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Manage Your Calculations

Manage Your Calculations

Chris Randles
President, CEO
Mathsoft Engineering and Education Inc.

Nearly three years ago, Chris Randles led a management buyout of the Cambridge Div. of Mathsoft Inc. and formed Mathsoft Engineering and Education Inc. A veteran software executive, he has strong opinions on the topic of calculations management. In fact, he says if companies don't manage their calculations they're wasting intellectual talent within the company.

You've talked a lot about calculation management. What calculations? And what is calculation management? Calculations are the backbone of engineering, concoctions of the raw data, practical know-how, mathematical laws, and scientific principles, and engineers use them in each step of product development. Managing them as a critical corporate asset helps companies that want to reuse calculations, ensure their fidelity, and ensure that they stay with the company even when key personnel leave and corporate memory gets affected. Also, the process for coming up with calculations is critical. You've got to be sure they're right. Methods are always improving, and companies must disseminate the improved methods. Calculation management is mission critical for companies, and complementary to PDM and knowledge management.

What happens when companies don't manage their calculations? They waste intellectual talent. All companies want to bring products to market in a shorter time, increase product quality, and reuse the design DNA they have. To do any of those things, and to do them efficiently they have to manage their calculations that are at the core of their designs.

How do companies manage calculations now? Well, many don't. We've done seminars with others who say it's time to bring the calculations out of the desk drawer. The data gets used, but the inputs are on servers or on little pieces of paper. Project managers and department managers need to know what's behind the calculations, what the inputs and assumptions were, and where those inputs and assumptions came from. Picking the wrong number or the wrong dimension, which is possible with no management, is risky business.

Who should manage the calculations? It should be from bottom up within the organization, starting with engineers. As engineers create their models, they should document how they are doing their design. You don't need the IT department to run the effort. With our software, engineers can publish an engineering model to a website or Web server in HTML. That enables collaboration. We use XML to capture the underlying semantics of a model and share those semantics between systems. The semantics describe what the math functions do.

Does XML add any real meaning to Web pages? Yes, and a lot of groups have started schema defining rules and definitions. There's Math ML to capture meaning, and STEP ML. XML allows engineers and others to incorporate critical data and methods in Web publishing. As XML gets more support, engineers will be able to extract data from Mathcad worksheets. XML is about making the business process accessible and manageable, and that makes it an absolutely perfect application for us.

Randles is president and chief executive officer of Mathsoft Engineering and Education Inc.

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