Network and WANs i.e., Wide Area Network. They have virtually made themselves available to their customers any time anywhere and just a click away (Tanenbaum, 2003).
2. Computer System & Network of computers
A computer system and network of computers are actually two different but interrelated things. A computer system is just a normal computer including peripherals and software necessary for the functioning of the device (Webopedia). But if we talk of Computer Network, it can be defined in a very simple way as a network of computers (Princeton). But giving full importance to all factors getting into act when we talk about network, the definition which actually makes complete sense is none other than the two or more computers connected together to share hardware, software and data and has been implemented according to some topology (Tanenbaum, 2003). The network can have all peripherals located within an office or building. This arrangement is often termed as Local Area Network or LAN (Tech, 2006). If the same is achieved in a wide area i.e., computers connected to the network are located at places as diverse as countries in different continents, we can call the same as Wide Area Network or WAN (Cisco, 2006). Calling all computers and other intelligent parts of it as nodes, the term network topology can be defined as patterns of links connecting a pair of nodes of a network.
3. Information Technology and FORD Motors
George Surdu, Director, Information Technology Services, Ford Motors in January 2001 at Berkley while speaking on Ford’s strategy to become completely e-business enabled and overcoming legacy obstacles talked about implications of the new economy developed on the platform of information technology (2001). HI his presentation, he stated that the new economy will make the customer a king. The products will no longer be provided, it will be demanded. The company will be expected to provide 24 x 7 interactions. Transparency and information delivery of a company will act as a competitive advantage. The technology will actually determine the shape of every possible move of a firm (Surdu, 2001).
Now taking Ford Motor Company as an example, this company sells seven million vehicles globally each year. It is the one of the largest manufacturers of cars and trucks with sales over $170 and 345,000 employees.
In addition what it sells through its stable, Ford also markets vehicles under the labels of other premier car manufacturers. This much size is itself a reason behind all complexities related to smooth conduction of business. The company’s work force is distributed across 200 plus countries serving markets of six continents. The workforce is not the only thing which is actively associated with the company but also the thousands of suppliers, dealers and partners associated to ford in designing new products, solving distribution problems and marketing activities and advertising programs (EMC, 2006).
Now right from Henry Ford the company Ford has always been a front runner in implementing new technology and changing its structure. With the purpose of providing best possible services to its customer, Ford implemented information technology and became the first to use an intranet in auto industry. The Ford Intranet was incepted in 1980. Initially it was just a search engine (Surdu, 2001). Later it became an information centre and finally into a highly personalized work environment that is enabling new business models and new ways so that the work force can efficiently be utilized. Today Ford’s Intranet is accessed from more than 800 facilities and 150 manufacturing plants world wide with almost 150,000 people using it daily (Surdu, 2001). The number of documents has swelled to almost one million and is accessed through over 1000 websites. Now efforts are on to create a collaborative work environment. The Intranet will be made available to almost every person associated with Ford through the universal accessibility of the web. The accessibility factor will make all resources at the disposal of the people who need it at the.
4. Computer based Technology at FORD for Business Solutions
Information Technology at Ford is meant for serving four main purposes.
The Website forddirect.com and many other are meant for providing customer access to basic company marketing information.
The Intranet in Ford is meant for its employees. They are given access to online information but behind the firewall.
The Extranet has been developed for business partners. Through this they can access online information again behind the firewall.
The trading communities irrespective of its location have been linked with other one so that the whole business can also be conducted online.
The Internet made an impact on the supply chain; both in and outside of the company. It helped the company to have better efficiency and at the same time allowed a better use of capital. It led to the eliminate waste and enable it to build and deliver products to customer specification. Information Technology services in Ford are available at available at four centers (Surdu, 2001). They are Application management Center, Application Services, Accelerated Implementation center and finally in Accelerated Solution Center.
The strategy by Ford to make company’s information and knowledge repository accessible to its employees has made the knowledge management feasible through information processing. The Ford Systems Integration Center (FSIC) has been initiated for the purpose of improving their communication and systems processes.
These efforts actually explore options all possible products and services that will enhance the work environment. With the intention of proper knowledge management Ford has made all knowledge and information accessible to its employees. For further improvement, on FSIC recommendation, Ford made PC conferencing possible through Microsoft NetMeeting 2.0 (Microsoft, 1997). This actually made real time data conferencing over their corporate intranet and employees worldwide now have the option to work together over the corporate intranet as if everyone were in the same room. Now everything like application sharing, electronic whiteboard, file transfer and text-based chat can be shared irrespective of distance and location. The multipoint data conferencing made workgroups to collaborate without leaving their offices (Microsoft, 1997). The company can now effectively maintain communications among employees in offices with real time data communication. The company now has the option to effectively communicate with team members at local and remote locations. The Architecture for Technology and Development (ATAD) summit organized by Ford is now held through multipoint data conferencing thereby causing extraordinary reduction in the cost of holding the summit. This virtual conferencing was made possible through ten computers. Out of this ten four were installed in Michigan, three in England, two in Germany and one in New Jersey (Microsoft, 1997). The company’s wide area network served as their intranet with computers being connected to this network. The hosts at those places were responsible for making other locations connected to the main network. All this led to amazing results. Since there were no travel restrictions, more than fifty team members actually attended the conference.
The connectivity factor in this case serves three forms of purposes. They are B2B, B2E and finally B2C (Surdu, 2001). B2B is meant for streamlining the supply chain while B2E is meant for engaging the Ford workforce. Connectivity to these places can be achieved through VPN as well as secure TCP IP mode. The VPN technology or Virtual Private Network Technology is a private network communication technology used within company with message transmission being confidentially or securely done over publicly accessible network (Howstuffwork, 2006). Security in the network can be maintained through the authentication system. Any access to the network or server will require approval from the firewall. Firewall is basically a system which checks the access right of the user. The access rights are assigned by the system administrator and the firewall compares the access right of the client intending to get into the network with the list or database already provided to it by the administrator. This technology makes the network secure and also gives option to authorized users to access the network through proper channel at either end of the network.
The Ford has implemented a common infrastructure for supporting Enterprise Application Integration and B2B with the help of IBM (IBM, 2004). The new system architecture has space for both new and old technology. It actually integrates itself the existing applications present both inside and outside the Ford Organization. This collaboration has been for the purpose of developing next level of a Web services development and runtime capability. The whole new architecture will cater common services for security and Web service management. The shortcomings present in traditional point to point cross application data exchange interface strategies and tightly coupled application integration have been rectified and has evolved to enterprise-wide real time system (IBM, 2004).
The other thing which is making its round is the eRoom solution. The eRoom solution as implemented by Ford has made it possible for the same to offer security and flexibility across the entire enterprise while integrating the latest technology with Ford’s existing technology infrastructure. The eroom professionals under the supervision of FSIC have designed a self service ASP model to deliver eRoom to the internal customers and the extended enterprise teams (EMC, 2006). This eRoom technology actually helps the organization in deploying collaborative applications for improving the quality of its product and finally can maximize the operational efficiencies and managing the cost effectively.
The Ford has always believed in product development through extensive collaboration among engineers and other members from many departments across Ford’s own technical team as well as network of suppliers. Current application of eRoom is in the development of a vehicle control system (EMC, 2006). This project has led to the involvement of engineers from a list of engineers not only Ford but also from Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and major suppliers suppliers from UK, Germany and Japan. Through eRoom essential activities like sharing and collaboration on product documents and project history management and conflict resolution was possible just on click of button (EMC, 2006). This eRoom also eliminated the need of updating the project website for making the development process available for others to access. These things are now available through 2-way communication process and in case of emergency will be done during real time data transfer. Some of the basic features associated with this technology are cost saving, time saving, reduced IT costs and finally reduced Co-location costs. The increased data sharing and process data flow integration and speed of accessing documents saves several Man-hours. The Ford’s departmental websites and applications will now be replaced by eRooms. This will cause considerable reduction in the overall cost of Ford’s expenditure in IT deployment and maintaining the same (EMC, 2006). The Co-location costs are greatly reduced with reduction in travel costs and less need of relocation cost. Finally the auxiliary expenditures in form of printing of documents, audio and video-conferencing and information transmission can now be reduced to minimum possible range.
B2C is meant for taking business to the customer. The customer will have to use Internet for accessing information. The Ford’s B2C approach depends on web technologies based on XML, JAVA, DRDA and CGI (Surdu, 2001). This Internet is a distributed network system. The main feature of this system is that though it is a network and a collection of wired computers with the clients being independent computers. But still the whole system appears as a single coherent system. And the concept of World Wide Web is that the whole information and data it possesses has been made public in form of document. Things can be accessed through a website. The website is being connected through servers with the purpose of reciprocating according to the need of user or client. A web page can be active as well as passive. Passive web pages just contain information while the active ones are interactive. Web pages like that of e-mail service providers are active.
Ford’s decision to get into e-business was the first among all in auto industry. With an intention to use the potential of internet to energize its production and sale, the Ford along with other car manufacturer formed an online market named ‘Covisint’ (Surdu, 2001). Through this virtual market the members or participating companies linked themselves to more than 3000 suppliers of components. This technology helped the same to build excellent communication and relationships with customers, dealers and suppliers. The customer was given as option to customize car features through its site and use of the mouse. The Internet actually revolutionized the working of the whole auto industry and introduced the world with radically new ways of planning, manufacturing and selling of cars. This business model was very much similar to that of Dell. It is the customer who is actually more aware of his requirements and choices and instead of just providing what company can, it should focus more how a model can be made so that the customer can the most out of his investment. Once the model has been developed and implemented, it would be delivered at their door steps.
The IT based customer knowledge system plays a very important role is proper communication between the company and the customer and at the same time perfect product delivery (Surdu, 2001). The customer data is being taken though different channels. It can be through a dealer or call center or internet or any other means. The Customer Knowledge System stores this data in an interactive data base. This data is again transferred to analytical data base. The data is then analyzed through customer analysis tools and expert analytical resources. This actually results in the production of new products and is actually considered as a FMC bundled with services and then marketed accordingly. The adherence to customer demand is quite necessary so that the customer can be retained for further buying (Surdu, 2001).
The Ford has a history of innovating new ways to improve its performance and customer satisfaction but the same techniques become a revolution. Initially it was assembly line production and now its use of information technology for its business processes. The use of IT caused remarkable change in the production technique and supply chain management. It also stretched its utility to proper management of its workforce. The company is now near to both its employee and its customer. The development of IT and its application in Ford being a continuous affair has changed not only the firm but also the IT structure over which the company is changing its way of conducting business.
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Microsoft, 1997. Microsoft NetMeeting: Ford Motor Company
EMC, 2006. Ford Motor Company: eRoom enables Ford to drive into new