It took only two brothers to create the world’s first powered aircraft and successfully fly it in 1903. Orville and Wilbur Wright’s success was largely due to their tight collaborative efforts, according to historians.
Today’s immensely complex airplanes, especially those built for combat, require the same level of collaboration but now involving hundreds of people in several partnered companies and it must all be done in a secure environment that cannot rely on brotherly trust.
Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems realized this need for collaboration during the early 1990s and called on Open Text Corp. to help.
“An airplane is a big thing. It’s got many parts and so forth. What (Lockheed Martin) needed was a better way to do their requests for proposals with all of their suppliers to be able to build the plane. There may be seven or eight vendors submitting proposals to build the wings, for example,” said Dan Latendre, vice-president of product marketing for Open Text in Waterloo, Ont.
Open Text’s Livelink product is a Web-based application that Latendre said provides five core extranet services: document management; workflow for automation; search agents to search information in the repository; notification; and a collaboration engine with functionality to support team work.
“They’d be able to put the requirements out on the extranet, have multiple suppliers bidding on that proposal in a secure extranet. It makes it very seamless for them to not only post these requests but also manage them via workflow internally,” Latendre said.
Richard Parker, the F-16 data manager for Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems in Fort Worth, Tex., said up until 1995 or 1996 his company did everything by hard copy between suppliers and customers. At that time, it started work on its first on-line data system on the F-16 program.
Initially, the system made it unnecessary to ship endless hard-copy documents to air force locations because the data could be downloaded directly by logging into a protected server.
Parker said plans to go further and look at Web-based collaborative environments immediately followed that new system. He said Livelink had the out-of-the-box functionality the company had been looking for in terms of segregating and protecting data as well as collaboration.
But Livelink wasn’t implemented on Parker’s F-16 program. Instead, it was started on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program in 1996, where it remains in play today. He said it may be brought over to the F-16 project eventually, which at this point still has its initial extranet but without any collaborative features.
“We went with our first implementation of Livelink on the JSF program for a couple of reasons: one, it was a new program so it was the easiest to do the implementation on a program where there weren’t a lot of legacy systems and legacy processes; secondly, the JSF program being what it is to the company, it provided the biggest area of payback,” Parker said.
“From that point on, we have continued to enhance its capabilities: moving from a collaborative environment between just us and our customer, to enhancing it to a collaborative environment between us and our partners…From that point we moved it to the next step and started collaborating with our suppliers, both domestic and internationally.”
Both Parker and Open Text’s Latendre said the biggest challenge in implementing Lockheed Martin’s system was to make it fit the security needs of a defence contractor.
“There were some significant security hoops that we had to clear…making sure we had as much protection on our data and how it was stored and retrieved and encrypted to make sure technical data was protected in transit,” Parker said.
“Our corporation has certain minimum guidelines that we had to meet in that arena and we fulfilled all of those requirements. We even went a couple of steps beyond that. We have high security encryption outside the firewall, but we also even encrypt the data behind the firewall.”
After the security was in place and had been tested, a third-party company was brought in to look for weaknesses as well. Parker said the system passed all of those tests with “pretty much flying colours.”
Aside from the obvious concern of security, Latendre pointed out that it’s necessary to understand the potential users of the extranet tools.
“The big thing is matching your user expectations to what you’re trying to achieve…what functionality, what performance, what is the topology, geography and demographics of these users?” Latendre asked.
Parker said although the JSF implementation was lucky in that it was a new program without many legacy systems and procedures, it was still necessary to deal with a change in mindset and make sure users were properly trained.
“One of the biggest challenges was making sure we had enough training material developed, that we had spent an adequate amount of time with people who were going to be using the system so they were very familiar with what they needed to do in utilizing the system.
“Also, in trying to alleviate concerns and not overwhelm people…we took a growth approach to the system to provide basic functionality to let people get used to the basic tool itself, and then grow functionality from one phase to the next,” Parker said.
Latendre said Open Text usually recommends a phased-in deployment, starting with a definition of the primary goal, such as document management or workflow, and then building the extranet in those stages.
“You’ll fail miserably if you overwhelm your audience,” Latendre warned.
Parker said the approach also allowed for user input into some of the functionality, which increased user happiness and acceptance. The phased approach, however, is beneficial to more than just the end user.
“Resources being what they are today, you can overwhelm an implementation team if your goals are too aggressive,” Parker said.