Boost for Teamwork

December 8, 2003 by admin

Speed is everything. Ever shorter innovation cycles are putting pressure on companies, especially those in the manufacturing industry. In the automotive industry, for example, the development time for a new car has halved since the end of the 80s, according the Association of German Engineers (VDI): A new development that took eight to ten years then, now takes just four. For manufacturers, this means that those who react quickly to the demands of the market and offer the right product at the right time are able to get ahead of the competition. However, this is almost impossible to achieve without effective project management.

Challenges of distributed product development

Challenges of distributed product development

All the members of a working group, regardless of their location, require unrestricted access to all relevant information across enterprise boundaries. The developer in Germany, the supplier in France, the marketing team in the USA and the production manager in Poland must always be fully informed, be able to exchange documents with each other without delays, and work together. Misunderstanding can only be avoided, and development errors recognized at an early stage, if all the people involved have access to this information.

Including external partners in the information flow

Scenario example for cProjects and cFolders

Scenario example for cProjects and cFolders

The cProject Suite within mySAP Product Lifecycle Management (mySAP PLM) offers planning, control, and collaboration functions that support the coordination of complex development projects across different locations. It consists of two browser-based applications: cProjects for project management, and cFolders for exchanging and editing documents. The advantage is that the members of a development team do not need to install special software in order to work with the project information and documentation. They simply need an internet connection and access rights for the system on which the two applications run.
As a result, companies are in a position to include external development partners in their information flow without giving them access to the backend system. The cProject Suite gives suppliers or customers access to SAP objects such as bills of material (BOMs) from mySAP PLM, but not to the enterprise software itself. The cProject Suite is based on the SAP Web Application Server 6.20 and therefore supports open standards for communication, data interchange, and security. The security aspect is particularly important in development projects: on the one hand, suppliers need to know confidential development information, on the other, this data must not fall into unauthorized hands.

Transparent project control produces clarity

The internet-based project management solution cProjects lets development teams track the deadlines, tasks, and costs in a project on the basis of universal data. Projects can be clearly organized into phases, tasks, and checklists, and standardized with the help of templates.
cProjects enables project managers to link up all the relevant elements, such as materials, that are entered in SAP R/3 or another ERP system across different SAP applications and non-SAP systems. The project managers simply create a link to the relevant object in the project plan, and are not forced to copy or transfer information. An authorization concept gives all members of the team access to the project data they need, and they can then process this data, and send notification once the tasks assigned to them have been completed. All concerned can therefore quickly see the current status of a project.
In order to define milestones for the individual project phases, cProjects uses the “stage gate” method. This ensures that a project does not enter a new phase until all the tasks of the previous phase have been completed. Project information is exchanged via the cFolders collaboration solution.

Working environment for distributed teams

cFolders at SCA Packaging

cFolders at SCA Packaging

cFolders is a virtual working environment that enables the members of a development team to exchange documents and work together. One of the key advantages of this solution is that with the help of file transfer protocols (FTP), partners without broadband access to the internet are also able to transfer large files to cFolders or download files from cFolders to their PC. The solution can also be used as a stand-alone solution without cProjects.
cFolders can be used to make design drawings, or product data and BOMs from SAP R/3 available to external users, who can then verify or change this information. Users can load all files into cFolders. All formats supported by the frontend and ECL Viewer are displayed. Requests for changes can be indicated with redlining and mark-ups by means of the integrated ECL Viewer interface. The integration of cFolders in the mySAP Business Suite means that changed data can be transferred to the relevant backend solutions, such as mySAP PLM or mySAP Supplier Relationship Management (mySAP SRM).

Online meetings save time and money

As soon as changes have been made, or new documents have been saved in cFolders, the members of the team receive notification. In addition, virtual meetings can be arranged using the online meeting service WebEx, which is integrated in cFolders. The solution enables users to select the meeting participants for whom a particular issue is relevant. The solution automatically proposes as participants all users who have read access to the object from which the meeting was triggered. In the meeting, the team solves all the open issues together on screen, and thereby avoids time-consuming and costly business trips.

Protection for critical data

However, the transparency that cFolders provides for a project team only applies for authorized colleagues and partners. Security structures ensure that no unauthorized persons gain access to the development documents. It is therefore possible to implement an object-based authorization concept that determines which team member receives access to which information. cFolders is based on the SAP Web Application Server 6.20, which supports secure standards for communication over the internet, such as HTTPS or SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). The degree of protection can also be increased with the help of reverse proxy technology.
The security of cFolders is also enhanced by a special network architecture, if the solution is installed outside the company’s intranet, something which SAP recommends. In this way, only the data published by cFolders can be accessed by externals. It is not possible to access data on the company intranet from cFolders. A system in the intranet can only import or export data to or from cFolders. With regard to security, cFolders can be compared to a cash machine that, even when abused, only gives out cash up to a certain value.

Clear time saving

The figures speak for themselves. With cFolders, the unproductive working time resulting from business trips or meetings, for example, can be reduced by up to 95 percent. The number of development errors resulting from misunderstandings with partners and customers can be reduced by 80 percent. The project team can work with consistent data, has clear objectives, and is thus able to react quickly to customer or market requirements during product development.

Sabine Höfler

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