IS in R&D

C&D (Collaboration and Development) and R&D are synonymous in present day environment because collaboration is the critical success factor for R&D. Information System (IS) can be a great enabler for collaboration. This article talks about an IS Architecture for an R&D Lab involved in New Product Development. This IS has been developed around ERP and PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) systems which enable Organization wide collaboration for Technology Management, Concurrent Engineering, Knowledge Management, R&D Project Management, System Engineering Management etc. across the Organization.

All the applications needed for R&D Organization can be grouped into three categories. i.e. Technology Management Information System (TMIS), Project and Operation Management Information System (POMIS), Logistics and Support Information System (LSIS).Event-Driven Process Chain (EPC) method has been used for Process Mapping, Process Optimization, and Requirement finalization. Application aggregation and its portal oriented, role-based delivery was done through Access Infrastructure Software. H/W sizing was carried out to estimate the server requirements. IOPS (Input Output per second) based SAN (Storage Area Network) Storage Sizing was done to implement Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) for Organization critical data. Server Virtualization Software was used for Hardware Resource Optimization.

For application consolidation and dynamic provisioning of application load, virtualization was used. All the applications were deployed using 1200+ node Gigabit corporate Network. IT Infrastructure Management Software has been used for monitoring of entire IT landscape like Hardware, Software, and Data Base (DB) performance etc. at the IT command center on a 24×7 basis. This collaborative IS has brought innovation and facilitated cross-fertilization of ideas for new product development.

Context and Objective

The organization referred here is a large R&D Lab (say LAB-A) under Govt of India. LAB-A is mainly involved in New Product Development related to defense systems. To realize these systems, LAB-A is executing a number of Projects which are very large and R&D in nature. Various work Packages related to these projects are being developed at many work centers, other Research and Educational Institutions across the country.

These projects involve different stakeholders like Users, Sponsors, Developers, Consultants, Production Agencies, Quality and Certifications Groups etc. The Technologies involved in these projects are in various stages of evolution from very less mature to mature one. To effectively manage such mega R&D projects with a lot of uncertainties and challenges, LAB-A decided to implement collaborative Information Systems with following objectives

  1. To reduce Product Development time and R&D Project Risks through Dynamic Collaborative Engineering.
  2. To capture Organizational Knowledge, analyze, enhance and disseminate it.
  3. Implementation of Technology Management practices across the organization to mitigate the technical risk of R&D projects and to improve product quality and reliability.
  4. IT enabling LAB-A through process digitization for smooth corporate governance, increased efficiency, employee empowerment, and satisfaction.
  5. Achieve Information integration among heterogeneous applications by breaking functional barriers.
  6. Provide computing environment that will synergize People, Process, and Technology to bring out organizational excellence.
  7. To provide a stable Application and Technology platform that meets the current needs of users and can support the future needs of our operation.
  8. To have an integrated, software-based system for all processes of LAB-A having a common database, and to avoid duplication errors and delays.
  9. To facilitate faster and improved decision making, by making relevant data/status available online and by providing analysis at single window.
  10. Automate Project monitoring and have an online generation of various reports, including management information reports.
  11. Establishment of state-of-the-art Data Centre facility to ensure High Availability and Security of Organizational Data and Applications.
  12. To achieve an overall improvement in productivity, quality, and reliability.

Process Mapping and Requirement Finalization

Requirement Collection

Functional Requirements were collected from all Technology directorates, Support areas, and Project groups through Questionnaires, Presentations, and interactions.

Requirement Analysis

The projected requirements were grouped, broken into workflows and linked. The attribute of each activity in the workflow was found out. The first level “AS IS” processes were generated and documented.

Process Modeling

Process Modeling hides the technical details behind the scene while making the process themselves take the center stage through a common language understood by IT community and user groups. Event Driven Process chain (EPC) method was used for process modeling. Process models for functional areas gave the answers to the following key Engineering Questions i.e. a) what functions must be performed by the Information System b) Who does what and who is responsible? c) What inputs do we need to perform a function? d) What interaction exists between operation areas (like Project and Procurement) and how information flows between them? These process models were used to understand and comprehensively define the functional requirements to be fulfilled by the Information System.

Requirement Validation

The requirements for each operation area were validated by the process owners with the help of process models, presentations, discussions through a number of iterations. The same was finalized and signed off. This Information Systems implemented the following functional areas to meet the stated objectives of LAB-A.

  1. R&D Programmer and Project Management
  2. Procurement & Material Management
  3. HR & Personnel Administration
  4. Finance Accounts, Budget and Cash Management
  5. Quality Management
  6. Integrated Document and Content Management Facilities
  7. Technology Management
  8. System Engineering Management
  9. Knowledge Management
  10. Product Life Cycle Management
  11. Concurrent Engineering
  12. Maintenance Management
  13. Environment, Health and Safety Management
  14. Portal
  15. Payroll
  16. Employee Self Services (ESS)
  17. Production Planning and Manufacturing of Precision Subsystems
  18. Analysis, Reports and Management Cockpit

Building Blocks of Software Architecture and Configuration

To develop information system in-house, from scratch for the above mentioned functional areas requires a very long-term commitment of investment with respect to time, cost and technical resources which are not feasible for an R&D Lab like LAB-A. The other disadvantages of this approach are that the developed applications/IS may not have optimized Benchmark Processes and Best Practices which are readily available in the standard S/W packages like ERP.

Other than this LAB-A consider IT compliances (like ITIL/ISO 2000 etc.) as an opportunity to ensure growth and security. We found that ad-hoc compliance efforts are doomed to be never-ending “black holes” of resources, time and money. Compliance enabled Standard ERP Packages takes out this complexity and facilitates to meet the compliance standard effortlessly. So, we decided to develop the required IS on the top of a core ERP System, which will ensure automatic adoption of Proven Technology, Pooled Experiences, Scalability, and Compliance. In such case, the functional areas like Technology Management, System Engineering Management etc. which are not available in standard ERP framework can be developed using the same core of standard ERP system.

Finalized “To Be” functional requirements were mapped into various ERP Products and the gaps were estimated to work out the customization efforts needed to fulfill the requirements of LAB-A. Initially, Various ERP Products were considered. SAP ERP was selected on the basis of Gap Analysis, Software Architecture, and other important features.
Integration mechanism, integration points with SAP and other software like PLM, Primavera, MS Project, Access Control and other legacy software have been worked out through a common exchange infrastructure. PLM S/W is being used for configuration, Product Structure, and Engineering change control Management. XML based Integration between SAP and PLM was done for concurrent and both directions data flow (w.r.t Drawings, Meta Data of Drawings and other important information that should be visible/displayable within the SAP environment). For single sign-on and centralized authentication Management, LDAP has been implemented. Portal was implemented for collaboration. The Applications were delivered to the users through browser-based Interface.

Deployment and Access Mechanism

For deployment of these applications, different server platforms and operating system are required. Again, some of the applications are Host Based, some are Client-Server oriented, some are Browser-based and others are legacy. Server virtualization S/W was used to run three different Operating Systems within the same server to deploy various applications. This approach helped us to optimize and consolidate the H/W resources. The other problem was that the Client devices across the organization were having a different configuration, age, brand and operating system with different browser versions. Under such environment how to ensure that users get consistent experience? To solve this problem, we deployed all the applications through thin-client architecture. This also ensures rapid application deployment as there is no need for client-specific application configuration.

This way all the deployment-related complexity was taken to the Data Centre and users were given very transparent, simple and single window interface for accessing all the applications.

We have done two types of application consolidation i.e. Single Instance Consolidation and Functional Consolidation, to provide ease of access, reduce operating cost and to make it easier to support cross-functional operations when it interacts with multiple applications.

Hardware Sizing and H/W Landscape Design for IS Deployment

Hardware sizing for SAP is essential to estimate the capability and configuration requirements for Server (CPU, Memory, I/O), Storage and Network and it is unique for each implementation. Hardware landscape was sized considering the following factors :

  1. S/W components configured i.e. OLTP, OLAP, Portal etc. and its scalability features like Horizontal or Vertical Scalability
  2. Module wise throughput
  3. Module wise user statistics and transaction profile.
  4. Server characteristics and its consolidation strategy
  5. High availability requirement – Clustering
  6. Software Architecture – OS flavor
  7. three system landscape- Development, Test/Quality, and Production
  8. Deployment Scenario
  9. Storage strategy and consolidation.
  10. Backup and Recovery options

Server Sizing and Consolidation

The computing infrastructure for three system environments was designed for OLTP, Portal and OLAP Components, by taking into account of the above-mentioned factors. Adaptive Computing was introduced in server landscape. There are more than 30+servers of different capacity with various OSs. For unified manageability, dynamic provisioning for unexpected peak load and maximum utilization of hardware resources server consolidation was done. Presentation and Access layer have been consolidated using Blade Server. Two Load Balancers have been configured for dynamic load sharing between LDAP and Web Server. The clustering between DB and Application servers will ensure the high availability of CI( Central Instance) and DB components. For the entire computing landscape I/O interfaces like NIC (Network Interface Card), HBA (Host Bus Adapter) have been configured with proper redundancy and high availability. All the servers are networked in 10Gbps private server network within Datacenter using L4 switch.

Storage Sizing and Virtualization:

ILM (Information Life Cycle Management) approach has been adopted for storage design. Two 32+ port fiber switches have been used to establish the Storage Area Network (SAN) for storage virtualization. Storage sizing has been done based on the IOPS requirements in the system landscape. Sizing leads to Enterprise class SAN storage with controllers. FC HBA @8Gbps have been used for server connectivity with SAN storage. For five Mission Critical servers, Path fails over and Load Balancing capability have been configured. For users of CISF/NFS file system, one NAS gateway has been integrated with the disk arrays.

Backup and Recovery

One Tape Drive with 4 native FC Drives and 200+ LTO4 slots is connected to SAN for LAN Free, Server Free and NDMP (Network Data Management Protocol) backup and recovery.

IT Infrastructure Management Framework

It was essential to ensure the availability of this IS, as it captures all the critical data of the Organization like R&D Data, Project Data, Important Test Data, and Financial Data etc. Data center and IT Command Centre was established for this purpose. IT Command Centre acts as a nerve center for IT operations with Help Desk for IT support. IT infrastructure Management software was integrated with large format Display wall to provide graphical views of all IT related events/activities in various forms of statistics and alerts.
This S/W provides the following functionalities

  • Automated Network Management with availability & Performance Management.
  • Server Performance Monitoring and Management.
  • Anti-Virus and Anti-Spam Management, Content and Service Level Management.
  • Asset Management, S/W Delivery & Patch Management.
  • Availability & Performance Monitoring of SAP.
  • Database Performance Monitoring and Management.
  • H/W and S/W Inventory Consolidation, Graphically Consolidated & Centralized Management View.

Challenges and Key Success Factors

In today’s Dynamic environment following are the key challenges in front of an R&D organization.
Reduce the Product Development/R&D Time.
Capturing and relying on R&D learning i.e. knowledge management.
Increased cross-functional teamwork.
Forming/Participating in Strategic Alliances.

Information Integration: Previously, in LAB-A information related to each function/directorate used to reside in a stand-alone manner as an island and could not communicate with each other as existing IT landscape was functionally organized. As for example, financial info resides in the financial system but not tight to the project plan and resources.

One of the major strength of this proposed IS framework is that it breaks the functional silos/barriers and connects and integrates the information islands. Because of this, 360-degree view of the content, relevant to a given strategy/initiative/organizational processes, is delivered role based on the individual irrespective of where the information resides.

Idea Management: Generally an R&D organization doesn’t have the necessary tool to manage the Idea generated by knowledge workers. So, very often the idea falls through the cracks. The proposed IS framework will facilitate the idea management process starting from evaluating the idea, generating concept, making a prototype, and taking it to manufacturing and product lifecycle.

All the above challenges can be handled in an effective way if an R&D organization enable the collaboration in the right way.
Following are the Key Success Factors for implementing a collaborative IS.

  • The commitment of the Top management. Clear objectives
  • Empowered and Committed team members.
  • Ability to enforce change management throughout the organization.
  • Buy-in of the users.
  • Successful Training at every level. Organization-wide communication.
  • Information System with good Technical Architecture (like Portal etc.) rich Process Inventory and Collaborative Features.


R&D is heavily dependent on collaboration. The proposed collaboration enabled IS framework most suitable for R&D organization. In Technology front, this IS framework will implement Technology Management, R&D Project management, Quality Management, Concurrent Engineering and System Engineering Management.

In functional Management front, it will facilitate the other core areas like Precision Manufacturing, Procurement Management, Planning and Scheduling, Finance, Budget, Payroll, HR and many more.
These two aspects are linked and integrated together for smoother functioning of an R&D organization, involved in New Product Development.

This proposed framework integrates the existing Scientific S/W and utility S/W and compatible with heterogeneous IT environment. This way it not only protects the previous IT investment but also makes available the useful information from the legacy system. In this IS framework application access become simple, secure, and role-based and push the system complexity away from the user i.e. to the Data Centre. The IT infrastructure Monitoring scheme at Display wall located at the IT Command Centre will ensure IS availability to the users, Data and Applications Security and Service level agreement. With this IS framework the Industry Compliances (like ITIL/ISO 2000 etc.) are achieved very smoothly.

For an R&D organization, proposed Information system framework can foster the collaboration for organizational excellence. IT is the glue for the exchange of Information, Innovation, and creativity. Thus in present-day context for an R&D organization, IT function cannot be looked upon as Support Role but as a Strategic Role.

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