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May 29, 2011

The 10 most challenges in Linear Asset Management and solution options

Maintenance of linear assets (A kind of networks) is completely different from maintaining non linear assets like a fleet, machine. They through lot more challenges in modelling and executing the maintenance work compared to non linear assets. The ability to model and execute the maintenance these assets is what can tap the huge market potential in this segment.

Assets can be broadly divided into two categories namely Liner and Non linear. If we underrated non linear assets, it is easy to understand linear assets. Non linear assets are like Plant, equipment, Machine, fleet etc., they are confined to a size and specific location etc., Maintenance of them is relatively easy. Linear assets are not specific to single location. Linear assets can be like roads, runways, gas pipe lines, electrical transmissions, rail tracks, telecom lines etc., where they are not specific one single location. They more or less represent a network. Many linear asset networks cross over with other networks and can also be a place holder of many non linear assets. For e:g one railway track can connect to other railway track and also holds many non linear assets like traffic control systems, stations, power generating equipment and more importantly other parallel linear asset like power cables etc., Maintaining these assets requires much more capability than maintaining non linear assets.
There are many challenges that will surface in maintaining these assets. All these challenges need to be addresses adequately by any ERP to realize the benefits. Again the challenges will be different for different industries and this blog lists these challenges a generic manner.

1. Modelling of the linear assets: As the linear assets are not confined to a single location but widely spread across some geographies, modelling of these assets is the first most challenge for any ERP. This modelling can be either engineering or visual in nature. For e.g. a metro rail network is spread across a city. Typical asset hierarchy may not work here.

2. Assigning the non linear assets to the linear assets: Every linear asset can be a place holder for many non linear assets. For e.g.  a national highway contains traffic signals, light posts at definite locations also requires maintenance.

3. Parallel networks: There are some networks that work in parallel. A metro rail network requires a parallel power lines. Failure of any of them can result in stoppage of the services. Modelling of such networks is a challenge.

4. Intersecting networks: Networks that cross over. Typically can operate independently but the shutting down of one network can result in shutting down of other network. A metro rail network and a road network can operate independently but the shutting down of one network can result in shutting down of other network due to cross over at some places. This requires additional tag out processes.

5. Planned downime of the network: The linear assets or networks does not offer too much of a time for planned down time. They need to be scheduled typically on a weekend or public holidays by virtue of their connection to the public life. At times they need to be scheduled in summer only. This leaves additional challenge for the ERP systems.

6. Increased load on other networks: At times when one network is down, the traffic is to be diverted to the other network. This mean, some networks can't be planned for maintenance in parallel. Higher load on other networks means more usage that could result in breakdown as well.

7. Skilled personnel in performing the maintenance: Maintaining the linear assets needs a crew (group of technicians) from different departments to work at the same time. e.g. technicians from civil and electrical departments.

8. Special equipment in performing the maintenance: Maintaining these assets needs at times needs special crew. For e.g. a crane or excavator and their operators would be special equipment in executing the maintenance of these assets. Also arranging the required consumables to complete the maintenance work location requires initial assessment and planning.

9. Work orders planning and execution: Work order planning and execution requires much more co-ordinated process than non linear assets.  For e.g. arranging the crew from different departments, approvals from other departments even though the other department is not involved in the maintenance work. At times the maintenance of all networks is to be combined due to geographical constraints and same crew members. This also requires additional tag out processes.

10. Maintenance analytics: Apart from planning and executing the work, the ERP should generate the required analytics like down time trend, cost of maintaining the network, allocation of the costs to different networks etc., requires additional features.

Any ERP that can beat these challenges is sure to tap the huge market and we will see how Oracle EAM is offering various solutions to address these challenges in the subsequent blogs.

May 24, 2011

Oracle Exadata and DataWarehousing Impact - Part I

The Oracle Exadata journey if i were to start from Version 1 to version 2, and now we have X2-8 version is quite interesting in terms of how it scales from an effecient platform for not only OLTP but a perfect recipe for what one can ask from a Data Warehousing platform. This blog is more about a sneak preview of some of the key features that one can expect out-of-the-box, and what really does an Exadata machine contains. Idea certainly is not to burden you with numbers, terms which one may not be able to grasp but to understand how Oracle is strategically aligning itself with the changing demands of the Information Age. Considering the topic and to do justice i am planning to split this into a series of blogs to focus on each of the key aspects. So why Oracle Exadata, and what is the big talk about handling big data. Am sure you might have read about the Data Warehousing appliance and how vendors claim the multi-fold performance gains in your data warehousing performance and effeciency. What seems quite unique about what Oracle has in offering is target end-to-end performance gains right from your OLTP Database, applications to your integration and OLAP storage, queries and all that in real-time with near no-impact on performance of your OLTP systems.

Oracle has reasons to claim Exadata being the only data machine that provides extreme performance for OLTP applications and DWH, makes it uniquely ideal for consolidation on grids or private clouds. Sun's Oracle Database Machine (as it is popularly know as) contains following key devices/softwares that make it complete, unique and integrated unit - its plug-n-power, connect to network and ready to run Database Platform:
  • Database Server Nodes (Grid)
  • Exadata Storage Servers (Cells)
  • InfiniBand Switches (High Bandwidth)
  • Ethernet Switch
  • Pre-cabled
  • Keyboard, Videos, Mouse Hardware
  • Power Distribution units (PDU's)

Before we get into details of what each of those do and their roles, let's understand the potential benefits and power those components bring together to the table. These are components are pre-defined, pre-configured in a balanced fashion.
  1. Consolidation of the mixed workload environments like ERP, CRM, Data Warehouse, Data Marts consolidate onto the database machine
  2. Enhanced high performance and lower cost of ownership
  3. Predictable response time in a shared environment - especially when its a multi-user, multi-environment and multi-node platform
  4. Provides a complete, open and integrated platform for handling all the data management needs of any organization viz
    • Bulk Data Processing as in case of Data Warehouse
    • Random updates and frequent I/O needs as in case of OLTP
    • Streaming files and multimedia needs
  5. High availability and disaster recovery with protection from server, storage, network and site failures
  6. Features like Online Indexing and table re-definition
  7. Real-time remote standby platform open for queries/reporting over WAN (Active Data Guard)
  8. Exadata plug-in to Oracle Enterprise Manager provides seamless integration and provides statistics, and performance monitoring of the Exadata Server environment with events & alerts to administrators
  9. CLI (Command Line Interface) capabilities for administrators to manage multiple environments and servers
  10. Sun's ILOM (Integrated Lights Out Manager) for providing remote administration and management of hardware e.g. power cycling the servers

Exadata Server Machine 2.jpg
Figure 1 - The Oracle Exadata Server Machine

A) Database Server Grid - provides tremendous gains in performance of transaction speed, queries and the amount of data that's processed per minute. The numbers claimed by Oracle being of the order of:
1. Millions of Transactions/minute
2. Millions of Queries/minute
3. Billions of Rows/minute

B) InfiniBand Network - from the Sun DataCenter InfiBand switch 36, provide a fully redundant non-blocking paths from Servers to the storage resulting in high bandwidth and low latency.
1. Provides 880GB/sec aggregate throughput
2. 2.88 TB/sec bi-directional bandwidth per switch

C) Exadata Storage Server Grid - The Exadata storage server software enables query processing in the storage, which otherwise was typically handled in the Oracle Database server nodes resulting in significant query performance gains. Exadata Storage server comes with interesting features like Smart Scans, Storage Indexes, Hybrid columnar compression and Flash cache (which removed spinning magnetic media bottleneck). We will explore some of those features in subsequent up coming blogs
1. 21 GB/sec disk bandwidth
2. 50GB/sec Flash bandwidth
3. 1 Million I/O per sec

Remember few of those points, and we will in next blog try to cover features more relevant to the Data Warehousing world and how those provide a great combination when looked in a wholistic prespective of OBIEE 11g.

To summarize we looked at key ingredients of Oracle Exadata, the benefits those ingredients when put together bring on table. The 3 key components Server Grid, InfiniBand Network switches and Exadata storage server grid together are making Oracle Exadata an all data management best of breed solution for OLTP and Data Warehousing platform.

Formulation for Food and Beverage Industries Using OPM

Pick any well-known beverage which you have tested in different parts of the world. They are produced in factories - miles and continents apart, but tastes same. Why? They maintain the formulation perfect. Can you imagine a situation that beverages available in East coast, West coast, Europe and Asia differ in taste?

Global market for Food and Beverage (F&B) Industry is more competitive and demanding. F&B Industry has to sustain changing consumer preferences and increased government regulations which impacts their manufacturing and business strategies. Major challenge in bringing the product to market after prototype development is its high lead time. Any product development function involves the Research & Development (R & D) team going through a lot of trial and error method which consumes considerable time and resources.

ERP can play a key role in formulation trial, quality checks and other R & D related activities to ensure the products reach demand locations at affordable price. The healthy management of R&D practices like simulation trials, parameter control, final product formulation, production formulas, quality, cost, etc. would bring spectacular re¬turns and huge savings to the Food and Beverage industries.

Oracle E-Business suite offers "Oracle Process Manufacturing (OPM)",  a pre-packaged application module,  which provides process industry specific business capabilities and allows innovations and full tracking of all the customer needs. Next few paragraphs highlight some of the key capabilities offered by OPM for Product Formulations.

Formulation using OPM

Formulation in OPM is achieved through judicial use of Least Cost Formulation (LCF) & Computer Aided Formulation (represented by Simulator & Optimizer). Let's see how it all fit together.

Least Cost Formulation (LCF) decides the best proportional use of ingredients and their quantities, resulting in desired product quality at least cost. This is achieved by the precise formulation control of technical parameters by OPM. The product formulation is arrived by specifying the final product technical parameter requirements together with either of the option - ingredient material requirements (or) ingredient compositional requirements. Based on it, the optimized ingredient requirements are arrived via the formulation engine at least cost.

The arrived formulation data values are populated to Simulator engine where the what-if scenario testing is carried out.  Formulators involved in R & D can re-adjust the ingredient quantities to get the desired output.  Subsequently, the simulated values are taken to Optimizer to further optimize the formulation using the criteria defined as key technical parameters.

Finally the optimized formulation is selected and a request is made to approve the formulation for laboratory use. The end result is batch or formula which could be created using this formulation specification under Quality Laboratory supervision. By this method, the optimized formula or a batch is directly created for product technical parameters properties at the least cost. The conventional - trial and error method of arriving the formulation is replaced with optimized formulation conditions with least lead time without compromising on product quality.

The desired Product or ingredient technical parameters with acceptable value range are specified at Organization level through Quality control tests and validated for Quality acceptance. The Laboratory batch which is produced, either directly through Formulation specification (or) with Standard formula with recipe combination, is executed and their quality test results are submitted for review. If the test batch produces the expected results in terms of yield, cost and safety, then it can be sent for approval for use in production. The test results of the Laboratory batch could be validated with respect to different batches and also multiple lots in the same batch.

OPM supports effective Formula management through tight version control and elaborate security features. Team of formulators and process engineers can collaborate to develop and maintain new and existing products using the Formulator Workbench in OPM.

To Summarize, Oracle OPM Formulation helps the food and beverage industry in meeting of the challenges in the area of Product formulation, Quality assurance, food and safety.  The repetitive execution of expensive laboratory test batches due to inherent product variability is controlled through Optimized formulations. It helps in reducing R&D expenses and achieving robustness in product engineering for a market win.

May 19, 2011

Seiban Manufacturing - Enable Trackability in your Supply Chain!

Continuing on the ETO Series, I will discuss about the concept of Seiban, How it works and the key business requirements in Build To Order (BTO) Industry that can be handled in Oracle EBS Seiban solution. Another prominent ERP product that addresses Seiban requirements in the Industry is Glovia from Fujitsu.

 What is Seiban?
The Japanese methodology of separation of inventories using an identifying number where the number is attached to on-hand Inventory, purchase orders and manufacturing jobs on supply side to identify them as belonging to a particular customer order, contract or project. This identifying number is called Seiban derived from Sei meaning "Manufacturing" (or Production) and Ban meaning "Number."

Why Seiban?
In most of the manufacturing scenarios, materials and resources are allocated to production orders based on their urgency of the customer orders which does not work well for Build To Order manufacturers. In Build-to-order manufacturing, the key requirement is to track and segregate materials and activities for specific customer orders which enable visibility and trackability of the customer order throughout the manufacturing and supply chain cycle.

How Seiban works?
A unique identification number, the Seiban number is allotted to a particular customer order and subsequent supply orders, purchased materials, activities and services performed for that customer order inherit the Seiban number to enable trackability.

The key features that Oracle offers for implementing a Seiban manufacturing system are,

1.Ability to link and track Demand and supply for Customer Order/Project/Contract (Seiban)
2.Tracking Seiban Execution in shop floor and supply chain.
3.Providing Identification and allocation of Inventory for Seiban;
4.Cost tracking for specific Seiban
5.Ability to view, track, report Seiban specific activities and detailed drill-downs
6.Ability to handle material transfers across Seibans including borrow/pay back and mass transfers
7.Ability to support Lean practices and ATO/PTO business scenarios
8.Visibility to Seiban profitability
9.Integration with Quality systems - To track back defects in a customer order (Seiban).

Here are the few limitations in Oracle EBS in supporting a Seiban system,
1. No single view for all Seiban costs and revenues without Oracle projects installation
2. Ability to use WBS/ Tasks not possible.
3. Oracle does not support reservations at Seiban level.

Typical Challenges faced in Implementing Meter Data Management Systems in Utility Distribution Space - Indian Context

Guest post by
Dilesh Deepak Dattani, Consultant, Oracle Practice, Enterprise Solutions, Infosys Technologies Ltd.


A lot of Indian companies in Utility Space have either already started or in the process of starting implementation of IT Systems to which would help in increasing their operational efficiency and reducing costs. In this post I would like to highlight some of the typical challenges which we come across in such implementation projects in India.

  1. One of the very important aspects in implementing a Meter Data Management (MDM) System is the parameters which the meters can record and provide to the system for downstream activities.  A very common challenge in the utility space is the lack of a proper standard which governs the number of parameters that a meter is supposed to give.  As a result of this, today in India we have meters of various makes which provide wide range of parameters. There is a lack of consistency in the parameters provided.  That is the parameters provided are different across the meter manufacturers. This makes it difficult to design a system which could use these for various purposes like Billing, Reporting, and Energy Accounting etc. Moreover most of the meters in place, use different protocols and it becomes difficult for the head end system to be configured for receiving inputs from meters of different makes.
  2. Another challenge of implementing Meter Data Management Systems in a country like India is the Regulatory Rules which exists here for various functions like Estimation, Billing. Usually such rules would have been formed based on the older methods of data collection and billing. By Implementing Meter Data Management Systems the granularity of data available changes drastically and hence the regulatory rules too need to be in accordance with that.  In absence of proper regulation rules there are risks pertaining to litigation by the end customer. 
  3. Communication Systems and the coverage of the same becomes extremely crucial for implementation of such projects because it is the communication system which determines the speed and accuracy with which the data from meters reach the MDM. It is based on this data that all the subsequent downstream activities like reporting, billing , energy audit etc takes place. In a place like India this could be a big challenge as the consistency in connectivity is not guaranteed especially in remote areas.
  4. Yet another crucial aspect in any MDM implementation is getting the attributes of meters installed in the field. Invariably it so happens that a Survey needs to happen to provide the details for the meter. Besides this, information pertaining to the hierarchy of assets like feeders, transformers etc which are needed for doing an energy audit are also obtained through these surveys. There are multiple challenges in performing an accurate and fast survey. One of the issues is that the details/attributes of the meter which are usually printed on it are either wiped out completely or illegible. Moreover certain attributes pertaining to the meter has to be configured when the meter is installed. Hence Survey cannot provide these attributes and the only way is to extract the data by having a head end meter read system.  An example would be Meter Serial Number which can be used as a unique identifier for the meter might not be directly available externally.

May 11, 2011

Oracle Exadata - A platform for consolidation (Part-1)

Guest post by
Umesh Tanna, Senior Technology Architect, Oracle Practice, Enterprise Solutions, Infosys Technologies Ltd.


Consolidation is one of the many key reasons for deploying and using Exadata. Oracle Exadata is an appliance - hardware and software bundled and engineered to provide maximum performance. It is a database machine that is purpose built and integrated. True, that there are high end systems that are best suited to be replaced by Exadata platform considering the growth and performance need of those system. However, by design, Exadata offers high end configuration and specification which not all types of Oracle database application that today runs in IT department need.  Hence, solid business case can be built for those systems if, some type of consolidation solution is considered which can simplify, increase availability and performance and ultimately reduce total cost of ownership.

As soon as someone speaks the word consolidation, one asks - How can we run our OLTP and data mart application on single server/database? Can we have package application and custom application running on same server/database?  While we are ok to tolerate certain hours of downtime for our data warehouse database, we need 24x7 operations of our OLTP. Do you have solution for this? How would we handle the situation that runaway queries in our data warehouse application do not make OLTP applications starve for resource?

Now before we see how Exadata answers such questions, let us see what the various ways are in which we can consolidate into Exadata platform.

One simple consolidation scenario is bringing multiple databases (may be running on multiple servers) as it is into exadata. What we achieve in this is server and/or OS consolidation.  Advantage of this approach is database still enjoys database level isolation and thereby flexibility in configuration and operation. However on the flip side, this may still result in lots of overhead because of multiple databases.

Next level of consolidation is database consolidation in which multiple databases (may be running on multiple servers) is consolidated in one database running in exadata. While this requires very careful planning but advantage of this approach is better resource utilization, simplicity and very less overhead.

Oracle exadata v2 offers various features and functionalities that enable superior and effective consolidation and provides solution to many of the questions. Of course consolidation exercise need to consider multiple aspects of their IT environment, policies and procedures and each may have their own unique challenges; however, understanding following feature helps us to explore the suitability of exadata for consolidation.

Database Resource Manager (DBRM)
IO Resource Manager (IORM)
Mix workload
Oracle Service
Server Pool
Instance Caging

In the next part of this blog we will understand how this feature helps in database consolidation.

May 3, 2011

Role of Testing in successful project implementation

Guest post by
Amit Tuteja, Senior Consultant, Oracle Practice, Enterprise Solutions, Infosys Technologies Ltd.


I was lucky to be part of one of the complex Oracle implementations done by Infosys Oracle Practice in Retail industry. During my work with this large retailer I got the opportunity to work on design phase and later got involved in testing phase. Most of us understand and realize the importance of Testing in any implementation but in this blog I would like to emphasize how a well planned Testing phase increased Management/ Stakeholders confidence and paved the way for a successful Implementation.

Here are some of the key things in testing that helped in making this implementation a successful one:

  • Define the Roles, Independent Testing Team: In many projects Design and development team spearheads the testing but in this case an independent Testing team with mix of Technical, functional experience  was put together to Test the product. Roles like Test Leads (for direction with regards to test scope definition and test deliverable review); Test coordinator (coordination, status reporting and planning) and Test Analysts (Test execution) were defined. An Independent group for testing ensured that the RICE passed through different set of eyes which help catch some things that might have got missed otherwise.
  • No success can be claimed unless it's measurable! Reporting: Timelines and scope of work were defined clearly and progress was maintained through Test Calendars. Weekly meetings were scheduled with Stakeholders/Management to apprise them of the Testing status. These meetings ensured issues/risks were brought out on regular basis and any concerns were resolved quickly. This regular reporting/touch base exercise with management helped Test team set the priorities in case of conflicts and helped the team stay on Track.
  • Devil is in the details, the System Test phase: This phase was the longest in duration and laid the foundation for success. The testing team read the designs and wrote Test cases at a detailed level which captured the functionality of RICE to be tested in detail. Focus was not only on testing but also on documenting what was being tested. These test cases were reviewed and approved by Test leads which instilled confidence in Leadership that Testing was being carried out thoroughly.
  • Look at the Flow, Integration cycle1 testing: The Test leads (experts of various process flows) along with Test coordinators put together most critical business processes which had to be tested thoroughly. These end to end business processes were then detailed out to form Test Sets consisting of multiple tests. Testing with data from Legacy applications kick started in this phase.
  • Connect externally, the 3PL testing: The testing of custom Interfaces with 3PLs (Third Party Logistics Providers) was treated as a separate activity as it involved co-ordination with different parties outside of the organization in different time zones. Thorough testing with 3PLs ensured that there was a seamless flow of data between the Organization and the third party vendors.
  • Involve the experts, Integration cycle2: This is when things started coming together. The end to end flows defined in IT1 were executed with data flowing between core system, legacy systems and the 3PLs. Super users were roped in this phase. Super users were the SME's who were responsible for various core areas in system/business. They looked at the End to end scenarios prepared by Test team and gave valuable inputs thus ensuring the accuracy of the flows and processes. Engaging super users early on gave enough time to make changes or cover gaps (if any). 
  • Teach the user, Training: Training was being run in parallel and the training Team was able to utilize Test sets created by the Testing Team for demonstration of critical business flows. Training team also took help from testing team for demonstration in the applications. This helped the program to gain the confidence of end user.
  • Test the Performance: Retail business is all about volume and it is very important to do the performance testing for critical Customer facing processes. A subset of testing team was engaged to do a Performance testing simulating the load which system would carry on one of busiest days.
  • Rehearse it! Integration cycle3: There is no better recipe for success than continued practice. During this phase all the critical business processes were tested in a different environment to simulate Production like environment. All the 3PLs and Legacy systems participated in this cycle and the results were captured in Quality center. The Super users reviewed and signed-off on IT3 results.
  • The Final Blow, CERT: By now the Team was confident about system's performance and behavior. Certification testing was run for all the Business critical flows and the ones' which had issues in previous cycles once again in an environment where Dress Rehearsal of Cutover activities was performed. This increased confidence of the management, stakeholders and Super users thus paving the way for a successful implementation.

Along with testing other important areas like design, development and deployment were also managed very well which lead to a successful implementation.

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