Automated Remote Condition Monitoring using Bluetooth, WiFi, Cellular. Is this IoT?

One of the most effective uses of Maximo is to auto-generate PM or inspection work orders based on input from meters – aka Condition Monitoring. One would only need basic familiarity with the Assets module in order to create meters and set up measurement points in the Condition Monitoring application. A simple administrative setting allows for work order generation, and there are numerous, fairly standard ways to create notifications and display results on KPIs. Likewise, creating QBRs and result trendline plots of monitoring results are also simple tasks which any user should be able to handle.

I find myself repeatedly in discussions wherein a client wants to either start collecting meter data or is looking for ways to simplify the process. Often, they describe sending technicians and engineers to locations and assets to collect the needed meter data. This sounds like a good idea, after all, they have people with measuring tools and know-how, a fleet of vehicles to traverse to all corners of their service area, and they understand the importance of collecting the data, whether for regulatory reasons or to apply some form of predictive analysis.

Being a lifelong automation enthusiast, my mind immediately shifts to thinking of ways the collection of data can be made more efficient and cost effective. One of the most common areas process improvement can be made is in the 6th waste Identified in standard Lean practices – Transportation. Without doing a detailed analysis, transporting people and tools to remote locations is obviously costly. Just look at the previous paragraph where people, tools, vehicles, travel time, etc., were briefly discussed. Consider some of the real costs of running a meter reading route:

  • Cost of labor – even if optimized routes are used, resources have to be dispatched to run the route, stopping at each location or asset to take a reading and record it. Even if the labor is part of a fixed amount, this takes away from wrench time.
  • Cost of tools – if widely dispersed, vehicle cost is first. Then there’s the measurement equipment which may be used – loss, attrition by damage, calibrations.
  • Cost of conveying reading data – there may be mobile devices used to submit readings to the system. If not, there’s a hidden cost of error which is introduced by writing readings on a clipboard and entering them into the system at a later time.

With all these client discussions in mind I was  impelled to come up with a truly excellent example of how to increase the effectiveness and payback of a Maximo system in readily measurable ways. This would require a cost effective method of measuring and transmitting data to Maximo to achieve a fully automated process from meter reading through inspection, preventive or corrective work order issuance.

Of course, OSI PI can be used with a custom interface to Maximo, however this is a costly proposition. Let’s just say very costly to both establish and maintain. It’s a large, bulky outdated tool set (IMHO). There’s a lot of equipment without PLC or PC based controllers, and no readily available means of automating data collection. The same is often true of facilities spaces (Maximo Locations)which also need to be monitored. Today this can be done with the right combinations of cellular, Bluetooth and WiFi  connectivity and some simple measure and transmit hardware.

Take for example, the example of the temperature monitoring solution in the following POC/demonstration. Here are the different parts needed for a fully automated process from remote, unmanned monitoring through work order issuance.

1. Condition Monitoring Measurement PointCM0

2. Meter for temperature. We could be reading voltage, current, pressure, or many other parameters.Meters

3. Bluetooth Temperature Transmitter – This takes the reading and sends it via Bluetooth to the device shown in section 4.

This proto is based on a Parallax BS2 which is a technological throw-back from the 90’s. The BS2 is paired with a Bluetooth breakout board, in the lower right corner. The BS2 was used for two reasons. 1. Availability – I just had to blow the dust off one I already had and, 2. It runs an interpreter which allows for very rapid prototyping. A key point is that not much speed or power is needed, thus, there are many other suitable platforms available- (The new Raspberry Pi 3 just arrived with integrated WiFi and BT!) CM7

4. Android Tablet with WiFi and 4G cellular (can also be a phone or chassis mount device) sends readings to Maximo. Needs to be within BT range of the BT transmitter and can remain with charger connected. Likewise, if WiFi is not available, the cellular connection can be switched on instead. The app running on this device acts as a Bluetooth server and is wirelessly interfaced with Maximo as a client. Of course, this must be used in conjunction with a licensed user.

CM8Resulting periodic meter readings

CM3

End results, out of range temperature readings trigger PM work orders (with associated job plans), notification of the work orders shown in the upper portlet and a temperature KPI on the Start Center. This system doesn’t have a mail server, but it would be a basic task to set up Email notifications also.

CM5

There were no wires run between hardware, this is all wireless, making for simple set up for each measurement point. It required developing an Android app to capture the readings from the BT transmitter and post the readings to the Maximo server. There’s some front-end administrative skills to set it up, however it’s remarkably simple and reliable. The demo shown has been running for weeks without a glitch.

The level of device management and security may vary between users. The level of hardware packaging for outdoor and industrial environments will need to be designed, which also is standard fare these days. The sensor/transmitter hardware cost in this case is about $80 USD. It could be produced in smaller form for considerably less.

Now, think of the reduced labor hours, fleet vehicle mileage/wear & tear, measurement tools that won’t get lost and missing and transposed numbers and readings that won’t be missed….

And fnally, a bit of shameless self-promotion….  MX76CL

FWIW, I also have a POC/demo for OBD2 readings in place of the home-built transmitter which monitors fleet vehicle and engine parameters in a very similar manner. Time permitting, I’ll create another post on this separately.

So, what do you think?

Unique Challenges of Maximo Project Management Part II

or…

Project Management in a Matrix Environment

Unfortunately, no one can be…told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill,  you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you already took the red pill.

After working a project with a very unique organizational structure , I was motivated to write about the challenges encountered from the perspective of whether being in a matrix structure either magnified or helped resolve them. Some of these challenges were of the standard garden variety. Others  were… well, let’s say more unique. In either case, success on this project required a lot of creative thinking in order to effectively manage through the minefield a layered matrix type project structure can create. I suspect these challenges  are more common than many would think. In fact, matrix organizations, weak, strong and in-between have become very popular due to the purported efficiencies they bring to an organization. I believe many of us deal with these challenges regularly and often succeed because we are good managers. Since we’re such good managers, we naturally turn our thoughts to lessons learned and preventive measures. Perhaps the perceived value of the matrix needs to be re-examined – or at least the pros and cons compared before diving headlong into an organizational change.

Layered Structure

As is typical in the world of government contracting, this unique project had several layers of management entities. Fortunately, there were only four in this case.

Layer 1: The agency which was to use the solution was the ultimate customer. They provided a CRM as a point of contact representing the procuring sponsor, a Project “Owner” who led a group of subject matter experts, and several SMEs.

Layer 2: The agency assigned mangers from the functional groups who were to be the end users of the system. They served as SMEs and process approvers.

Layer 3: Being a government project, there was a primary contracted IT organization which provided a Technical PM, some Business Analysts and IT support resources.

Layer 4: The contracted organization in layer 3 had no specific product knowledge going into the project. They sub-contracted the product infrastructure, development, interfaces and general project management to my organization with the caveat that there would be ongoing knowledge transfer.

Once you’ve wrapped your head around the project layers you can imagine the myriad political and interpersonal challenges in creating a single team environment from this mix. Although it is tempting to write about these in detail, I will stay focused on the challenges presented specifically by the marriage of the two contracted matrix organizations – namely layers 3 and 4. Most project managers will realize they have seen this type of scenario in their own careers, perhaps as variations on a theme.

In this case, the primary contractor had a rotating door of project managers which came and went. The most skilled and team-centric PM resigned mid-project. While this was a disappointment and a blow to the project, it was in fact an opportunity to find out why so many skilled managers were unwilling to continue working in this particular setting?

To paraphrase, if not quote her main reason: The matrix organization did not provide the PM with adequate authority to settle disputes and act on performance issues effectively. There was also a bit of discussion explaining how this scenario leads to a highly politicized culture.

I had to consider that I myself was working as part of a matrix type organization. I was familiar with the same challenges, but having accepted the client’s matrix structure as an unchangeable constant, I had accepted it’s realities and adapted- regardless of how unpleasant it was at times. Hey, some projects are just more fun than others, right? Well, perhaps not so much.

A recent Email from Danielle Smallwood of TenStep.com on this topic impelled me to write this post. In her article the primary concern is described as the frustration of being a project manager in a matrix structured organization. Danielle writes:

“….it can be difficult to manage the project when you have no formal management authority over the members of your team. From an organizational perspective, if the people do not report to you as a functional manager, then you are probably operating in some type of matrix structure.”

and

The matrix makes the most efficient use of people resources, but it can also be very challenging on the part of project managers.” One could interpret this to mean that [matrix organization = no fun for PMs].

I would respectfully argue it would be more correct to say that there are a variety of matrix models an organization can build on. The most significant means of characterization describes a matrix as being either “weak” or “strong”- which is directly from the PMI PMBOK. In a strong matrix, the project manager is empowered to a greater degree as compared to a weak matrix, wherein the project manager has less authority over resource selection and individual performance. In a strong matrix the project manager may participate in staffing decisions, responses to performance issues with policing powers and can provide direction to team leaders. In a weak matrix, the project manager tends to be more of a meeting representative, planner and metrics reporter who has to live with the decisions of the vertical team leaders – often developing the fine skills needed to repeatedly justify decisions made by others to the customer.

I believe Ms. Smallwood’s piece refers to project managers in weak matrix settings.  I wholeheartedly agree that a matrix can be effectively employed to make the most efficient use of people resources and skillsets, however this is not a given. Why?

To answer this question, consider that project managers take all shapes and sizes – some are very experienced and may have strong soft-skills. Others are less experienced or may be more in tune with their metrics and reports. some are very active in managing client relationships and expectations. There is also great variety of technical ability and understanding among project managers – some being able to make effective, objective resource and performance judgments using their own observations and knowledge. How does this variety affect the big picture? In a weak matrix, even the most skilled project manager is handcuffed by the limited authority. In an organization which is in it’s early years of establishing it’s PMO for the first time, it’s top leaders may be accustomed to making all the decisions themselves. The weak matrix allows this to a large degree. Likewise, if an organization has not been able to engage experienced, mature project managers, the weak matrix is well suited…as long as there is an umbrella of good PM supervision – or program management to oversee a not so empowered junior PM staff.

A fully engaged progression of leadership is needed in either case.

In reality, mid and low level managers of skill-centric verticals (a.k.a. team leaders) often obtain their position due to their superior technical and process acumen, however many have neither formal training nor skills in managing people and complex stakeholder relationships. This should not be overlooked, whereas the people – the team members reporting to them are the most significant resources on any project – and as such, must be managed with the greatest amount of skill and care. Allowing them to be led by mostly untrained team leaders will not do them justice. One could speculate that this may be a key factor in high turnover organizations. People tend to not complain about their immediate boss-they more often seek employment elsewhere. It’s no way to build an organization with staying power.

The single greatest project risk arising from this scenario is that the team leader – the functional manager of each vertical- may treat their sub-team as “the” team, rather than as a group contributor to the greater project team. This introduces a multiplicity of goal sets which are not included in any of the formal project planning – they swim beneath the surface, out of sight of the project management team. If permitted, functional team leaders will often manage to these hidden goals as their first priority which often leaves the actual project goals the PM is attempting to monitor and control flapping in the ever-changing breeze.

Misalignment between these sub-teams and the greater project is a major risk which nearly every matrix organization brings to all it’s projects.

In the greater scheme of things, roll this scenario upward, and consider how challenging the management of shared resource sub-teams can be within a program or portfolio of projects and programs. Who are these teams? Consider the ERP or DBA groups, perhaps others who maintain specific neighboring solutions or platforms and their interfaces – these and others all fit here. These are the teams you must work with, and whose tasks may need to fit into a critical chain on your project plan. If they each have their own informal plan and goal set, you’ll be fortunate to fit them into a critical chain -which of course will stretch your timeline and budget.

What may be going on within the shared or special team environment?

A low or mid-level manager in charge of one of these functional verticals may default to their comfort zone, where familiarity and a career background of performance reward environments will often have them drive their sub-team to perform in a narrow task focus. If it’s in process, it’s in focus. Everything else, including a behind schedule task the PM is attempting to promote remains secondary. Even the thorn in a main stakeholder’s side will not get elevated priority.

We expect the functional group to willingly share resources, however this is often a mistaken perception. Anyone who has worked in a PMO that includes this shared services principle knows what I’m talking about. Even highly skilled people like to stay in their comfort zones and only a small percentage really handles multi-tasking well. Resources in Shared Services teams need to know they are effectively “Shared Resources” and that they will support multiple projects on any given day or week. You’ll know this isn’t communicated clearly by leadership when people in lead roles tell you that they can’t support your need – because their team is already busy working on something else. They should really be looking to you to set priorities.  If you recognize the scenario and are thinking “Hey, that sounds like us…” yes, your organization may be a weak matrix and you really need to keep reading.

Perhaps the most obvious PM challenge in a matrix structure is establishing and maintaining accountability. I say establishing first, because team members who are accustomed to the matrix have already adapted to an environment where accountability has become largely absent. Let’s be honest about this – political correctness in the workplace has grown beyond reason. We empathize with low performers and reward people for being honest when they explain their inability. We grow the team to cover the weaknesses, rather than insisting on acceptable levels of performance.

The team leader usually has an arrangement with each of their sub-team members – something like “As long as you do this, I’ll protect you from that…”. This leaves the PM with a channel to the team leader, who invariably will respond to any challenge by citing their formal authority to manage their own team without the PM’s interference. These conversations can get ugly, as a result they are often just avoided – adding to the frustration.

In response to the question of how to hold team members accountable without this authority, Smallwood replies:

If team members are missing their deadlines you must first try to determine the cause. For example, if it is due to a lack of skills, this should be addressed through training or replacement resources. If it is because they do not fully understand the expectations you have, then you may have some changes to make as well.”

In the weak matrix structure, the PM’s authority to retrain or replace resources can be limited to making recommendations. This is another set of cases where the sub-team’s leader can block the PM’s effort to manage effectively. The thought that you, as a project manager may have some changes to make ( I add: unless you formally established expectations and realities early on) is dead on the mark.

The primary expectation you can, and must set is regarding communication. You should already have a communication plan in place, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. To manage properly, you need good, timely, unfiltered information. As PM, you absolutely must maintain open communications with all team members at every level and to expect truthful information from each in return. You will, of course, need good soft skills to get people to open up during a conflict or controversy. Since these are the times when good information is most vital, to succeed in a matrix environment a PM needs to excel in this area. Everyone on your greater team must know that honest and open formal and informal dialog is expectation number one.

I also mentioned the need to communicate realities. Given facts. Eye openers. Big-picture contexts. These are the things that let the project team know the ground rules, as well as potential and probable effects of their actions or lack thereof – simply stated – make sure everyone knows the reasons behind the ground rules.

Don’t try to bend the spoon. There is no spoon.

Interestingly, these are fairly common project success factors.  Sharing expectations, communicating openly, accountability, clearly set roles and responsibilities, and I’ll add leadership engagement and consistency. Unfortunately the degree to which a project manager can implement or enforce these proven principles in a solid, real way may not be a reality – like the spoon. You’ll need to use your mind to figure out how to build these, and other necessary success factors into your personal management style if you are to succeed in the matrix. There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. We’ll pick up here in part III.

 

 

Unique Challenges of Maximo Project Management, Part I

As someone who has planned, managed and staffed more projects of varied types and in industries than they would ever want to admit to, I have been provided exposure to – and experience with a wide variety of project management methods and styles – some good, and others not so much. Some methods were applied because they were aligned with, or spawned from the wisdom of the day. Others were used because someone – perhaps a stakeholder – had good knowledge and experience with them. Still others were creatively developed as either hybrid or unique attempts to try something new. Management Science may even describe some PM methods as having evolved from changes in business culture and political correctness, however this is the subject for another interesting article. This is a Maximo-centric blog, so let’s take a look at some of the specific reasons Maximo implementation projects require project management thinking beyond the ordinary.

A very common leadership approach to deciding on a methodology has been to compare various waterfall and change driven (agile) methods and then deciding which best fits the needs and constraints of a given environment. While commendable for engaging and applying an analytical process, this is where many projects are predestined to a category of long and costly struggles. Why? This may be a controversial answer, but consider why Maximo differs from a typical software development and implementation project.

Maximo implementations are unique in that they can be considered OOTB implementations requiring little configuration or tailorization – or they can be development-heavy efforts. In cases where considerable customization and code development is required, there is still a large subset of OOTB implementation and configuration tasks that need to be managed. The traditional approach to project management is challenged by this combination because it presents a need to marry development lifecycle management with tools and techniques more suited to deployment and configuration tasks. Rarely, if ever, does a single standard project methodology serve well to address this combination. Thus, an early directive to follow a waterfall or agile methodology begins a twisted journey for many Maximo projects.

The PMBOK tells us that the methods, tools and practices it espouses compose “….the standard for managing most projects most of the time…” Anyone who has built a career on a Maximo foundation yet has broader experience knows that Maximo is not unlike most other types of projects. There is a need to adapt a hybrid type of methodology which is part waterfall and part change-driven. A strict waterfall approach may seem like a safe, conservative approach, however chances are that a proposal and SoW were not based on the long running calendar and higher costs associated with this kind of non-overlapping phase method. We also know that a purely change-driven or Agile approach can launch a Maximo project into a never-ending loop of iterations and disappointments. The Maximo Project Manager’s first challenge is to accept this and to develop the best possible balance and synchronization of the two.

Stop and think about how change-driven methods came about when most enterprise solutions were very dependent upon freshly written custom code. There was a need to reach a level of completion which could be demonstrated and validated against expectations. During the pre-agile years, many software projects were completed and delivered after having been built to requirements which were no longer valid. One could only hope that enough of the product was still usable at project closure.
Interjecting change during waterfall dev phases meant that either someone hadn’t done a good job at requirements discovery – or the client was labeled as “difficult”.

Change-driven methodologies were developed to allow for multiple dev iterations with demos and testing in between each pass (yes, this is a bit oversimplified…). This gave the customer a perception of reduced risk, since the results could be checked and direction adjusted at multiple points on the timeline. Old-schoolers (including myself at one time) balked at a concept that appeared as if it was minimizing the need for development performance and accuracy while giving a team carte blanch to keep doing it over again until they got it right. In my own defense, this was at a time when there weren’t nearly as many acquisitions and reorganizations in a year as we now see on a monthly basis. Change has not only proved itself to be constant, but has increased by an order of magnitude. A project manager in today’s turbulent economic world would be remiss not to implement some degree of change-driven methodology.

Let’s apply these seemingly conflicting methods to a Maximo project.
The OOB label implies that there are many tasks which will be common to most, if not all similar projects. This leans in favor of waterfall, since an experienced implementer can re-run the same plays which they have scored with many times before.
The so-called “tailorization” can only be scripted at a high-level, so this and actual customization leans toward change-driven. With broadly based implementations having stakeholders and users spread across the enterprise, there will be more change to manage. This implies that more complex deployments require a greater degree of change driven PM application.

In any case, A project methodology which may appear to be waterfall at a high level which encompasses change-driven, or Agile cores within it’s phases can be very effective in accomplishing shorter timelines, reduced costs and well met expectations. Of course, this requires that phase overlap be included – and in fact, planned from day one.

….to be continued in Part II……

Link

How To Ensure Maximo Project Success It’s likely you’ve heard some of the same horrifying statistics I have. They come from numerous sources – some verifiable and others not. Twenty-nine percent of all enterprise solution projects are completed successfully. Only twenty-seven percent of Maximo deployments are deemed to be successful. Without wasting valuable time trying to verify these numbers, it’s most likely  more important to many of us that we ensure our Maximo project is successful. The last time I heard one of these stats, I asked “What criteria is used to determine success or failure?” This was one of those “….Open can, escape worms…” questions – with no single answer. Here is my best guess at what makes for a successful Maximo project. ROI – Albeit difficult to measure objectively and in real time. This should be number one. CM – The Importance of Change Management efforts. User Acceptance – If people aren’t using the system and handling all the change it injected, how can it generate any benefits? Sponsor Acceptance – Those high-level managers who banked on the project have their own measures. Do you know what they are? Maintainability – For any system to be considered successful, it must last. There must not be any stakeholders complaining about how difficult it is to maintain. I was asked to speak on this topic in the context of assisting anyone planning a Maximo upgrade or deployment. I started from a historical perspective based on numerous projects, citing reasons for success or failure. This was presented at IBM Pulse 2013. Although this is an outline without a lot of detail, it still highlights the important success elements and provides some references. It discusses the importance of Change Management across the client organization at a fairly high level as well. The original Slides have been made available through the link below. After reading through it, please let me know what you think. Top Down Maximo Success

Simplified SCCD UI Makeover Due For Maximo

SCCD 7.5.1 now has a newly redesigned user interface which is expected to be applied to the next major Maximo update. If you haven’t seen it yet, IBM has made a demo site available to select Business Partners, and it’s worth checking out. Could this be the best reason yet for updating? Even if it’s not, the new scheme includes a number of features, which while apparently subtle at first, actually make the user’s experience much more friendly and intuitive. Here are just a couple of quick points to whet your appetite.

1. The most obvious improvement is the amount of screen width the apps consume. Everyone who has used Maximo knows first-hand that the current wide aspect view requires a wide aspect monitor with fairly high resolution. This is great if the user has 20/20 vision, but quickly becomes a frustration for those of us who don’t. The OOB Configuration now fits in approximately 30% less width, which is a significant difference. Even reasonably wide customized presentations will now fit nicely on most standard monitors without creating a need to scroll side to side. If your organization uses applications with extra fields and complex forms and reports, this should make life easier for your users, which as we know, will help them to be more productive.

2. While the GoTo menu can still be pulled open from the header (now from the left instead of the right side) there is a nifty collapsing menu which allows a full visual approach not only to all the applications, but also actions. There’s a common action section in the new toolbar as well as common-sense groupings of most, if not all of the navigation points you’d ever need to find. The beauty of this toolbar is that if borrows the collapsing capability which is common to many development environments. This allows the user to bring it in or out of view with one click. Hiding it restores the full width of the screen again.

3. While checking out the collapsing menu, you may notice that an applications tabs will now wrap to a second row instead of running off the screen and requiring horizontal scrolling. We observed this tab-wrapping either when expanding the collapsing menu or working in a smaller size window. This is great for busier applications and should come in especially handy with ACM.

As a programmers and developers, we get so wrapped up in the functionality and flow, that it’s easy to lose focus on how much effect a user interface can have on the user experience. A quick tour on the new SCCD interface awakened every thought I ever knew about the importance of design and it’s effect on productivity.

When will this be made available for Maximo? Soon, we hope. Maximo has grown into a very comprehensive tool set for all manners of asset and related work management Presenting it’s controls on the screen in a way that allows the average user a good comfort level and new users a short learning curve has been challenging. This update changes the way everyone will look at Maximo. (No pun intended.) To the new user, the view is simpler and more eye-pleasing. Remembering navigation groups becomes easier with the new collapsing toolbar. To the experienced user, the changes are easy to adapt to. Everything once used is still there, and at the top level, there will only be a couple of changes in the first click or two – which is overall a minor learning task and easy to master quickly.

Out of curiosity, I opened the demo site on an inexpensive (read: 10″ low-resolution) Android tablet. Much to my surprise, I found that it was actually useable. Will this open up a new set of device options? Perhaps, especially since the introduction of a number of convertible devices with large screens and the many padded drop-resistant tablet holders now available.

The bottom line: This improvement deserves a thumbs-up. It should weigh heavily on any Maximo user’s upgrade decision – once it is officially made available. Again, when will that be? I was fortunate to have had this demonstrated to me by Matt Logsdon at Cohesive Information Solutions. I’m sure he will be among the first to  know not only when, but how to get it.

Thoughts on Android as a Platform for Enterprise Data Apps

Is Android a Good Platform for Enterprise Data Apps?

Since I’ve been speaking and writing about Maximo Anywhere lately, a few thoughts have come to mind. In particular, the concept of using a lite version SQL server on Android devices left a few questions in my mind. While working on a recent project which included developing an Android database app with SQLite I came across a few statements in the documentation which I feel are significant.

1 & 2: Android provides full support for SQLite databases. Any databases you create will be accessible by name to any class in the application, but not outside the application.

So, Android apps take advantage of all SQLite has to offer. Some features & API’s only support a subset, or partial implementation of feature sets. There are no compromises with SQLite.

The Android OS does a nice job of protecting your data. Early in the development process, one learns that any data, ie; files, which are stored “Internally” are not accessible from outside the app without class-specific information. This extends equally to default SQLite inclusion. The data can be made to be accessible by other apps by jumping through a few hoops, however, extra effort is not required to keep it safe. Note that this is a native feature of the Android OS, rather than a(n) SQLite feature.

3. Local data stored in SQLite tables is automatically deleted when an app is uninstalled.

This makes one of the primary security concerns of device management a non-complex task, because an uninstall will wipe all app related confidential data.

The documentation states: “Note: When the user uninstalls your application, this directory and all its contents are deleted. Also, the system media scanner does not read files in these directories, so they are not accessible from the MediaStore content provider.”

Maximo Anywhere, on the Worklight platform, can provide administrative functionality  by setting up a self-manageable app store which is tailored to provide this kind of device management functionality that is as effective as an on-connect update. Translation: Without much effort, your Admin can selectively uninstall, and thus delete data from a single device – once this capability is set up.

After doing a fair amount of MS/SQL, SQL/Java programming, and more SQL/php than I want to admit to, I can say that these features and functionality come at a price, but it’s not one the customer team needs to pay. SQLite is a unique animal which requires extensive transaction management in the app’s code (think Unix). There is a really neat helper class to tap, however SQLite definitely requires greater programming skills compared to any mainstream DB programming done for Windows/PC platforms.

That said, my hat’s off to not only the Maximo Anywhere and Worklight dev teams, but to anyone who has crafted Android DB apps- even competing solutions using this technology, such as EZMax Mobile and others. Whether they all knew these things in advance, I can’t say. I will however not hesitate to recommend or use SQLite on Android in future development projects, for these reasons and others.

What do you think? What can you add?

Maximo Anywhere WM Released – Entitlements & Three Key Considerations

Right on cue, the first Maximo Anywhere work manager was made available on Dec. 10, 2013. Here is a link to the official announcement: ENUS213-476. Here we take a look at how the promise of license entitlement has held up, plus three heavily weighted factors you’ll want to consider before deciding on adopting Maximo Anywhere. There are no fancy graphics in this post – just some solid food for thought regarding the new offering from IBM.

License Trade-ups and Entitlements

We have written several articles on Maximo Anywhere, and one of the hottest topics has been centered on license trade-ups and entitlements, and I can understand why. There have been a fair number of recent legacy Maximo Mobile Suite installations done just prior to this new product release, and the prospect of moving to Maximo Anywhere from the legacy product to Anywhere is on people’s minds.

We leaked some information a few months ago revealing IBM’s plan to provide entitlements to users with legacy mobile s/w licenses, and, these entitlements are now official in the form of trade-ups from Maximo Anywhere and entitlements from Maximo Mobile Work Manager. While we recommend that you read the release document for specific information, the section on this topic basically says that a user can trade up from Anyplace with what amounts to a 20% credit and from Mobile Work manager at 80%. Basically you can trade-in 10 licenses of Maximo Anyplace for 2 Maximo Anywhere licences, or 10 Maximo Mobile Work Manager licenses for 8 Maximo Anywhere licenses.

If your IBM salesperson previously offered you a 1:1 entitlement, keep in mind that you’ll probably need to remind them when ordering. Procuring through a Business Partner  may help in such a situation.

Three Key Factors

I understand you come to this site for unique insight, so I won’t waste your time re-telling standard product information here. I can add some thoughts from business and functional perspectives which may help you decide if Maximo Anywhere is a good fit for your organization. Compared to the array of mobile offerings, Maximo Anywhere is outstanding in several ways that build our confidence in the product. These are the easy to forget single provider point; direct integration with IBM’s Endpoint management tools; and plans for future growth and expansion into other functional areas and device platforms.

Single Provider Reduces Risks

If you are a long-time Maximo user, you know the issues centered around environments with solutions and modules from multiple vendors. Maximo version upgrades and even fix packs become problematic. IBM has no obligation to ensure that your XYZ branded add-on will work when Maximo 8 is released. An update or upgrade could conceivable turn your previous off-brand investments into write-offs. Also, imagining deploying a third-party mobile platform that requires specialized knowledge when working with Maximo in general. You may need to involve a\multiple vendors whenever you adjust or tweak your environment in even the smallest way. This translates into potential nightmares of delays, downtime and unanticipated cost. (We’ve all seen them.) This is a topic that should cause us to look beyond the flash and glitter of third-party solutions. A responsible decision maker must consider the long-term risks.

Importance of Endpoint Management

It’s no secret that along with the obviously large gains, mobility comes with risk. I understand the largest risk factor to be related to having numerous small (possibly BYOD) connected devices which are not always in the organizations physical control. What happens when a device is lost, stolen, or in the hands of a disgruntled former employee? My imagination runs wild on this point – likely yours does also., especially if you are in a seat of responsibility. Endpoint management becomes a vital requirement. We’ll publish a separate article on IBM’s parallel offering.

The take-away here, is that full control of devices in these situations is available from the same source- which empowers you to remotely delete s/w or data on devices in similar situations. Again, look to a future article on this subject.

How might you handle deploying upgrades and updates on these devices? Again, Maximo Anyplace allows you to establish what is effectively, your own internal app store. With this capability you can manage how distribution of initial install software is handled as well as future updates, and even complete software replacements. Think of the solid reputation the largest Android  app stores have for delivering and managing millions of installations on myriad device types, then imagine having the same kind of control over your Maximo Anywhere distribution. The ability to keep everyone on the same page easily is a huge benefit.

Forward Looking Considerations

Peering forward from an already forward looking position is a habit of many successful managers. Mobile device technology’s rapid progression means that the future is nearer than we think. Moore’s law won’t apply in this arena, and hasn’t for some time. This may leave us feeling as if we have a telescope with a blurry view, but the more we look ahead, the chances of being aligned with hardware and platform advances means that we’ll be ready to handle emerging risks and to implement tools which will provide additional gains.

A mobile strategy needs to be centered on technology which can grow and be molded by future advances. CFO’s are still looking at payback and ROI in traditional terms, so putting your name on a solution that becomes obsolete or limited in a few short years can be an embarrassment, or even a career killer. The platform of choice needs to be more of an adaptable infrastructure. The reason that so many mobile adopters quickly pass over Windows based offerings is obvious. While it is in place in the vast majority of enterprises, it is obviously near the end of it’s lifecycle. The MS mother-ship continually fails to make ground and can’t seem to catch up in the mobile era.

Maximo Anywhere was wisely produced on the Android platform first, because, again, forward thinkers are moving away from MS dependency toward either Android or iOS. I mentioned in another recent article why from a developer’s perspective Android is a better choice. Yet, IBM has discussed plans to not only grow maximo Anywhere into other functional areas, such as possibly Inventory Management, etc., however look for additional device platform compatibility to come next. iOS and Windows 8.x++ have been discussed. The direct translation is: 1. If MS improves their platform and provided enterprise functionality to the point where using the device for Maximo and other enterprise software becomes a solid option, Maximo Anywhere will be able to accommodate a device platform swap. The same applies to a future iOS swap-in. iOS and Windows are good examples that illustrate the need to be ready for whatever the future may bring.

I believe Maximo Anywhere is the most future-proofed mobile Maximo tool to date. I suggest this is the reason we waited so long for it’s first release. The IBM team went to considerable lengths to ensure they would release a product that will stand the test of time. There are some very, very smart third-party folks out there, however logic says that they couldn’t possibly have afforded the research needed to future-proof their offerings and to provide endpoint management nearly as well as the Anywhere offering. The very nature of third-party tie-ins is often a risk filled proposition.

Summary

For these three reasons, Maximo Anywhere is likely to become widely accepted. Oh, did I neglect to mention the smooth ESRI maps integration built into Anywhere’s Work Manager? It provides what can be described as near-desktop capabilities with small-screen ease of use. I spent considerable time with this feature during the pre-release Technical Enablement sessions because, to me, IBM provided the familiarity and easy use we see with consumer mapping apps- with the power of ESRI and Maximo behind it. This is functionality that workers and managers will both appreciate.

Maximo Anywhere is different – in a good way. The skills needed to deploy and manage it are not excessive nor magically secret, however deploying it well does require thinking from a new perspective. IBM has empowered a select handful of business partners to do just that – guide you through a successful, forward-looking implementation.

Maximo Anywhere Workshop Report

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I mentioned in an earlier article that I was selected to attend an invitation only Maximo Anywhere pre-release workshop November 11 & 12 at the IBM Austin center, I wrote that I would report back when it was completed, so here are my observations and experiences.

The Team

The product strategy and architecture managers led a team of development leads in a two day, behind the curtains expose and hands-on of the pre-release beta version. Two things became strikingly obvious in the early hours: This was THE team responsible for leading the development of the product vision through development. The presenters were the people that know all there is to know about Maximo Anywhere, as it was clear that they are it’s creators. It was a unique experience to be able to hear their rationale behind many design and functional decisions, as well as their uncanny knowledge of details behind the architecture and configuration requirements and procedures. The super-high level of commitment this team has made to the new Anywhere product was evident in both the openness of their presentations and candid discussions with the attendees during each section of the workshop. We were told with no uncertainty that this team will provide an unprecedented level of support to early adopters, and the business partners working with them. In this writer’s experience, rarely, if ever, does a major software provider give access to a core group responsible for the birth of a new product. it was refreshing and a relief to know that my time at this event would be well spent.

The Product: Maximo Anywhere

Almost anyone who has worked with mobile software in the Maximo realm is familiar with the potential shortcomings that have plagued earlier releases from both IBM and third parties. Three primary ones have been addressed from the get-go. Issues involving data transactions when connectivity is lost and re-gained lead my list, then user friendliness and device battery life follow. I’ll touch on these in the context of the about to be released Work Execution and Work Approval applications.

Although I questioned it at first, separating the two sets of functionality was a wise decision. A high-level strategy on this development project was explained, and my simple understanding is that Maximo was built to include a very broad set of possible use applications, and that this has caused the desktop UI to grow into one which can be intimidating to new adopters. Maximo Anyplace diverts from this 180 degrees, and the team was (and is) intent upon providing each user with only what they need, when they need it. I believe busy supervisors and managers will appreciate having a simplified screen which will allow them to manage approvals at a fast glance. Likewise, selecting a work order, starting and stopping a work clock with single taps allows the users performing the work to get at all the details they should need quickly and accurately without having to figure out the process each time. The focus was maintained on maximizing wrench-time, with the handheld not being included as a wrench. Kudos are well deserved here.

Connectivity Issues addressed with unique strategy

The Maximo Anywhere Work Execution app maintains a daily work list in local memory. Unlike the earlier Windows based MMS products, the occasional data refresh, now termed as “lookup data” download occurs very quickly – on the order of a few seconds. This data is what the user works with while they create work transactions on the device, whether connected or not. This provides for a very quick, snappy response which I have not seen in any previous Maximo mobile product. The device syncs with the server regularly, in a pre-determined time period, which is configurable. This “hearbeat” is defaulted to 20 minutes OOB, which seems to be a reasonable amount of time between automated syncing. Of course, the user can initiate the sync process manually with a touch or two, any time they feel it might be beneficial. Otherwise, not to worry, the app will handle it for you. At the initiation of each heartbeat, the app checks for connectivity. If it is not connected, the sync is postponed and the worker can continue, with work being written to local memory until the next automated sync takes place. The heartbeat concept provided a seamless user experience, where the user is totally unaware of the attempted connections, re-connections and data syncing. This proved to be the finest presentation of mobile device software functioning smoothly during connected, non-connected, and even during use with intermittent connection that I have seen. This promises to deliver accurate performance for remote users in fringe mobile areas as well as for workers traversing in and out of WiFi connectivity during their work day. Others have promised this kind of performance – the Maximo Anywhere team it seems, has fully delivered.

User Friendliness

A point of overall design-for-use strategy was explained early on day 1. Over the years, many users have expressed a desire to have simple user interfaces, exposing only what the user needs. While we may note that there are some simple interfaces available in Maximo mobility, Maximo Anywhere presents a simple interface which is also familiar to the Maximo desktop user in it’s appearance and functionality, yet it is elegantly simple. The development team clearly worked hard to ensure that first time users won’t look at the screen in wonderment – not knowing what to do next. There is a clean, easy to read presentation which becomes familiar in  no time. Likewise, the functional flow was designed with a common-sense approach which someone who is not familiar with Maximo should be able to pick up quickly. In either case, this translates to s very short learning curve, so adoption shouldn’t put a dent in the organization’s work execution. I expect even early adopters will gain productivity from the first day of use.

The Phase 1 release is also designed for large smart-phone and small tablet hardware, which makes sense to most of the Maximo users I talk with. Not many people are ready to think of carrying a 10″ tablet in the workplace just yet. A number of restaurant chains are using 7″ devices in what is already a semi-rugged and wet environment, and I suspect this is the format we may see gain acceptance with Maximo Anywhere. Personally, I prefer the SIII’s screen size, and Anywhere is easy to use on it.

Bar coding, as I also mentioned in a previous post, does implement the Zebra Crossing (ZXing) barcode scanning engine. It is a very smooth implementation – simply tap to highlight the field you want the bar code entered into, then to capture the bar code. The scanner immediately activates, giving you a good view of what the device camera is pointing at.  ZXing takes advantage of the device’s camera centric capabilities, for example, auto-focus, which can take a couple of seconds. This may seem like an eternity to those who are accustomed to traditional hand-held laser scanners, however, it really is only a few seconds at the most, which may add up to less than a minute over the course of a day. I expect that we’ll hear that Anywhere saves as much as an hour per worker per shift, so it’s a good trade-off.

Tip: I have been working with ZXing code for a couple of years in other projects, and it will scan 2D codes much faster without any accuracy loss. If you can’t get past the 2 or 3 seconds a 1D scan takes, I suggest implementing 2D codes from day 1. Why? The effort required to convert even a single  facility from 1D to 2D probably couldn’t be cost justified unless you have thousands of scans taking place every day…

Tip: You can test 1D vs. 2D response time of the ZXing barcode engine now with the free “ClicSys Counter” evaluation app, which is available on the Google Play Store.

Battery Life

Some early third-party releases in this field have shown lackluster battery life performance, and I have noticed that this issue, while not often discussed, is fairly common. I don’t need to explain the impact a dead battery can have on the assigning, monitoring and reporting of work via a handheld. This appears to be a non-issue with Maximo Anywhere. I used a Samsung SIII and a 10″ mid-grade Acer Android tablet for the duration of two days worth of constant demos, instruction and testing, and I can honestly say that I saw no noticeable reduction in battery life as compared to my normal daily usage. I am the guy that carries a spare phone battery and is always conscious of the power-state of my devices, so I was keenly interested in how my device’s batteries would perform once anywhere was installed and running. I subjected Maximo Anywhere to the scenarios which, from my experience, are more power issue-prone.

First, I intentionally disconnected my SIII and reconnected it. I also performed manual syncs – which is not really necessary. I tried this while in & out of WiFi and on Wireless. I saw no notable battery degradation. I also tried leaving my tablet connected via WiFi for hours at a time, only to find that it still reported a 94% charge at the end of an 8 hour period. In my book, this is unprecedented power performance.

The IBM team explained the function of the “heartbeat” (mentioned earlier) in some detail, and I am certain that this is a main contributor to the excellent power performance, as there is no need, nor mechanism for the device to repeatedly “hunt” for a connection. It’s all managed in a rather efficient, and common-sense way. The fact that this design strategy and heartbeat component provides such great power performance AND seamless, transparent data syncing shows, in my opinion, that Maximo Anywhere is an uncommonly well planned and executed software package.

Phase 1 Release  Pending

IBM will be issuing a release/availability communication for this first-phase product very soon – literally days from now. (I’ll not try to steal their thunder!) This release will be for an Android 4.x + compatible product, and I have been assured that as of 11/12, there is still a plan in place to provide license upgrade entitlements to current MMS/MWM users.  If I were a decision maker in a Maximo user organization, I would jump on it now, as any new release policies are always subject to change.

The pricing model is a bit different, giving authorized Maximo Anywhere users access to Maximo through the conventional front-end, and enabling some capabilities not currently provided with core Maximo (These are needed for features such as mapping). This makes for a simple-to understand license strategy for adopters.

Summary

I don’t want to risk saying too much prior to the official release date, yet I hope this was helpful information. I came away from this event with 30+ pages of technical and functional notes regarding everything from architecture through configuration. Since each page could easily translate to a full article, I’ll add new articles here with more technical and functional details over the course of time. I anticipate writing on Map & Routing Integration (Which MA does very well now), and Security. If there are any topics you would like to know more about, let me know and I’ll do my best to fill in the blanks.

A key point that I should make clear now is that Maximo Anywhere is a tool which is configurable, but reasons to customize the product should be rare, and are even discouraged. The Work Execution and Work Approval apps will cover all the usual work management tasks OOB. Unless someone has truly unique requirements, there should be no need to invest in anything beyond basic configuration.

I won’t touch the Android vs. iOS vs. Windows 8 debate, yet I am glad that the Android platform was chosen for phase 1. Developers would understand why it was a better choice despite the iOS “cool factor” or Windows familiarity. Maximo Anywhere’s Phase 1 was definitely implemented for Android, and some of the more obvious features of the device platform come through loud and clear. I was curious as to why Android’s fragments technology wasn’t implemented – which would have allowed the app to automatically select the best device-specific screen layout at run-time. The reason is that Anywhere doesn’t really borrow very much from the Android platform. It is more of a genuine from-scratch build which does not even rely on the os for control objects . This should protect the code from the issues that creep up on many existing Android apps as hardware and os revisions continue.

That said, I would really like to hear your thoughts and opinions. IBM is also keenly interested in your platform preferences and reasons. Feel free to comment on this topic, or with any questions regarding Maximo Anywhere. My gut tells me that what was demonstrated and dissected this week was real, and this is the mobile solution we’ve all been waiting for.

If you would like to arrange a demo of Maximo Anywhere, or almost any of the available mobile platforms for Maximo, drop me a line at chris@clicsys.com or admin@mavenasset.com

 

Free Mobile Inventory Evaluation App Released For Android

 

ClicSysCounter Play Store Header Image

Play Store Header Image

Clic Systems, Inc. has released a new Android App that should prove useful to anyone interested in exploring their options when starting to plan a mobile implementation for Maximo.

ClicSysCounter is a barcode enabled mobile inventory client which provides basic inventory functions such as checking and adjusting item quantities in various locations and bins. By scanning a barcoded item id, the app will display a list of all locations where the item is inventoried and the respective quantity for each bin. A tap on one of the items in the list opens a details screen which allows adjusting the quantity for that particular item/bin combination.

Quantity views are displayed and adjustments are recorded in real-time, since the app connects to Maximo directly. No additional server-side components are required.

ClicSysCounter works via WiFi or Wireless, however since it is a “Lite” version intended for evaluation and demo use, it relies solely on Application Server Security. Likewise opening a port or configuring it to work with LDAP is the user’s responsibility. For these reasons, it is strongly recommended that the app not be used for regular commercial deployment.

So, why release such a tool?
It’s a great starting point when deciding which of the available technologies is a best fit for your organization. For example, getting a feel for using an Android handheld device may clear up any questions you may have about scanning barcodes with the device’s camera, or help determine whether smart phones will serve you well, or if tablets provide any advantages in your situation.

Will this app be expanded or monetized?
ClicSysCounter may be updated or revised from time to time, however there are no plans to expand it into an enterprise production tool. There are already a number of excellent mobile solutions offered for Maximo. Although different from each other, there is certainly at least one which meets the needs of any given application.

Our position on mobile solution choices is device and vendor neutral. We would prefer that you call on us to help you evaluate your requirements and to then plan and implement your mobile rollout with the solution which is the best fit- without bias or influence from any single vendor perspective. It is not our intent to compete with the current solution providers. Each offering has it’s unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and we would rather work with them to help ensure you will get the best set of mobile tools that meets your organizations needs.

ClicSysCounter is available as a free download on the Google Play store here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.clicsys.clicsyscounter&hl=en   or, search the store for ClicSysCounter or Clic Systems.

Specifications:

  • Maximo Compatibility:   v 7.5.x
  • Device Compatibility: Android 2.3 & up, designed for smartphones and tested on Samsung S3
  • Connectivity:    WiFi or Wireless
  • Security:    Application server security only. Maximo user and pw saved in app settings
  • LDAP client included:     No
  • Device management: Not included
  • Evaluation period:    Unlimited
ClicSysCounter Play Store Screenshots

ClicSysCounter Play Store Screenshots

 

Please read the disclaimer in the Play Store listing before download/install, and feel free to comment on your experience with ClicSysCounter.

 

 

 

IBM Maximo Anywhere – Official Implementer Training Begins November 2013

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If you are among the many Maximo users either holding off your mobile implementation, or waiting to implement a new mobile strategy, here’s a quick update.

IBM is holding the first-ever official training workshop for Maximo Anywhere, the long-awaited multi-platform Worklight-based mobile solution for Maximo. The information we published previously on this topic remains our best advice – that is get started and don’t wait. Remember, ROI on mobile implementations is already excellent, and the proposed licensing migration entitlement from Maximo Mobile Suite without charge – is a tremendous incentive. Now with the first wave of implementation experts being trained, you may have to get in line.

The training workshop takes place this month at IBM’s Austin campus. Don’t even try to get added to the roster – it’s an invitation only event. IBM knowing that the quality of the initial implementations will set the tone for future sales, has wisely invited only a small number of participants from highly qualified Maximo-centered business partners to attend. This ensures that early-adopters will be served by individuals and organizations that are known to have the highest level of experience and expertise from both technical and functional perspectives.

While the list of invitees has not been made public, IBM Advanced Business Partner Maven Asset Management, Inc. has been invited and will be participating in this first class. This means that Clic Systems, Inc. will also have the capability to provide formally trained experts to assist with your Maximo Anyplace implementation.

We will be sure to post more information here as it becomes available, however, the word is that there are numerous organizations who have been waiting for an official release of a post-beta product, so expect long lines to delay your start date. As a reminder, Maximo Anywhere is built on mature, safe and proven Worklight technology – making early adoption a uniquely low-risk decision.

We’ve included a link to IBM’s Solution Brief on Maximo Anywhere here for your convenience.

To be placed on our short-list for Maximo Anywhere projects, please contact chris (at) clicsys.com. Alternately contact jgatza (at) mavenasset.com.