|Users ReportUser Introduction Vol. 90
Revising the Network of Four Company Group with an Aim of Improving Customer Service:
Focusing on Advanced Operations Management of Software Programs and Their Forms of Use,
Also Considering New Technologies Such As SaaS
|"There is a large-scale and novel movement in the world of ICT (information
and communications technology) including cloud computing and server virtualizing
techniques". On the other hand, those who take charge of operations
management of ICT including an in-house network doesn't show so much enthusiasm
as there was when IT (information technology) revolution was widely publicized,
says Mr. Osamu Imai, Project Manager of the Product Development Section,
Crown Co., Ltd.
As its background, he mentions that the network operated in a company costs a lot including what is not seen. However, centralized control of those elements and properly revising them must bring about cost reduction, promotion of efficiency, and return to customer service, as he continues.
This issue picks up "Crown Consultant Group", which has Crown Consultant Co., as its core, where he has been in charge of operations management of ICT since joining the company. We also focus on "Product Development Section, Crown Co., Ltd." that is one of the companies composing the group and that he currently belongs to.
Each company of Crown Consultant Group has been using various software products of FORUM8. Since 2009, the Group has been adopting license agreement (WAN Activate License) that enables using multiple products of FORUM8 on WAN (wide area network). Towards the future development, the Group considers introducing SaaS (Software as a Service), one of the forms of service with cloud computing.
We interviewed Mr. Osamu Imai, who is in charge of ranges of ICT-related operations management and new development over the whole group.
Crown Consultant Group is constituted of four companies that support design works for civil engineering and architecture in their areas of specialization. Their common goals are "to provide values that no other companies but our group can realize with customers". In specific, each of them specializes in its own field within a wide range of civil engineering design, while they cooperate each other where they can do so.
Among them, Crown Consultant Co., Ltd (Crown Consultant) leads the group. Founded in 1985, its headquarters are based in Saitama City. Its other business places are located in cities of Fukuoka, Osaka, Sapporo, and Sendai. It specializes in designing river structures including sluices and sluice pipes, responding quickly to various movements around its business field, such as shifting from rigid to flexible structures, or introducing aseismic design in recent years.
On the other hand, Crown Tech Co., Ltd. covers civil engineering structures such as waterworks, sewers and roads other than river structures. Founded in 2005, it has established its headquarters in Nagoya City and the design office in Saitama City. Crown Tech not only boasts of compiling abundant design knowledge but also familiarity with construction content, particularly specializing in optimum design by minimizing gap between design and construction.
Founded in 2002, Crown Architectural Design Co., Ltd, which designs public architectural facilities related with civil engineering (civil engineering building and repairing). It has its headquarters in Fukuoka City and the design office in Saitama City. It covers architectural design, structure, and quantity estimation for architectural design of sluices and sluice pipes, operation rooms of water gates, drainage pump stations, and sewage treatment plant. In particular, aseismic design of a complex structure that unifies civil engineering and building, which it handles in cooperation with other Group companies, is positioned as one of its characteristic services.
It is safe to say that Crown Co., Ltd is a flag company of the Group. It was founded in 2006 and its headquarters is located in Bungotakada City in Oita prefecture. Based in cities of Fukuoka and Saitama, it plays a role of creating new services in areas where other croup companies have not embarked. At present, it performs verification of civil engineering structure design as well as design of gate facilities if sluices and sluice pipes. He says that when those activities are formed as a service to a certain degree, a new group company will be created or they will be returned to each group companies.
It was when there was a concern about the millennium bug problem of computer malfunction on a global scale, that Mr. Osamu Imai joined Crown Consultant after acquiring a broad range of knowledge and experiences related with systems.
The Company had been positive about introducing new technologies from the past, having introduced computers early.
Then he first put emphasis on preparation of necessary hardware and software, constructing a network, and employee's education. In these processes, various software products of FORUM8 have been added. After moving into the present section, he still keeps on making efforts in realizing optimum solutions aiming for advanced and effective use related with ICT within the group.
"The original network was limited to environment of storing work data in a file server. It was really wasteful not to make the most of the primary function of a server.
So, we had to make up a form being able to perform its primary function.
Crown Consulting Group started preparation for revising the existing network with Mr. Osamu Imai as a core person in about 2008. They have built up the present environment through step-by-step releases and renewal of materials over nearly 18 months.
They did so because they had to respond to the following circumstances: 1) obsolescence of the network used since about 2000, 2) big movement of ICT such as cloud computing, server virtualization, and unified communications, 3) increase in competitive power under the reduction of public works, 4) reduction of loss such as down time.
"When it comes to operations management of a network, people tends to argue about the introduction cost of server or damage cost at the time of trouble. However, from an aspect of long-term operation, the essential problem is rather that a large amount of cost is involved in a hidden part." For example, as he mentions, when something is wrong with a computer used by a designer, OS or software is reinstalled.
When the user try to reinstall Windows using the attached media, it takes half day if the person is experienced, and nearly one day if the person is not experienced and needs someone's support. Therefore, he introduced Windows Deployment Services (WDS) that allows installing OS through a network. It realized environment where it takes only about 12 minutes at shortest from the start of reinstalling to resuming the work.
At the same time, as to installing software, it was shifted to network installing by means of the Windows installer. This allows the user to install necessary software in a short time and with ease by him- or herself. In addition, an old version of software can be uninstalled from each computer if it is deleted from the network side (see the lower figure).
In this sense, he pays attention to the fact that most of FORUM8 products used by the Group support MSI installer. He emphasized its advantage that only double-clicking the data file without performing install work will make a computer detect whether the software is already installed; if not, the latest version will be installed from the server so that the user can operate it immediately.
Moreover, in response to the tendency that the work data is going to be high capacity, he reviewed the environment of preserving them. The traditional backup is positioned as the way for backup in the worst case of having mechanical failure. With respect to careless mistake such as deletion caused by man or overwriting, VSS (Volume Shadow copy Service) is used for hysteresis management that allows restoring data for at most 64 histories in the past. In addition, DFS replication was adopted as an alternative function of disaster recovery. This takes an approach for requiring almost no down time during the occurrence of trouble, because the data created or changed by each user are instantly duplicated in the server located at the remote base, and the data are taken over by an alternative server when there is a failure in the server.
Furthermore, he says that there is an increase in inquiries about security countermeasures from the customers in recent years. On the other hand, file sharing software programs such as Winny has a troublesome aspect that it is difficult to detect such software that is installed in a computer. For this reason, the management system was shifted to centralized management applying a network policy, moving into a framework of systematic control so that one cannot start a computer in case such a program is installed.
In a series of network revision, improvement in many other points was also performed based on TCO (total cost of ownership) required over introduction and maintenance of computer systems. Such improvement is based consistently on the aim of improving customer service through building environment where the designers can be devoted to work, down time is reduced, and the security is guaranteed.
Mr. Osamu Imai and others also reexamined operations management of software in parallel with the network mentioned above. At that time, they made research from a viewpoint of TCO, for example, as to FORUM8 products, checked the software owned and its form of delivery, actual users and situations of use, the required number of license and their cost. Based on the result, they introduced the license agreement for WAN supporting service.
Though it required some cost, secondary effects were also obtained. For example, it allowed examination of the appropriate number of licenses and integration and abolition of software, optimization of maintenance agreement, and arranging renewal of agreement time.
"As to the form of using software in the future, I guess it is going to shift into a SaaS-type of environment, and think it is very likely that it will come true."
At present, SaaS seems to be avoided because of its form of charging. However, the superiority of SaaS will be seen if one take into consideration TCO including operations management of network infrastructure and software, or introduction and management of a high-spec computer that supports advancing software, making proper examination.
Therefore, it is necessary that a lineup of SaaS-type software products available for designing gets ready to a certain degree, and to ascertain the form of use and performance etc. He thinks that it is a transition period for the time being.
On the other hand, the Group companies including Crown Consultant has been traditionally developing programs to use for designing. They used Excel in the beginning. Then since about 8 years ago, they have been accessing API (Application Program Interface) to improve design efficiency. He takes up an automatic bar arrangement drawing system and a structural computation system for instance.
However, since there was no domestic product of design software that offered API, they used foreign software. As everything was described in English, they had a hard time, as he remembers.
In relation with this, FORUM8 is also planning to offer API, publishing "A guide to Programming for Civil Engineer" (Nikkei BP), a guidebook for Delphi SDK (software development kit) programming last year. At the same time, FORUM8 is going to release SDK that offers API for three-dimensional nonlinear analysis "UC-win/FRAME (3D)" in addition to the existing three-dimensional real-time VR software "UC-win/Road". He is expecting these releases.
"I think it is very good that we will have such environment as to be able to examine various ways of improving efficiency while controlling software by means of API, when technologies of 3D, clouding, and virtualization are advancing in the future."
（Interviewed & written by Takashi Ikeno）