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Flow of information is a vital issue for any enterprise; however, for Army logistics, which upholds the most rigorous requirements for response time, it is literally a matter of life and death. The Army's intricate logistics issues are further compounded by the many kinds of Army entities (ranging from arsenals and depots to commands and bases), which are distributed across wide physical geography, and which use a myriad of information systems that may not work seamlessly together. To do their jobs within this environment, decision makers would like not only to have the disparate information within each entity integrated, but also would like to have access to relevant information across their entire logistics enterprise. They would like further to be able to make changes to this data and have the changes be automatically disseminated throughout the entire distributed organization, and have all related processes instantly brought into line. This type of information management, called global query and events control, would enable a widely distributed enterprise to maneuver within days its entire heterogeneous operation in anticipation of future events; and upon encountering adverse conditions, to change that course of action immediately. With such information control, changes made on the shop floor of an arsenal or a depot, distribution center, or command level would be registered in real time throughout the entire enterprise structure, eliminating the need for an exceptional communications effort from central control.

The Metadatabase technology, developed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute under the sponsorships of IBM, Digital, GE, GM, Alcoa and Samsung, promises to provide such a flexible, customized information solution to complex, large-scale logistics environments. If installed into the configuration of Army depots and arsenals, the Metadatabase would provide a comprehensive linkage between each Army locale, giving personnel the ability to search the global Army environment for particular pieces of data, and control global events. If one were, for instance, performing a search on the status of a weapon system, the search would return the information on the widget development at Arsenal A, the frame manufacture at Depot B, the electronics board subcontractor's schedule, and the schedule for assembly at Plant C-information which was drawn from each Arsenal and Depot connected through the Metadatabase.

The strength of global query capability is matched by the ability to control events from a distance. Personnel may modify data on a global scale, such as changing the deadline in the research, prototype, and manufacture of a weapon system. Normally, any such scheduling change would begin a cascading effect; one Army arsenal would inform another using telephone until all were informed. Each in turn would have to determine which information systems required updating, locate the affected databases and implement the changes piecemeal, and finally, realign all pertinent processes to ensure consistency. In contrast, the Metadatabase would perform all of the above repetitious and error-prone tasks on-line. Personnel would be able to change the global schedule associated with a particular weapon system in real time, thus simultaneously redirecting all Army efforts with a minimum loss of transitional time.

Due to its rule-based structure, installation of the Metadatabase does not have to replace existent Army data structures; all Depot and Arsenal activities would continue undisturbed. However, the Metadatabase would provide additional capability on top of all current and future Depot and Arsenal data banks by allowing them to interact as one entity within the Metadatabase. Personnel with Metadatabase management access could perform enterprise-wide searches, and also modify the data on a global scale to control future events. The Metadatabase is also infinitely expandable; its structure provides for unlimited computing growth within all Arsenals and Depots. All three types of networks are supported within the Metadatabase environment: Local Area Networks (LANs) that connect workstations to a server in a single locale, Wide Area Networks (WANs) that operate across regional distances, and single system mainframes. The Metadatabase will be as complex a structure as the data structures that it represents.

The Metadatabase is arguably one of the most heterogeneous database management systems currently available. Samsung Electronics Corporation (SEC), an $8 billion dollar conglomerate with color TV and refrigerator divisions distributed throughout Asia and Europe, chose the Metadatabase over commercially available database systems because it uniquely addresses enterprise-wide integration and management needs. Before choosing the Metadatabase, SEC conducted a year-long study of commercial and corporate research database systems. SEC found that the Metadatabase offers some unique power, flexibility and potential for future growth. Many commercially available packages addresses either database capabilities only over LAN, or provide file transfer/work flow across Wide Area Networks (WANs). Some latest (research) solutions support global query and update events control within a single site mainframe or small-scale LAN - a far cry from addressing the needs of any widely distributed enterprise such as SEC or the Army. Consequently, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is developing the Metadatabase into a product-level technology for SEC. A possible collaboration with HP is also being worked on. This project is slated to be over in two years.

Leveraged on the Samsung project, the Metadatabase can be customized for Army manufacturing and logistics information systems within three years. It would reduce cycle time; cut processing costs; enhance computer-aided logistics and support performance; enable centralized shop floor control; and improve product and inventory planning, administration, and electronic data exchange between Army facilities. Deliverables would include (1) a completed Army prototype including a methodology that provides modeling and new system construction techniques, (2) a pilot Metadatabase system installed at an Army facility for particular applications, (3) and, paths for the inclusion of additional Army facilities into the Metadatabase environment.

 

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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (formally Decision Sciences & Engineering Systems)
110 8th St., Center for Industrial Innovation, Room 5123, Troy, NY 12180-3590

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