How to choose manufacturing software for business intelligence
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Detailed visibility into a company's assets and business data can be a challenging IT goal even for small companies, but for large manufacturers, the task is even more formidable. In 2010, GE Power & Water, a division of General Electric Co., was searching for the right software to meet two asset management-related objectives: improve the speed of data coming from its engines, and build a more integrated analytics system that would help consolidate the company's business software systems.
"When I started [at GE], I tried to catalog the different systems we had, and I stopped counting at 25," said Audi Lucas, service systems program manager for GE Power & Water's gas engines division.
According to Lucas, the company vetted vendors in hopes of finding one that could give an overall view of business assets. Because the back-end data would be complex and arriving from a number of systems, GE wanted a vendor that offered the company the option to integrate and customize its own user interface and layer it on top of the Axeda cloud-based machine-to-machine platform that was already in use. The goal was to have a system that combines engine service diagnostics and application performance data so the company could improve service, take advantage of predictive maintenance and spare parts replacements.
Lucas was the lead on the vendor selection team and was also involved in selecting Axeda Corp. some months earlier. With the company's relationship with Axeda already established, GE made the decision to implement the Presto operational intelligence and business intelligence (BI) suite from JackBe, an Axeda partner. After a slow start, GE's Axeda and JackBe systems are now working well together, said Lucas.
"This year, [Axeda] has been really engaged and working closer with JackBe," he said.
JackBe customization polishes asset management at GE
The JackBe implementation process was simple, according to Lucas. "Essentially, you can install it yourself in a half an hour or so. It's a very lightweight, easy-to-use system," he said.
The step that took GE the longest involved reworking some of the coding to customize Presto to the company's needs, Lucas explained. It took roughly six months for the implementation team to fully understand how everything "under the cover" worked and to learn the language. But, he added, it was eventually able to manipulate the code and create the desired interface.
Lucas worked with JackBe co-founder Jacob Derechin to develop some of the needed components during the early stages of implementation. The team at GE also took a one week "crash course" in using and customizing Presto.
GE is using Presto version 3.1.5 right now and plans to upgrade to version 3.5 in the near future. JackBe has two new modules planned for the coming year -- one is a mobile application and the other a big-data module, Lucas said. He's working with JackBe CTO John Crupi to explore how GE might leverage the capabilities.
Asset management tool improves visibility across business
Lucas' division of GE uses the Presto system for connected asset management, focusing mainly on service operations. "There are a lot of functions you need to run a service business from an operations perspective," Lucas said. "You have to do your maintenance planning and your execution for service technicians. You have to have a very robust asset management system. Our philosophy is we want to know everything that we know about our assets out in the field, and so we pull data from all our systems."
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Presto's user-friendly customization capabilities are a large part of why Lucas and GE have been happy with the implementation. "One of the reasons I like JackBe is that I can go to a nonprogrammer and if they need a dashboard tomorrow, in a little bit of time, they can just drag and drop components together and build a reusable dashboard," Lucas said. "That takes care of the quick and easy business cases. If you're actually building an application, though, you might want to sit down and tweak it out a bit more."
Lucas said he has found the JackBe asset management tool easy to work with when it comes to implementation, customization and software maintenance. "If we have a problem with the system, we can open a case and normally it's fixed within 24 hours," he said.
While Presto satisfies most of GE's asset management and BI needs, Lucas is working with Crupi to fill in some functionality gaps. One goal is to improve integration between the Axeda and JackBe software for more seamless data flow. Big data is also on the to-do list, Lucas said; GE is exploring ways to store more data in-memory with the Presto suite to make the application move faster.
One more possible area for improvement in Presto is the UI widgets, Lucas added. "They're great for the quick and dirty. When you actually generate a widget, the problem with the system is you can't get back into it to customize, so you only have the option of sticking what's available for tools within the widget. I think they could improve a little bit on the customizability," he said.
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