My role at Rittal-CSM was slightly different. They had a bespoke ERP system which was developed in RPGLE and running on a AS/400. The system had been developed by their German parent company which resulted in no on-site support staff. My initial role was to go in and help develop their internal systems interact more efficiently with the ERP package. This proved a success as the company soon realised that having a technically competent person on site was of benefit to them. I was then tasked with liaising with senior managers to formulate an IT strategy. It was at this stage that I was offered the position of IT Manager. I politely refused as I had only just became self employed. However I was involved in the recruitment of employees to establish the new IT department.
By this time the work for Centrax was diminishing. Through contacts established there I secured work with Highgrove Computer Services in Leicestershire. They had secured a contract with Triumph motorcycles to rewrite their ERP package. I was a part-time member of a small development time that took the best part of a year to complete the project. Half my time was spent in Leicestershire the other half working for Rittal.
The Internet was slowly being adopted by more and more businesses. Rittal were now keen to start using email as a business tool. The Head of IT and myself were tasked with evaluating the available options, eventually deciding on a Lotus Domino/Notes package. With the implementation of the email solution emphasis soon turned to the network infrastructure. It was decided to migrate from the existing Novell operating system to Microsoft’s Active Directory platform.
Once the Active Directory project was completed requirements began to diminish at Rittal. The work in Leicestershire also came to an end forcing me to look elsewhere for work. I managed to secure a temporary position as a Technical Services Engineer at SAA a local specialist in business networking solutions. Working in a team of three we were responsible for maintaining the companies technological infrastructure. I had direct responsibility for the Lotus Domino environment and secondary responsibility for the NT/2000 and UNIX infrastructures.
After a year at SAA my position became redundant. Luckily for me IT requirements began to grow again at Rittal and so I was asked to take these on. These included various development projects on the AS/400 as well as new ones utilising the collaboration functionality of the Lotus Notes environment. The largest being a Manufacturing Change Process which coordinated the implementation of changes in process and build on the shop floor.
It was at this time I established links with two further customers – Superwinch in Tavistock and Thornbury Manufacturing in Plymouth. Responsibilities at Superwinch included sole support for their IT infrastructure and the maintenance of a number of Access databases. I was also involved in a project to roll out Microsoft SBS2003 across the site.
This project proved useful as Thornbury Manufacturing also used SBS2003. Thornbury were set up by a group of people I had worked with at Eaton. They were still using a Foxpro based manufacturing order system I had written for them whilst still at Eaton. They asked me to upgrade it to Visual Foxpro which I duly completed.
Whilst working with Superwinch and Thornbury I was also still working with Rittal. Their German parent company made a decision to replace their bespoke ERP package and AS/400 with an implementation of SAP. I was initially involved in the data extraction process from the AS/400 but not the actual implementation of SAP. This obviously had an impact on my workload. The work did not disappear entirely though. I was asked to replace a very cumbersome system of spreadsheets that recorded OEE figures. The decision was made to implement the new system as a web application on the company intranet. This was achieved using Java, Glassfish and MS SQL Server.
Due to the reduction in my workload I made a decision to study for a Masters Degree at Plymouth University. Although not having an academic background I was allowed on the course due to my industry experience.
This brings me nearly up to date. Over the last couple of years whilst studying part time for my degree I have also been asked to enhance some of my previous systems at Rittal. The original Manufacturing Change process developed in Lotus Notes has now been web enabled using Xpages. It is currently being used to coordinate changes not just in the Plymouth factory but also factories in America and China. The new OEE system has also had a number of additions. It has also come to the attention of the German parent company who currently do not have a company OEE strategy. At present they are evaluating the system to see if it fits their requirements.
As is documented above I have encountered many different technologies throughout my career. I strongly believe it is not a case of one technology being better than another; it is a case of using the tools available to get the job done.