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CERC Technical Report Series

Research Note



V. Jagannathan

January 1995

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This effort was sponsored by the Advanced Research Projects Agency

(ARPA), under Grant No. MDA972-91-J-1022 for the DARPA Initiative in Concurrent Engineer-

ing (DICE).

Concurrent Engineering Research Center

West Virginia University

P. O. Box 6506, Morgantown WV 26506

Information Sharing Project 1

Copyright 1995, CERC,West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 1

1. Problem Description

The successful practice of concurrent engineering (CE) depends upon the willingness and capability of the team members to share product information. Willingness is essential because CE requires a committment to collaborating with other members of a multi-disciplinary product team. The second requirement, capability, involves the means to share information using software tools that have been integrated into the working environment.

Anyone attempting to incorporate the practices and mechanisms of information sharing into the workings of an organization will face a number of hurdles. Recognizing these impediments, which are technological as well as social, will enable the champion of collaborative environments to appropriately address them.

1.1 Corporate structure and culture

The structure and operating culture of an organization have a significant impact on the willingness of people to share information. Companies that have rigidly defined hierarchies and protocols have a difficult time implementing multidisciplinary teams that cooperate through the active exchange of information. Organizations with fewer hierarchies and with greater empowerment of its employees seem to be better able to create successful teams.

1.2 Proprietary information and security protocols

Various departments within an organization have their own computer information systems. Since department protocols often restrict computer access to personnel within the department, the information within the computer system is not directly accessible by personnel from other departments. Often, computers from different departments cannot talk to each other because they are not interconnected or they have incompatible communications software. In such cases, it is not uncommon to find that people transfer information physically between systems via what is derisively referred to as SneakerNet -- data is downloaded from one computer to external storage media, such as magnetic disks or tapes, which are then transported to the other computer site and uploaded.