General Motors announced on Thursday its intention to use Microsoft .Net to create Web services on top of its design and collaboration applications.
The goal is to add value to standard collaboration tools by making them a portal into real-business applications beneath.
At the same time, Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS) launched its E-vis collaboration product for life cycle management targeted at manufacturing, which GM will deploy as its standard platform in this effort.
The expectation is that a collaboration tool linking in real time internal GM engineers and external suppliers will reduce vehicle development cycles and cost.
"Five years ago, we had a 36-month design cycle. Now we have it down to 18 months. It is easier to figure out what consumers may want in a vehicle 18 months in the future than in 36," said Tony Scott, GM's chief technology officer.
Up until now, GM's design process was done in a "serial batch" mode. Although engineers could in some cases look at the same drawing simultaneously, design changes were typically a sequential process, according to Kirk Gutmann, global product development information officer for the General Motors Information Systems and Services organization in Detroit.
"Now it is interactive. By leveraging the XML message passage capability, an engineer in any one of our global design centers and our tier one and two suppliers can view, rotate, take measurements off parts, and make changes in a geometry file, from any PC," said Gutmann.
To understand the need to reduce design cycle times typical in the auto industry, GM has 17,000 internal seats alone using product development management applications, not counting outside suppliers, added Gutmann.
Using .Net as a lynchpin, this will be one of the first instances of adding business applications, such as the Unigraphics engineering design program, to a standard collaboration package, according to Gutmann.
Web services become a key component of the design solution, according to Mike Sayen, director of collaborative solutions for EDS in Plano, Texas.
.Net was used to Web service-enable the EDS E-vis collaborative solution, which links new and legacy services or applications into a common interface, said Sayen.
The E-vis feature set will include contact lists, calendars, authentication, and authorization components as well as instant messenger, chat, video conferencing and go all the way up to visual sharing of CAD/CAM designs.
".Net lets us build the applications that reach into those services," said Sayan.
The Microsoft platform, which includes .Net, Exchange and Windows 2000, were all selected with the thousands of lower-tier suppliers in the auto industry in mind, according to Gutmann.
"If you start with a standard protocol package at a low price point, you can penetrate much further into the supply chain," he said.