Motorola Web Empowers Its Employees and Organization
Aonix helps Motorola deliver a Web-enabled version of its information training system that provide the same processing power and functionality of its current system, but accommodates modifications that come about due to customer requirements.
Motorola University is an integral part of Motorola, Inc., a company that evolved from a manufacturer of automobile radios in the 1930s to become a $28 billion technology leader with a significant presence on six continents. Respect for the individual and uncompromising integrity in everything we do are two of the fundamental values around which Motorola’s business is built.
Each year, each of Motorola’s more than 139,000 employees worldwide is required to complete a predetermined number of training hours focusing on Motorola products and services. This training, whether computer-based instruction, workshops or formal classroom training, is also available to Motorola’s suppliers and customers. Specific courses cover a wide range and must accommodate remote personnel with varying skills. They include Engineering, Safety, Computer Technology, Manufacturing, Marketing, Communication, Cultural Diversity, Management, Networking, Quality, Total Customer Satisfaction, Professional Development, Sales, Technical Training and many more.
The administrative ability to serve all of these individuals in their training needs led to the development of the Motorola Training Information System (MTIS) on the VM mainframe. Launched in 1985 to help track training hours, the system is written in NOMAD (a fourth Generation Programming Language from Aonix) and is critical to Motorola’s employee development program.
Because MTIS was developed long before user-friendly, graphical interfaces were commonplace, we began looking several years ago for a replacement that would incorporate these state-of-the-art features.
It was important to find a replacement that would give us the same processing power and functionality provided by the MTIS system, but one that was also flexible enough to accommodate customizations. Modifications to software are required to reflect the changing needs of the different businesses as they evolve, and changing external requirements brought forth by customers and suppliers. For productivity, we required that developers be able to customize easily and swiftly, and that all user interfaces be user-friendly to a wide population.
In January 1996, Sam Baker, Manager, Business Systems Development and Support for Motorola University, with Aonix consultants, began investigating the feasibility of Web-enabling the existing MTIS system. There were many unknowns about the availability and interfacing of technologies. For example, we explored:
- Whether to buy or make the software. Purchasing off-the-shelf software was our first choice, but we were unable to find a viable solution that met the above criteria for user friendliness and flexibility.
- Whether to use a two-tier or three-tier solution. We decided on a two-tier solution to avoid having to purchase additional hardware and to be able to easily and economically accommodate large numbers of Internet users.
- The various types of the two-tier solutions. We looked at screen scraping and terminal emulation, but we required a GUI user interface with full HTML graphic and performance benefits, and we needed functionality that is robust enough to handle our processing. To meet these requirements, we selected Web-enablement.
- How to Web-enable our existing MTIS system. We decided to leave the bulk of the system alone, and to create custom software to access the NOMAD application and its data. For expansion, we also wanted the flexibility to be able to access data in a variety of databases and any programming language, using SQL or REXX, if we should ever need to. We further determined that access through the use of CGI calls would meet our criteria.
- Compatibility and networking issues to select the proper components. We had TCP/IP available for VM. It was known that the majority of Web servers were developed with a UNIX structure in mind. It was not known whether or how a Web server could be deployed using the VM mainframe file structure. We discovered that it would be possible to use a Web server that would be installed on the VM host and utilize VM’s TCP/IP to exchange requests and information with the client-side browser.
- What skills and training would have to be acquired. We had to also become acquainted with HTML and CGI technologies. We needed to have the ability to turn static Web pages into a dynamic, transaction-based application. Eventually, HTML and CGI(REXX) script files were kept on a shared file system which was linked to the VM Web server.
With these decisions behind us, we were able to begin work on the solution, working closely with consultants from Aonix.
In less than five months, a Web-enabled version of MTIS was implemented. It uses custom software that was further developed into a licensed product by Aonix, and is known as "RP/Web." At the time, the plug-in Web server component for VM, was a shareware application which has also been enhanced further and developed into a product that is now remarketed by Aonix as part of the total Web-enablement solution. The new application was deployed on Motorola’s own intranet, a private world-wide TCP/IP network.
An unusual sequence of events then followed. Many users believed that they had discovered a beta version of MTIS-II [the long-awaited rewrite of MTIS]. They were reviewing course catalogues, checking class availability, enrolling for classes and even signing-on to certain computer-based classes, all from their Netscape Web browser-equipped PC. "We had over 100,000 hits on the MTIS Web site before we ever made a formal announcement to the user community," Baker says. The project was a success. Additionally, local custom training systems that were Web-enabled sought to be linked to this new-found application.
"In less than a year, we’ve achieved our goals of enabling our employees to manage their own training plans, and at a small fraction of the costs incurred with the original MTIS system," Baker said. Currently, an enhancement project is underway that will allow non-United States residents to access the system without specifying a Social Security Number, which will make this application truly global. Also, the MTIS Web application is Year 2000-compliant.
Probably the most important aspect of the new system is how it has affected the role of training coordinators. In the past, an employee who wanted to enroll in a course or wanted to check his own training plan would call a training coordinator, who would enter or retrieve information from MTIS. This required that each training coordinator not only have a VM (Virtual Machine) sign-on, but they had to have some training in VM as well. "The average employee couldn’t have used the old MTIS," says Baker, "simply because of the unfriendly VM interface." It would also have been virtually impossible to issue and manage VM ID’s for Motorola’s nearly 140,000 employees. But the Web-enabled version of MTIS now enabled employees to take care of their own class enrollments, simply by using their PC and a Web browser tied into MTIS through the corporate network.
Cost Savings by Category
The economic benefits of the new Web-enabled MTIS system are icing on the cake. Not only did Motorola protect its investment in the legacy system, avoiding costly development and additional expenditures for new hardware, but there were many other cost-savings benefits:
Ø CPU Processing. With the Web-enabled version of MTIS in place, demand on the mainframe has been reduced by an order of magnitude. This resulted in a significant decrease in the cost of CPU processing. Even though we are receiving thousands of hits per day, the new system is actually less costly than the older non-Web-enabled, on-line application. We attribute this to the standard performance benefits of Web technologies, such as using HTML caching, using one user ID for many users, rather than one per user, and eliminating 3270 formatting overhead.
Ø Response Time. Benchmark tests indicated that the Web application was processing more transactions with a quicker response time. With the Internet, there is a small window of time to return a response from a request. The MTIS Web application had no problem meeting that performance criteria, using its Web-enabled custom software. The benchmark techniques used included cycle-time analysis, efficiency testing and volume tests for stress levels.
Ø Staffing Savings. The Web Registration/Tracking System, because it allows employees to directly access their own training history reports and register/cancel into classes, let us utilize our training coordinators more effectively and efficiently.
Ø Training Department Savings. The base Web-enabled MTIS application has allowed the employee to individually and independently register and cancel from classes, and log training hours. This was a great breakthrough for the training community.
Ø New System Development. By creating a new front-end to an already powerful database structure, we were able to eliminate the high costs of developing a new, custom training/tracking system. There were no pre-packaged software products that would accommodate all the needs of the training community that would work as well with the existing database structure. We were reluctant to trade down.
Ø User Training. Since the solution avoided having personnel learn a brand new system, training efforts were minimal. And, the ease of use and flexibility, which was increased with the Web-modernization, made the MTIS system easy to learn.
Other non-typical cost reductions may also prove to be significant. "We expect to save 40 percent in paper and printing costs alone," says Baker. "Also, network support costs have been dramatically reduced as well, since there’s no need to assign and maintain hundreds of VM sign-ons."
Yet another unexpected advantage involved the integration of our training system with other processes in our organization. The integration of the universal Internet environment with our internal MTIS system has allowed us to evolve even more by connecting with other applications and systems on a variety of platforms. Currently we interface with 12 Web systems, within the Motorola businesses, and the number is growing. Even though each system uses diverse technologies, we can still effectively communicate with them.
Deploying over our intranet, has allowed us to increase the number of processing tools we can use, including languages and databases, such as Lotus Notes, Access, Oracle, Visual Basic, just to name a few. At the time the Web-enabled MTIS application was being developed, there were other efforts underway to find ways to use Lotus Notes within our training community to implement new Web applications. Our solution permitted a smooth evolution toward the use of these and other processing tools.
New business requirements that have been investigated or are being investigated include the need for a planning tool that would organize training plans, give structure to an approval process and provide managers with reports on employees. Also needed is a Web-enabled universal catalog for all training courses that would allow users the ability to view course descriptions aided by their requirements, program topics and knowledge points. Computer based training (CBT) has been becoming more popular in the community and there is a need to interact with the registration and history system to post training credits in an employee’s record. Also, our regional training areas, with their own Web sites, needed links to the MTIS application. Interfacing these systems through Web technology has brought the training community closer to an integrated solution.
Since the initial implementation, our Web-enabled MTIS system has been further expanded. We are now able to provide notifications, via the system and email, to managers about employee registrations. By enhancing some existing programs from the main system, employees may now submit information on external training for batch processing into their history. The new system also continues to prove itself to be very flexible. It allows us to reuse code which reduces our development expenses and compresses our timeline for delivery.
Currently, the Web-enabled MTIS system provides registration, cancellation capabilities, a good reporting structure for individual and management reports, a notification sub-system, instructor scheduling, special registration features for external training, course scheduling, student history updating, tracking and attendance updating. For reference, there are several maintenance utilities for tables, such as access permissions, course information, and system administration directories. Also, MTIS heavily interacts with MTECFIN a Motorola billing system developed in NOMAD, which allows charges from the training community to be processed through the corporate General Ledger and our e-mail network throughout Motorola. Another recent addition was the implementation of tools for ad hoc reporting.
A New View
This experience has given Baker a new view of the value and the future of legacy systems: "This time last year, we were very concerned about MTIS and how we were going to provide the functionality our users needed. We were contemplating a costly development project that could have taken years to complete."
The custom Web software’s ability to access a wide variety of mainframe databases, besides NOMAD, greatly extended the life of our legacy systems," said Baker. "This ability to utilize the mainframe’s superior abilities in database handling and transaction processing is what makes the ‘mega-data warehouse’ a very real possibility. Mainframe systems provide us with an infrastructure that is in place, supported, secure, reliable, and in many cases, fully depreciated."
According to Baker, there are other compelling reasons for a firm to protect its investment in its legacy systems, even beyond the economic reasons. "After all these years, the data is still largely on the mainframe, and the mainframe does a very, very good job with database management and transaction processing. Why not just move those pieces that the mainframe doesn’t handle as well [the presentation services] to a PC client?" Baker also feels that there will be far-reaching implications predicting that "people who were thinking that the mainframe is dead are going to have to do some re-thinking."
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Eileen Bianchini is the Product Marketing Manager for Web and Internet Technology at Aonix (Norwalk, Conn.). She is currently responsible for enhancements to RP/Web, Aonix’s Web enablement product, and about to release to the market two additional add-on products. She can be reached at (203) 383-4640 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Regina Sipla has been a Consultant for Aonix for 3 1/2 years, and is going on to be the Management Systems Specialist for the MTIS and training community at Motorola. She is a certified Internet application developer with a experience with heterogeneous platforms including PCs, UNIX, NT and S/390 mainframes. She can be reached at ARS016@email.mot.com.