From Toronto to Tuktoyaktuk: Integrated ERP Systems Help Canada's Historic Mounties FulFill Their Modern Mission
The scarlet-coated "Mountie" with broad-brimmed Stetson hat is a familiar and highly-regarded image of Canada around the world. Since its founding in 1873, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has served the Canadian nation and its citizens by bringing order to the frontier regions of this vast country. Today, the RCMP is one of Canada's most enduring and respected institutions -- a powerful symbol of national identity from coast to coast to coast.
The RCMP was established by an act of the Canadian Parliament, appalled by the lawlessness and vigilante justice that characterized westward expansion south of the border. Their first mission was to stamp out the illegal whisky trade that was wrecking the lives of the indigenous people, who were being swindled by unscrupulous traders exchanging valuable furs for cheap whisky. There was also a broader goal: Create a symbol of Canadian sovereignty throughout the sparsely settled region.
As the nation grew in population and diversity and its communities became more established, the Mounted Police adapted to meet the changing security needs of its citizens. In 1998, the RCMP celebrated a century and a quarter of service with the theme, "A Proud History ... A Challenging Future," reflecting the commitment of the RCMP to build on its proud tradition by continuing to serve the needs of all Canadians.
Today, as Canada's national police service, the RCMP is something like that country's equivalent of the FBI, state police and local police rolled into one. They enforce federal laws across Canada, act as the provincial police force in all provinces, except Quebec and Ontario, are the territorial police in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and the new territory of Nunavut, and serve as the local police force for about 200 municipalities. They also participate in international peace keeping, usually under an United Nations mandate.
While the image of the Mountie may provide terrific folklore (such as the hardy Sergeant Preston of the Yukon), the RCMP is also an extremely forward-looking organization. The agency places a strong emphasis on interpersonal skills, on achieving "best practices" of law enforcement, on community policing, and on meeting the needs of the country's aboriginal groups. In addition, state of the art crime labs, computer equipment and communication systems provide the tools required by a nationwide law enforcement agency in the 21st century.
Like any well-run organization, the RCMP strives to make the most efficient use of available resources, and understand where its money is going.
The challenge is to keep its operations running efficiently across such a vast region, while fulfilling many different kinds of law enforcement missions. Based on the recommendation of Canada's Auditor General, the RCMP is now moving forward to place all of its assets under the control of one centralized system.
Universal Asset Management System
The agency recently implemented an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system from SAP to create a finely tuned information architecture that ties the nationwide organization together. The system integrates finance, logistics and procurement functions for all RCMP assets, from clothing to firearms, building materials, automobiles and computer equipment. A growing number of RCMP detachments are using the Asset Management System, with the goal to bring all personnel online as the network infrastructure is upgraded across all regions.
Transactions ripple through finance, inventory and the other affected modules, allowing the RCMP to manage its operations efficiently by dramatically reducing the need for manual processes. For example, when an officer in Dawson City (or New Brunswick or Vancouver) needs a new pair of boots, he or she will use the ERP system to access the RCMP kit and clothing application for ordering clothing and personal supplies. The ERP system generates the shipping instructions, which are forwarded to the appropriate RCMP warehouse. The system also generates all financial transactions and billing information associated with the order. The boots are automatically charged back to the detachment.
In the past, the same request for boots would have meant manually creating separate accounting, billing and shipping documents to accompany the order. The SAP system replaces several standalone asset management and financial systems, as well as a number of regional systems. People throughout the force were often unable to get the facts they needed, because much of the information was not readily accessible. Requests for information, or performing transactions, such as procuring boots, would require accessing multiple systems, which meant a duplication of effort.
The new system allows information to flow smoothly between command centers, regional facilities and individual detachments, providing realtime financial reporting for each level in the organization. Now, the commanding officer of a detachment can know instantly if his unit is spending within their allotted requirements, by viewing a report specific to the detachment. Reporting can be consolidated for a group of detachments that make up a district, providing concise financial information for the district leader. RCMP personnel can access different levels of financial information as it rolls up through the system -- from the detachment, up to the district, up to the region and up to headquarters.
Transparent access to all nationwide inventory information allows assets to be utilized to the fullest. For example, the RCMP has 16 warehouses across Canada for storing equipment. If a local warehouse is out of a certain caliber of ammunition, users can check to see if it is available somewhere else. If there is a surplus in another warehouse, policies can be set up to allow personnel from other detachments to use it, with appropriate accounting mechanisms to keep track of expenditures.
Integrated Approach to Managing Firearms
One example of the possibilities available is a new firearms management system implemented in September that helps the RCMP manage its firearms more effectively. The solution provides a tracking system and maintenance schedule for all firearms assigned to RCMP officers across Canada, while integrating with financial and procurement processes to enable more effective use of RCMP resources.
By their nature, firearms require more extensive control systems than other supplies and equipment. They also require regular maintenance, inspection and adjustment. The RCMP is able to connect each firearm with the officer that it is issued to, the officer's detachment and the maintenance requirements for the firearm. An integrated inventory system for spare parts keeps track of inventory on hand, eliminating manual inventory procedures and automates the generation of purchase orders and other procurement tasks.
When firearms become due for scheduled maintenance, the system alerts officers to ship their firearms to an RCMP Armoury located in Regina, Saskatchewan, or Ottawa, Ontario, where they are inspected, repaired as needed, and then returned. As the system tracks the status and location of firearms, it also reports issues of concern such as parts that require frequent repair or replacement.
The application generates a checklist of items that must be inspected and/or adjusted on each class of firearm. It also creates a work order, which allows individual firearms to be tracked through the system. Once confirmation is received that the repaired firearm has been returned to its location, a message goes out to the officer to return the loaner weapon that is typically provided.
The firearms management system was provided by Siemens Business Services Canada, which won the business, coming in first in a demanding bidding process measuring SAP R/3 software credentials and experience. Consultants had to be certified in the R/3 Plant Maintenance module, with at least two years experience on multiple projects. Certification in other SAP modules was an additional requirement.
Siemens Business Services implemented the firearms management solution using the functionality of the R/3 Plant Maintenance module. This module is designed for maintenance of machinery, enabling a manufacturing organization to track when components or machines need to be overhauled. Users can define maintenance schedules, as well as list tasks that have to be done for a particular machine. These capabilities could also be adapted for use by the RCMP in servicing its firearms.
"By implementing the Plant Maintenance module to fit our unique requirements, Siemens Business Services is helping us eliminate duplication and delay, while giving us capabilities that we never had before. With all firearms-related information in a single, countrywide database, we'll be achieving a level of process efficiency not available with previous paper-based and standalone PC systems," says Ab Finn, Client Project Manager for the Armourer's Project.
The ERP system is also helping the Armourer perform transactions that would previously have been duplicated in other systems. For example, the RCMP Armourer is a certified Smith & Wesson repair depot and warranty provider, and uses the R/3 system to bill Smith & Wesson for work performed.
In addition, the Armourer has repair agreements with other police departments. Once the repairs are complete, the sales & billing module of SAP will kick in and issue an invoice, based on information generated by the repair application.
Integration with other applications will extend the capabilities of the firearms management solution in numerous directions. For example, as new officers join the force, an interface to the RCMP's human resources system will update the firearms management database with pertinent information about the officer, their location and the weapon they have been issued. This will allow the RCMP to instantly keep track of where its guns are, and who has them. When a firearm becomes due for service, an e-mail message or post card can be sent out automatically to the officer's detachment.
The new solution also integrates with the RCMP's asset database that captures information related to firearms for the new Canadian Firearms Registration System. This is a bill recently passed by the Canadian government that requires registration of all firearms -- including firearms used by the police and military.
In the past, the RCMP managed its firearms using two separate PC-driven systems, one in Ottawa and one in Regina, with limited communications between them. To produce a report detailing the history of a particular firearm was a tedious, time-consuming exercise that involved searching through both databases to find information and pull it together, while excluding the duplicate data. There was also the possibility of information gaps that could occur if, for example, a firearm was repaired in one location and used in another.
The new system allows the RCMP to avoid any number of unpleasant scenarios -- such as if a firearm misfired and in the inquiry that followed, it was not able to produce the complete maintenance and repair history. It also eliminates any possible duplicate entries that are conflicting or ambiguous.
The system configuration includes an IBM RS6000 application server running AIX UNIX together with a database server (IBM model 9672-R56) running the DB2/390 database operating system. The system architecture consists of three RS6000 frames, each containing four nodes, with one node used as a "sandbox," one for development, two for QA, and the remainder for production. An ESCON channel provides communication between the database server and the application server.
The system uses the DB2/390 database, which the RCMP has defined as its preferred platform for corporate data. The database currently has 120 GBs to 130 GBs of production data. The system is designed to accommodate three years of data, with an archiving mechanism planned for older records, and to keep the database from growing beyond a reasonable size.
Use of load balancing prevents bottlenecks and delays -- all business processes are accessible from every node. When users sign on, they are assigned to the node with the least activity. The system currently has about 2,200 named users, with about 200 concurrent users at any one time. Users include purchasing clerks, budget analysts, warehouse personnel, financial management -- all of the different players responsible for managing assets and budgets.
Using the firearms management system as a model, the RCMP is working to develop integrated solutions for all of its assets, under the framework of the overall ERP system. The next project is expected to address telecommunications, bringing together separate systems for managing radios and related devices. Solutions for computers and aircraft are also being considered.
The long-range vision is to extend the ERP system to span all elements of the organization, integrating financials and materials management with human resources and police operations. This could allow the ability to link operational information back to financials to show, for example, what it costs to investigate different types of crimes by region or any other criteria.
"The ERP process has opened up many doors to investigate how things are going to work," adds Finn. "The integration is key, providing consolidated reporting on our holdings and a consistent view of information across the whole force."
About the Author
Steve Saxon is a freelance writer who has written extensively about the IT industry for over two decades. He can be reached at (978) 670-1907.
The "Legacy" of E-Business: Myth or Reality?
By Joe Lezon and Ralph Billington
While bleeding-edge technology companies no longer talk about life before the Web, there are a lot of businesses out there with the majority of their data residing on mission-critical legacy computers. These legacy systems have seen it all: predictions that client/server would replace them, predictions that the Internet would replace them, and name calling to the tune of "scrap metal." But, at the end of the day, legacy systems play a key role for many companies, and IT departments don't see the logic in scrapping millions of dollars in proven technology to move to systems without proven scalability or long-term reliability.
Though the Web's novelty has instigated a level of hype that would suggest the contrary, businesses made important decisions well before the Web was available as a tool to automate key business functions. Now that we have the Web to help us do business, do we abandon everything from the past, along with all of the lessons learned over the years? Of course, not. De facto adoption of a new technology is rarely the path to business longevity. A business must understand where it came from, why certain decisions were made in the past and leverage lessons learned prior to moving forward. The Web should be viewed as a powerful tool -- getting the most out of the Web then becomes a function of how strategically your company uses this tool.
Ask yourself why you want to make the Web a part of your business strategy. For what purpose, and with what goals? Do you just want to set up a Web site on a local ISP? Do you want to set up an intranet with some local portals for knowledge sharing? Do you want to create an e-commerce site so that you can take orders, track them and do billing over the Web? As you already know, there are many ways that the Internet can be used, with new ways coming onto the horizon every day. As is the case with any business model, what works well for one company is not right for everyone. Some of the more traditional companies just want a Web site to advertise products and services, and that is all. Other companies are doing all of their business through an e-commerce site on the Web. An important item to keep top-of-mind is that while the Web is versatile, no matter what you choose to do on the Web, somewhere along the line your data will interface with a legacy system. Are legacy systems, after all, key to the operation of the ubiquitous World Wide Web? You bet.
The most important advice concerning the intersection of the Web with legacy systems is to ensure that your IT initiatives are aligned with your business objectives. First, have a clear picture of your business and market drivers. Next, establish a set of priorities. Identify the technology you'll need to enable your ideas and follow-up with carefully considered implementation. Your IT group is a technical think-tank and your best ally, but they are not the business enablers -- don't throw an idea over the fence to your IT department; work with your IT partners through the business values, through the business plan and invite them to help identify a solution.
The legacy systems foundational to corporate IT infrastructures do not always integrate easily with new technology; on the other hand they cannot be easily replaced. These core systems contain information vital to the survival of most companies, so they cannot simply be disconnected. Furthermore, many of these legacy systems are accompanied by poor documentation at best -- and are certainly without any clear schematics for integration with technology that was seemingly impossible at the time. How are we supposed to connect these convoluted architectures to the Internet? We need to discover a way to make this data and equipment accessible from the newer systems and applications. Luckily, middleware companies have done this for us.
Middleware is software that is used as a gateway, or broker for communication of data between applications. If you are trying to extend your legacy business tolls via the Web for example, you might pass your legacy data to the middleware product, and it will transform it so that it can be read by the latest Web application on the market. This is a greatly simplified version of what actually happens. There are three primary elements to middleware: the messaging layer, the translators/adapters and the business logic. This simple analogy references the translation of data, yet the translation is only one part of what needs to be done. Data need not be only in the correct format, but also needs to relate to the correct data fields and variables.
Middleware can be viewed as the glue that connects disparate applications from Web-based applications to mainframe legacy applications. There are middleware products available that can take your 10-year-old order entry system, massage the data and push the data out to a nice, new GUI order-entry system. The bottom line is that middleware simplifies the integration of platforms and applications into the existing infrastructure, so customers can share more information, with more people, more efficiently and more cost-effectively.
For many years now, corporate IT has had a voice in navigating the technological progress and direction of companies, without necessarily being tied into the core business activity. As with just about every other aspect of contemporary business practices, that division of labor is changing. Company departments cannot afford to operate in a vacuum.
With the advent of e-business, the IT organization is a strategic partner in the success of the company. IT doesn't make technological decisions without tying them into corporate strategy. IT must be aware of the business as well as technical impact of all their decisions. IT is now an asset of the company, as well as a manager of company assets -- responsible for supporting the lifeblood of the company.
About the Authors:
Joe Lezon is eBusiness Architect at Data Dimensions Inc. in Bellevue, Wash. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ralph Billington is Director of eServices at Data Dimensions. He can be reached at email@example.com.