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An Engineering Approach to the Internet

"First get a clear notion of what you desire to accomplish, and then in all probability you will succeed in doing it...."

"...Keep a sharp look-out upon your materials; get rid of evey pound of material you can do without; put to yourself the question, 'what business has it to be there?' avoid complexities, and make everything as simple as possible"

Henry Maudslay 19 C Engineer

 On how to avoid being dot.conned by the Internet

Before getting carried away by Internet hype, cast your mind back to  more familiar networks : networks of people with a common interest; transport networks; electricity gas and water networks, communication networks; computing networks,  library loan networks. All networks are different, but have common systemic features : nodes, links.

Think of the Internet as a worldwide network of interconnected computers that communicate with one another and that allows the storage, transformation and flow of information anywhere in the world. Internet technology therefore merely  provides an engineering business with some tolerably useful networking tools that may help provide the right information in the right place at the right time.

Internet technology can only be applied effectively in the context of a sound strategy for developing profitable business. What is it then that your business is trying to accomplish?

Quite probably internet technology is already being used in some form or another by your organisation. For example, a survey might show that you : How well are you doing this?

Equally the survey might show that you are using the similar  technology internally on a distributed network of cooperating computers. Change has already arrived quietly and almost unnoticed. The question is not whether  to use the new technology, but how to apply  it effectively. How effectively are you using your existing systems?

Most of the problems of application of new technology arise because there is a mismatch between the existing business culture and what is required by today's marketplace. This prevents systems that are introduced from being used effectively.

If the need for cultural change is recognised and appropriate steps are taken by management to bring it about, then the proper subsequent application of the new technology seems quite natural.  To try to introduce new technology without first preparing the ground for change will generally result in the mis-application of technology and a general wastage of resources.

For example. To stay in business today, new products have to be brought into production much faster than formerly and  simultaneous cooperative working is increasingly required of design and production teams. Information will only be shared  across departmental boundaries if the will is there to share it. Once the will is there, technology can be deployed to make the sharing as effective as possible. This requires a change in culture, without which sharing of information will be only nominal rather than substantial.

Quite probably your engineering business is quite a long way down this road towards shared design and production models already. In other words the culture change is already taking place. The question therefore is not whether or not to use the new technology, but how best to use it. You should therefore ask of both internal and external business processes  :

A survey may show that some quite small changes could produce some substantial  improvements. It would be sensible to tackle these changes first and demonstrate some successful results before moving on to more substantial changes.

With a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve, knowledge of how existing resources are being used, and some positive benefits delivered from implementing changes suggested by your survey, you will have established a solid foundation on which to plan the future. Part of that plan may include a website.

A website should enhance your business, but will yours? Only if it is developed within an overall framework of seeking to obtain a strategic advantage from the use of the Internet.

Far too many websites are poorly scoped, are wildly over-ambitious and are not conceived as a properly constituted and phased projects with a defined work breakdown structure and deliverables. Inevitably many such projects are started with enthusiasm and quickly run out of steam. Risks of cost and time overruns cannot be eliminated altogether, but they can be minimised. As with any  project, time spent on project definition at the beginning will save time and cost later on.

As Henry Maudslay would have said :" First get a clear notion of what you desire to accomplish, and then in all probability you will succeed in doing it..." If you apply the principle of sound engineering  he enunciates so clearly your  website will probably be a great success.

Contact :  Antony Anderson

© Antony Anderson 2000


Henry Maudslay b. 22 Aug 1771 Woolwich,  Kent, England. d. 15 February 1831 Lambeth, London, England. English Precision Toolmaker and Engineer
See also James Nasmyth, Engineer an Autobiography, Edited by Samuel Smiles