Eike Michel: Potential still far from being exhausted

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Eike Michel, Director R&D and Operations, on fast apps, flexible use of data and EB as an "oil extraction" platform

"Potential still far from being exhausted"

Mr. Michel, you've been with AUCOTEC for 14 years. How has the development work for Engineering Base (EB) changed over time?

Where should I start? No seriously, first of all: The philosophy of the multi-layered platform to concentrate data on the server side, but to locate access and computing power, i.e. the business logic, on a dedicated application server, dates back to the early 2000s and is ground-breaking. It is unlike any other system in our market. This allows users to access their data in an incomparably efficient manner and assures them that their access rights will be respected. Nevertheless, in my early days, the development here focused on optimizing convenience, stability and new features for the client.

Then AUCOTEC succeeded in attracting an increasing number of major customers and correspondingly large projects. For this purpose, we increased our personnel and set up our teams in an agile manner, which was a fundamental organizational change. As far as EB is concerned, the development of "Data as a Service" (DaaS) based on web service technologies has enabled us to take a huge leap forward.

What can DaaS do?

The service can be freely scaled as a "gateway to www" and is upstream to the application server. As a result, we didn't have to design it as a typical, error-prone "standalone server." DaaS and EB's client have the same access to the data, and there is only one source code, thus no inconsistencies.

A desktop application "remembers" a status for each data processing. If there are many requests, they are met with the usual response: join the queue! Online accesses to EB, on the other hand, run completely independently of each other. If hundreds of requests come at the same time, you can simply run more instances of DaaS. Thus, the service has also enabled us to develop front-end products for EB that cover special tasks for certain target groups. We also don't have to change the engineering client at all in this case.

What does this mean in concrete terms?

This simply means that the development cycles for innovations such as EB Mobile View are much shorter. We've been working on it for just over a year, only about a third of the time that a similarly complex feature for EB's desktop client can take. In addition, the release of front-end products is not tied to EB's annual major releases – which is a huge advantage, especially for the initiators of such apps.

Do client users also have advantages?

Definitely! They no longer have to wait, as they can simply outsource orders to DaaS while they continue to edit the client task. In addition, corporate networks are always subject to the risk of timeouts. This is a risk in particular for cross-country activities, such as outsourcing a project from SAP. As of a timeout in the two-digit seconds range, the work order will be considered faulty and will be cancelled, regardless of how much of it has already been executed. This doesn't happen with DaaS. Each request has only one "receipt number" which can be used by users to check the status at any time until the task is finished. Even in the event of interruptions, it will be unnecessary to start over again. The service also lets entire systems talk to each other without the need for manual intervention.

Can you give me an example?

Yes, of course. There are a number of major customers who have set up numerous integrations with EB not only with simulation tools, 3-D and process control systems, but also with various in-house developments. There, EB is the central engineering data backbone. All connected systems can always automatically obtain, for example, change information, regardless of client, location or operating system. The potential of this approach is far from being exhausted! This is exactly what we have been working towards, as the added value of a software is no longer to accelerate individual users or disciplines, but rather its ability to coordinate the cooperation of many different teams as seamlessly as possible, as data transfers are time-consuming and error-prone. EB's focus on the big picture more than pays off with its enormous synergy effects.

So does EB's development as the data backbone affect your work?

Absolutely - like that of users. The range of users of EB data continues to grow, thus specifying licenses for certain workplaces makes less sense and restricts engineering and business processes unnecessarily. With DaaS, the "endpoints" which use EB can be freely organized. It is billed according to objectively measurable data accesses, whereby there are demand-based scales from "unlimited" to several tens of thousands per year. The dusting of unused licenses is therefore a thing of the past. This will make customers much more flexible, although they will need a competent IT team with sufficient resources. Otherwise, nothing is required that is not already necessary for using EB anyway. If data is the oil of the 21st century, EB is not only an engineering platform but virtually a production platform also.

Thank you very much for this interview, Mr Michel!