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Meeting a competitive challenge: upgrading computer resources at Grumman Data Systems.

Meeting A Competitive Challenge: Upgrading Computer Resources at Grumman Data Systems

Because of steady growth, more and larger contracts, more employees, and an increasing skills base, Grumman Data Systems (GDS) in Bethpage, New York, needed distributed, on-line business operations data.

Business operations data was not maintained in a usable, easy-to-access form in existing batch systems, and, more importantly was not readily available to all groups in the company that could use it.

Applying advances in technology that provided the opportunity to benefit from distributed systems and databases, networking/communications, on-line presentation graphics, and many new off-the-shelf software programs, GDS developed a new network--the Corporate Information System/Business Operation Support System (CIS/BOSS)--based on data resident in departmental information systems.

One of the top 10 systems integrators in the United States, GDS has enhanced decision-making and business operations through CIS/BOSS by integrating, and distributing on-line, data relating to management, planning, budgeting, purchasing, personnel, bids and proposals, contract administration, and accounting.

The CIS/BOSS network, which has 400 users (out of an employee base of 2,600), connects four major GDS facilities: the headquarters in Bethpage, the operations center in Woodbury, New York and regional offices in Dayton, Ohio, and McLean, Virginia.

CIS/BOSS is part of a growing corporate architecture that includes an executive information system (EIS) for GDS's top managers and EIS systems for the top management of the parent company, Grumman Corporation, and its other divisions.

CIS/BOSS and other existing and planned systems for the corporate architecture use the same hardware/software platforms.

Starting about 1985, GDS began bidding and winning much larger contracts. In the past, %10 to $50 million projects had been common. But $50 to $200 million projects were becoming the order of the day as older systems were fading out and new technology was entering the scene.

To operate in this growth environment, the company needed to upgrade its computing resources. Departmental systems had served their purpose but were inadequate for broader dissemination of up-to-the-minute data. What was needed were networked systems so that key employees involved in business operations would have available all the relevant data formerly residing only in departmental systems.

The data was needed in a variety of different forms according to the users. For example, top management needed it available in an Executive Information System containing high-level information.

Those who prepared bids and proposals needed much more detail, and a way to completely automate their processes so the company could consider more prospective business faster. Procurement was also a prime candidate for fully automated processes and so was contract administration.

The system's scope was determined by an extensive analysis of the way GDS does business. This also helped determine the overall architecture. But perhaps the greatest challenge was developing the centralized database which CIS/BOSS employs.

Developing this database was not merely a matter of deciding what it should contain (based on existing departmental databases) but whether the underlying departmental business procedures should be retained, or modified and improved where possible.

Reviews were held on existing methodologies and their derivation, followed by exhaustive interviews and technical working sessions to establish department goals and the relationship of those goals to the overall morphology of a CIS/BOSS system.

Where necessary, departmental databases were redesigned and rewritten for CIS/BOSS. Databases used less frequently were redesigned as needed and left resident in departments, with access through the CIS/BOSS communications and database management system.

(The greater part of the centralized database contains information from three core business operations departments: Contracts, Procurement, and Planning, Control and Budgets (PC&B).

The database also includes information from Personnel, Facilities, Accounting, and several other departments, either in whole or in part, with some of that information still resident in the individual departments but available through the network.

Redundant data resident in departmental systems was eliminated during the creation of the centralized database.

Most of the hardware in CIS/BOSS preexisted the system. It was integrated and networked with off-the shelf communications utilities. The functions and applications software, and the database management system, are also off-the-shelf items. This off-the-shelf approach was instrumental in controlling development costs and was successful in providing what was needed.

The communications environment is IBM's SNA. The database management system is SQL/DS, IBM's VM/CMS counterpart to its DB2 system. The mainframe is an IBM-compatible using a VM operating system.

Users are linked to the system via personal computers, VM graphics or text terminals, as well as Wang terminal. These lines are achieved either directly through communication lines, or connected to local area networks (LANs).

Each LAN is connected to the mainframe via a communications server. Processing is off-loaded from the mainframe to the LAN PCs, assuring efficient use of the mainframe. Response time on the LANs is 9.6 kb/sec.

CIS/BOSS is transparent to the user community, allowing users to quickly utilize functions and applications through easy-to-follow menus. It gives access to live mainframe databases for ad hoc query, what-if analysis, high-resolution graphics, and reporting functions.

Access is by user ID and password. All users have access to the main menu, but each VM log-on ID is configured to access specific CIS/BOSS subsystems at a particular security level. As a result, each user's master menu differs depending on his or her authorization, and no additional passwords are required.

CIS/BOSS contains four functional software packages which run on the mainframe and (at present) approximately 25 application subsystems, configured to allow multiuser access. Backup and recovery procedures assure database integrity and protect against loss of data.

The four software packages are:

1. System W--a multi-dimensional modeling package which allows maximum flexibility when viewing data models.

2. The Information Facility (TIF)--a fourth-generation language used to create user screens and menus.

3. Focus--a database management tool used in a number of CIS/BOSS applications.

4. Structured Query Language (SQL/DS)--the primary database tool, a central repository for all the data maintained and manipulated through the CIS/BOSS subsystems.

The application subsystems include:

1. Project summaries based on data from all connected departments.

2. Planning, control and budget data.

3. Budget vs. actual cost comparisons on projects.

4. Facilities (plants, square footage, leases and cost/sq. ft.; employee demographics.

5. Skills inventory (skills, education, employment).

6. Marketing opportunities status, including key dates for RFPs, proposals, awards, total dollar values, prospective customers, etc.

7. Contract status--key dates, personnel, subcontractors, contract ID numbers, funding, etc.

8. Procurement --on-line for purchasing requisitions, purchase order generation and tracking. Includes storage of purchase orders on microfilm.

9. Work breakdown for proposals and projects.

10. Labor costs--corporate model budget vs. actual payroll charges.

11. Trial balance--on-line ad-hoc querying to trial balance records.

12. Payroll hours--on-line ad-hoc query to weekly time card changes.

Additional subsystems being added to CIS/BOSS include project analysis, integrated performance measurement, and estimating and pricing. "This is an open system," points out Joe Stalk, Assistant to the President of GDS, "designed to grow with the corporation."

Ultimately, procurement, project tracking and resource management will be completely automated, as is the new proposal generation system, the Proposal Center Information Management System (PCIMS) for production of text and graphics. PCIMS makes use of bidding data in CIS/BOSS.

To put CIS/BOSS into full operation, individualized training was provided for executives, and computer-based training was supplied to all other users. A User Manual was issued containing the functional information needed to access and use CIS/BOSS.

"In the past," says Joe Stalk, "each of our business operations departments, although related, were autonomous in their methods of information processing, and manually interfaced with other departments only as much as was absolutely necessary.

"With CIS/BOSS we have achieved a virtually effortless mutual sharing of information to support the unprecedented number of contracts we pursue and fulfill. This has dramatically reduced corporate planning, review and decision-making cycles."

In the individual business operations departments, CIS/BOSS has improved employee productivity. At the management level it has greatly increased visibility into current (and even day-to-day) operations in a timely manner. Past performance information coupled with efficient forecasting tools allows for confident decision-making.

Manpower data is an example of the timely availability of critical information provided by CIS/BOSS. To determine manpower resources for a proposed new project, CIS/BOSS is used to query current manpower allocations. A real-time answer is provided regarding the necessary skills inhouse and their availability for the new project. Should re-vamped manpower schedules be required for the new project, they can be modeled on CIS/BOSS.

CIS/BOSS can then calculate manpower costs for the new project, factoring in corporate plan rates such as overhead and even such factors as travel expenses.

A similar process produces answers on materials requirements and costs for the new project. CIS/BOSS can then prepare a baseline budget for the new project, which becomes part of the bid and proposal process.

If the contract is awarded, accrued actuals on CIS/BOSS serve as a means of tracking the project by the various departments concerned, and by top management (at a summary level).

A typical specific benefit of CIS/BOSS is that it is no longer necessary to wait 14 to 16 days after the end of an accounting month to acquire actuals. This data is available on CIS/BOSS as it is accrued.

With CIS/BOSS, all current information from all business operations departments can be viewed, reformatted, updated, redefined or graphed in a real-time environment. Managers no longer need to wait excessive amounts of time for reports, and what-if analyses are completed in a timely manner.

Capabilities such as ad hoc queries, what-if analyses and extensive graphic displays are employed without the generation of a single line of new program code, making users virtually independent of programmers and technicians. Similarly, report formats are changed without programmer support.

By using a fourth-generation language, relational database, and financial modeling/decision supports, CIS/BOSS provides comfort to users while reducing both programmer and maintenance requirements.

The elimination of data re-keying has greatly reduced discrepancies, assuring greater accuracy in addition to timeliness. The visual aids in CIS/BOSS that enhance graphic presentations produce charts and graphs that have proved to be as appropriate to the boardroom as to an individual office.

If this article did not exist, CIS/BOSS would be one of the secrets of GDS's success. Though no longer a secret, it is one of GDS's tools for meeting the competitive challenge of growth.

Margot Dugan is engineering manager for Grumman Data Systems in Bethpage, New York.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Corporate Information System-Business Operation Support System
Author:Dugan, Margot
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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