Schedule Slippage – Root Causes

“The single most important task of a project: setting realistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations based on inaccurate estimates are the single largest cause of software failure.”- Futrell, Shafer

Introduction

With global and competitive market, it is very important to launch a product or service in the market on time, ahead of competitors. Definitely, timely launch depends on on-time-completion of the product development projects. Project planning has lots of challenges to overcome in order to finish the project on time – right from schedule predictability, envisioning future/possible risks and coming up with mitigation plans.

This article talks about some of the challenges, often faced in the Software Product Development industry that causes the schedule slippage.

Schedule slippage: Delay in the project completion from its initial estimated date of completion.

Each project plan will have a planned completion date (NRA, RA), and a bounding box or upper limit in schedule. Nowadays, it is a common practice to have three dates associated with any project plan:

  • Non-Risk Adjusted (NRA) date: Project completion date assuming no hurdles – Ideal conditions.
  • Risk Adjusted (RA) date: Project completion date assuming some risks will come on the way and will need extra time to attend to them.
  • Bounding Box (BB) or upper limit: The upper limit on the project plan before which the project has to be finished under any circumstances – Generally decided by the top management based on product/services roadmap and launch in the market.

Under ideal circumstances, any project is scheduled to complete by NRA date. Considering some risks that may come on the way and would eat some time off the schedule, the project should be over by RA date. If the risks were not envisioned and hence not planned well, then project may get delayed and would complete after RA date. Project completion crossing the RA or upper limit is neither good nor expected out of a well-planned project.

Root Causes

As we always plan for a project to get over before RA date, seldom is the case it happens as expected. There are multiples reasons for schedule slippage, right from improper planning, lack of resources to unplanned requirements and rework that eat away vital time off the planned schedule.

A typical project development process – Each project will have a team (development, testing and other functions) that will work through a process (requirement analysis, schedule estimation, design, implementation and testing) to deliver a product to the customer/end user. Each entity that participate in the project – directly or indirectly affect the schedule.

From the development process, we can identify the items that can cause delay in the execution of the project – for example, misinterpreted or unclear requirement adds up to completion time, unavailability of development tools or resources can prolong the project duration. Various processes like schedule estimation, detailed design and product development if not executed skillfully, may significantly blow up the project cycle.

For better understanding all these possible causes that may result in schedule slippage are categorized .

Let’s have a detailed look at the root causes of schedule slippage category wise.

1) Schedule Estimation: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey

For a project to be executed on time, it is very important to have it planned very well. Any mistake in project schedule estimation reflects as delay in the project completion from its deadline. There are several factors that contribute to improper schedule estimation:

· Underestimation of technical complexities: At the start of the project, many of the team members may not have thorough knowledge of technical complexities and hence their estimation would be incorrect. Sometimes it may so happen that the person giving estimates for a particular task is having no idea about the technical challenges involved in carrying out that particular task. You might hear, towards the mid/end of the project life cycle when the task is not finished on time – “Oh, I didn’t know that this feature also requires 5 more tasks to be done!” or “I was thinking this task to be so simple, but I under estimated it!”. · Lack of Design/Big picture: It is important to have a bigger picture / overview of the complete project to understand how a particular module/feature would fit in to complete project. Product or system level design helps in understanding the interfaces among other modules and the required coordination for product assembly and hence, a better insight into the work involved. Often, estimates without focus on detailed design tend to deviate more from the actual time taken for finishing the job. · Integration Testing: While making a project plan, testing also needs to be accommodated in the schedule. At times, the unit testing or testing done by individual contributors on their module is taken into account but not the system level testing. Toward the release, when all the individually tested modules are brought together, a system level or integration testing is a must. Having the time for integration testing not accounted in the overall project schedule will cause delay in the project completion.

· Unplanned dependencies: Project planning is not only about breaking the project into minute tasks and managing them. A well-planned project schedule also needs to consider certain unplanned dependencies. Some of these are:

o People: Optimum utilization of human resources calls for same set of people working in multiple projects. A person may not be available to work for currently planned/assigned project due to extended/unplanned work in another parallel project. Another issue related to people could be unplanned/unexpected attrition that will affect the project plan. Time is also lost in mentoring of new member by a senior (more experienced) person which goes unaccounted if not planned.

o Tools & Equipments: Project can be delayed if team is waiting for release of upgrade or procurement of any vital tool (hardware or software being used in the project) or if the equipments required for development and testing are not available. “We had a 3-months project for validating our existing solution on new product platform using customer DUT (device under test). We had to wait for the DUT for nearly 1.5 months as it got stuck in customs. After getting the DUT, we realized that it’s been damaged partially during transportation. As a result we had to ask for another DUT and whole project took more than 5 months to get finished.” – I am sure that such cases will be quite familiar to many organizations. Other reason for timely unavailability of tools / equipments is that they are shared among various projects to reduce the operating cost. Any unplanned dependency on their usage or wrong assumption about availability of these shared resources would cause delay in the program. Team members might have to work on shifts to optimize the usage of shared resources which can cause reduced work hours and/or productivity loss and results to schedule slippage.

“I was waiting for Matlab license to be released by another person in the team but he left the office without doing so and I lost 3 hours figuring out what to do?” – is it something you faced before?

o Other programs: If multiple programs have deliverable dependencies, then delay in one project will have cascaded effect on other projects, which directly or indirectly depend on its deliverable. “We got delayed because we had to wait for a critical UI component from the framework project team” or “We didn’t plan for bug fixes for a component which was supposed to be delivered defect free for our usage” are the common scenarios for delays in program which are dependent on other program deliverables. Parallel programs may affect the schedule of your program in a different way as well – Sometimes, management changes the priority of the programs running in parallel. If your project is considered as a low priority one then there might be lack of resources assigned to your project that may result in schedule slippage.

· Beta releases: How many times we seek feedback on our product during development? And how often we allocate time for it? It’s important to plan beta releases if we desire to have our product validated by expert users or lighthouse customers during development. Getting feedback from beta customers becomes important especially when their requirements echo that of a mass customer base. Process of giving workable releases to customers, collecting their experience, having their feedback analyzed, and then incorporating in the final product version takes significant time.

· Risk mitigation and plan B: Every project will have some or the other risks. These risks can be of varying severity and probabilities. While making project plan, it is important to treat the risk individually based on their severity and probability of occurrence. If high probable risks with higher severity are not planned with their mitigation plan (or plan B), they will have huge impact on schedule deviation from planned one. As in one of the previous examples quoted, getting a DUT on time for validation was a risk. Had there been a mitigate plan (plan B) like – Validate with other DUT or if DUT is not available here, let one developer travel to customer’s place and finish the validation on time, the schedule slippage would have been avoided.

2) People: Ultimately, projects are executed by people who may not be skilled or talented. Hence, looking for perfection in projects involving human beings may not be a feasible thought. Certain unpredictable and hence unavoidable issues under this category are:

· Poor leadership: Before thinking of project execution, it is project planning that actually would set the platform of success. Execution of the project depends on its team while planning is taken care by the project leader. The project leader is expected to have enough technical know-how to understand the project goals and to the details of the tasks involved. Poor leadership and superficial knowledge of assignments often results in invalid effort estimation and ad hoc task delegation causing stress and possible delay in project execution. People leading the team are also responsible for keeping the team spirit and motivation level upbeat. Poor personal commitment due to lack of motivation results in loss of productivity and may cause schedule to slip. Another reason that adds up to delay in projects is inability of leadership team to track the schedule progress and take the correction action.

· Attrition: If the project duration is large and job market is hot, it may be difficult to retain people in the project till its completion. Attrition may further delay the completion especially if the person leaving the job was in critical path. A person leaving the organization would leave a gap in the project that a new person may not fill immediately, which in turn causes sudden reduction in the task force.

· Learning curve: When ever a new person or team member is included in the project, he or she may require some time to understand the project to keep in pace with other members. Learning curve is needed for new team members, joining the team either due to attrition or due to any specific technical competency requirement. · Context switching: In smaller organization or groups where people work on multiple projects simultaneously, it is important to have some buffer for context switching. A person planned to work in project ‘A’ for two hours after a gap of two weeks, would take more than scheduled time to complete that task. Gap of two weeks and the fact that he or she was involved in other project would require some time for the member to get back to the context of current project. · Global development teams: In an era of globalization and outsourcing, it is common these days to have development team distributed over different geographical regions. Project plan needs to account for different time zones and working culture. You might expect an input for your task on Monday morning your time but it may be Sunday late evening for that person and finally when the input arrives, you might be on your way to home after work.

Sometimes schedule estimation might go completely wrong if you have not understood the work culture of the region your teammate belongs to – “In my previous work, I was given a task to be completed with a heads up that its very critical task and needs immediate attention’. When I asked my project lead how many days/hours I have for it, I had been time for 2 weeks for high priority and ‘immediate-attention’ work.” Definition of ‘urgent’, ‘high priority tasks’ changes with culture and region.

· Communication Issues: People communicate differently. If important issues are not brought to the notice of the team members, or are not escalated on time, the entire project may suffer. Often fear of embarrassment stops team members from reporting issues faced during execution leading to more time being spent on that task that can easily be executed additional help.

3) Customer Involvement: These issues are quite serious if customer or end users of the product are involved in the development phase. Understanding customer’s priorities, defining your expectation from their involvement needs to be clear and in agreement with both the parties.

· Expert user testing: In the beginning of the project, expert user testing cycle needs to be planned. Process of giving builds or releases for testing and collecting their feedback, analyzing and incorporating them in your product takes significant time which, if not planned, can delay your program. · Timely feedback: “I got feedback from customers for features, delivered in development milestone-1, after milestone-5 towards the release. These feedbacks are critical but now I am worried how to incorporate them without affecting the schedule.” It sounds like a common problem. Incorporation of feedback from customers needs to be planned well taking a commitment from the customer. · Product requirement specification review: Having a product requirement review planned and executed will keep you on right track throughout the project. Reviewing the requirement specification will avoid requirement related defects fixing which otherwise would have delayed, the project.

4) Ambiguous Project Requirement: For any project to be initiated, the first thing is to have requirements for it. In the product development life cycle, requirement phase acts like a foundation. Clear requirement or vision for the project navigates the team to success. However, requirements may not be clear at the time of estimation and may result in delay in the project completion. Issues related:

· Evolving specs: If you are making a product based on a standard which is not yet matured or still evolving, you are more prone to have this risk. Frequency changes in the specs will change the requirement for the project during different stages of product development and team will continue to work on something that is not yet evolved. This results in rework that would delay the project if time for dealing with these changes is not accommodated in the schedule. “We developed an algorithm and hence measurement that was based on certain industry standard. Towards the release of the product, the specs changed and our measurement was no more valid. We had to redo the algorithm to reflect the changes in the specs. This caused our product release delayed by 2 months.” · New requirements: Sometimes new requirements are added as the project evolves towards completion. Implementation of new requirements is not planned at the beginning of the project and hence is not accounted in schedule. Adding new feature without revising the schedule may result in delay.

· Untold expectation: Requirements from the customers may be of two types – implicit or explicit. It is important to have the requirements well documented. Implicit requirements needs to be better defined and documented to avoid any confusion towards the end of the project. Customers may not describe their requirements related to system performance, memory issues, user interface quality and usability but they are very keen on providing feedback in those aspects once the product is given for expert user testing. If we are not clear about such requirements, out design might not address them. Addressing them towards the end of the project may call for design changes and extra work that would delay the project.

5) Unplanned Tasks / Reworks: Bounding box for the project is set by higher management and often lack buffer for unplanned task(s). Having more of unplanned task that creep up at different phases of project can cause schedule slippage. The unplanned tasks or rework may arise due to:

· Sustaining work: In smaller organizations, some of the project team may also be responsible for sustaining / customer support of existing products. These unplanned tasks, which come on event basis, related to customer support are always of high priority. Excess or prolonged sustaining work may take resource out of the planned project causing a potential threat for schedule slippage. · Defect fixes: Defects are bad as they degrade the product quality and consume extra time/effort to fix them. It is good to have testing of the intermediate releases of the project to find and fix defects sooner in the development life cycle. If the fixing-cycle for such internal-milestone defects is not planned, then either the project is either going to slip or product is going to be of poorer quality. Poor programming skill of the team, not adapting to modern programming practices and having ad hoc development processes may lead to higher number of defects which would take more time to fix then planned and cause slippage.

· Task spillover from previous milestone: Tasks that are not completed in previous milestone, due to whatever reason (inefficiency, vacation of the team member, resource crunch etc), will have to be completed in the next milestone thereby increasing the load on the team. If adequate buffer is not planned, these tasks spilled from previous milestone over to next, can delay the project. · Requirement change / refinement: Requirement changes during the product development will result in rework of what has been previously done with first version of requirement(s). Addressing changes in the requirements needs extra time and effort and may cause schedule slippage. In some cases, the requirement from customer is misunderstood resulting in wrong system design and implementation. Additional, unplanned time is lost in correcting the design/implementation which causes schedule slippage.

Conclusion

On time delivery is the challenge software development companies are facing globally. To have a complete control over estimated schedule, it is very important to identify the elements in the development cycle that cause schedule slippage. This article uncovers and explains the root causes of delay in programs using examples from real world. Having an insight to the root causes will help the program managers to make good decisions to avoid future schedule slippage.

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Top 4 Benefits of Demand Planning Software

In today’s dynamically changing business environment, organizations have to be agile and quick in responding to market changes and internal factors to minimize losses and leverage opportunities. Demand Planning Software is essential to gauge customer demand and market changes in real time and pass on the information to the supply chain. It creates the perfect balance between market demand and supply. However, these are not the only benefits that a demand planning software offers. It has many other benefits and some of them are listed here.

It Helps in Accurate Revenue Forecasting: A good demand planning software help in accurate revenue forecasting by correctly analyzing the market demand and forecast results based on that. Without proper information and software to process that information, organizations bring products by guessing the customer’s demand. Some even take sub-par data that has not been properly processed to reach conclusions. Being a result of guesswork, this information or data does not always deliver favorable results. This software helps in analyzing data properly and then forecasting the revenue accordingly.

It Assists in Aligning Inventory Levels: When there is a huge demand in the market, a business can lose out on the opportunity of fulfilling it on its own if it not prepared with the right inventory. By knowing about the possible future rise or fall in the demand for a product, they can align the inventory levels to make sure that they reap the benefits and their customers are satisfied.

It Enhances the Profitability for a Product: If there is low demand for a product, a company may or may not decide to carry on with it. However, if it is bound to bring bigger profit margins despite low sales, it is worth investing time and money in. Using the Demand Planning Software, businesses can find out how to enhance the profitability of a product.

It Allows for Re-planning Based on Given Data: It is important to keep an eye on the market during the production and marketing lifecycle of a product. And the simple reason behind it is the need to re-plan or alter strategies to get maximum attention and beat the competition. By looking at the changes, decision makers can make amendments to the approach as well as the strategy to meet their business goals.

Their cloud platform mPower supports various aspects of businesses such as demand planning, retail planning, business integration management, supply chain planning, etc. The platform’s design allows business to do smart resource management and make intelligent business decisions.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Biometric Time and Attendance Software

First of all let me ask you what you understand by time and attendance software? Have you ever been asked to log in as soon as you enter office and the main gate of the office has a Biometric machine that takes in your finger prints and allows you to enter the office premise? Yes, these are the time and attendance software being installed in a company.

Biometrics consists of methods for uniquely identifying a person (human being) by his/her physical or behavioral traits. There are many biometric software available in market for such purpose and their use is widely known. One such use is Biometric time and attendance management software.

Those days are gone when we had to punch in cards or sign into a register to tell the other person that we are present. Just as paper checking has been changed from manual to computerized, identifying a person and letting him in your office has been changed from manual to biometrics.

There are many benefits of having such methodology in your office. Such as:

• Accurate timing: When a person looks at his watch and enters the time there is a slight chance that he may see the wrong timing and write. Whereas with biometric time and attendance software there is no possibility of such mistake. The user does not need to see or check the time, it automatically gets logged in.

• Less error: There is no scope of human error here.

• Profit to company: If it’s accurate and correct the company will definitely gain from it.

As everything has a good and bad side this too has its disadvantages, such as:

• Extra cost to company: Biometric software and machine cost a lot more, so installing such software need a good investment money wise.

• Extra management: Remember when every employee is logging his own timing when he comes or leaves; there is no extra management here. But, if you are putting a machine there has to be taken some care of it.

Biometrics time and management software is really helpful when creating payrolls for employees. Once a definite timing has been registered you don’t need to think twice before creating the employees pay.

Many homes are also using such kind of software to have a safe and secure home. Biometric software is really helpful when you need security in your home as well as in office. There are many companies all over the world providing such biometric time and attendance software. You just need to keep an eye on the technologies and websites that are providing you these.

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History and Components of a Modern Mainframe Computer

Mainframe computers are critical for some of the largest corporations in the world. Each mainframe has more than one modern processor, RAM ranging from a few megabytes to multiple-score gigabytes, and disk space and other storage beyond anything on a microcomputer. A mainframe can control multiple tasks and serve thousands of users every second without downtime.

The chief difference between mainframes and other computing systems is the level of processing that takes place. Mainframes are also different in terms of data bandwidth, organization, reliability, and control. Big organizations-banking, healthcare, insurance, and telecom companies, etc.-use mainframes for processing critical commercial data.

In this article, we discuss the evolution of mainframe computers and their components.

History of mainframe computers

IBM developed a critical part of mainframe computing, the Automatic Sequenced Controlled Calculator (ASCC) for arithmetic operations, in 1944. From the late 1950s through the 1970s, several companies manufactured mainframes: IBM, Burroughs, RCA, NCR, General Electric, and Sperry Rand, for example. Since then, System / 390 by IBM is the only kind of mainframe in use. It evolved from IBM's System / 360 in 1960.

An Early mainframe occupied a huge space. New technologies have drastically reduced the size and cost of the hardware. A current-generation mainframe can fit in a small closet.

Components of a modern mainframe computer

Like a PC, a mainframe has many components for processing data: operating system, motherboard or main board, processor, controllers, storage devices, and channels.

• Motherboard: The motherboard of a mainframe computer consists of a printed circuit that allows CPU, RAM, and other hardware components to function together through a concept called "Bus architecture". The motherboard has device slots for input cards and cable interfaces for various external devices. Where PC motherboards use 32- or 64-bit buses, mainframes use 128-bit buses. General instructions regarding the internal architecture help the motherboard connect to the other devices and retrieve data using binary computation.

• Processor: A CPU acts as the central processing point in mainframe architecture and includes an Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU) for performing arithmetic calculations. It also works as a controller for the bus architecture and handles traffic and data requests. The processing power of mainframes is much higher compared to PCs, so that they can handle huge amounts of data.

• Storage devices: Storage devices are for entering, retrieving, storing, and recording data. Many are external devices, such as hard drives, tape drives, and punch card readers, all connected to terminals of the mainframe and controlled by the CPU. Their capacity for data storage can be hundred or even thousands of times that of a PC.

• Communication controllers: Communication controllers allow remote computers to access a mainframe. With the help of networks, LAN or WAN, communication controllers establish connections with various devices, perform data transmission over communication channels, and keep track of users at terminals.

• Channels: The "channels" are the cables used to connect the CPU and the main storage to other parts of the system and make sure that data is moved in a systematic way without losing its integrity.

Modern mainframes have advanced features such as expanded service management capabilities, cross-platform integration facilities, etc. And so are suitable for critical data center operations. The cost of maintaining modern mainframes is much less compared to older models.

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Website Design – Hardware and Software Tools You May Need

Before you get started with your new website or editing your current site, you need to consider which hardware and software tools you may need to support your efforts.

When it comes to hardware needed this can be very simple or reasonably complex depending on your particular needs. Of course, if you plan to create a new website (or even view your new website later) you need a computer. Simple enough, right? Not necessarily. We prefer to work with Apple Macintosh (OSX Leopard on MacBook Pro) as we do a lot of intensive graphics work and have previously invested in Adobe Creative Suite software (Photoshop, InDesign, Flash, Dreamweaver, etc.). It is just as easy to create your new website using your Windows PC but we would suggest you stay away from using Windows Vista (any version) and migrate to Windows 7 or stick with Windows XP. These operating systems are just much more stable and reliable.

Another consideration for hardware should be some sort of backup hard drive or removable USB memory stick(s). It is important that you back up all of your website data to a removable drive in the event your computer crashes, is broken or is stolen. When you create website files, most of your data will be stored on the website hosting servers but, in many cases, you will have many other “builder files” that usually never make it to the hosting servers. If you lose this data you will be forced to start from scratch in many cases. Another piece of hardware that many forget about is a HD Video Camcorder. If you plan to include video on your site, you should be investing in something half decent; you can normally pick up a good video camera that also captures “still photos” for under $500.00.

When it comes to software needed, this can be somewhat more complicated, again depending on what your website design goals are. At the very least, you will need some sort of text editing software, FTP (file transfer software), graphics creation software and then a variety of other tools as you progress.

Here are some of the most common subjects you should consider when planning the design of your website product.

COMPUTER

Do you currently have a computer that can process large files (i.e. – video files) quickly and efficiently?

WEBSITE SERVER

Are you planning to host your own website portal? If so, do you know what type of hardware and server software you will need?

BACKUP HARD DRIVE or USB STICK

Do you currently have some sort of backup hard drive equipment or plan?

VIDEO CAMERA

Will you be creating custom videos for your website and, if so, do you have a HD video camera ready to go?

MOBILE WEB DEVICES

Are you planning to make your website “mobile web friendly”? If so, do you have an iPhone and an iPad? Android phone? Blackberry device? These will be needed for testing purposes!

WEBSITE CREATION SOFTWARE

Do you have any website creation software (i.e. – Adobe Dreamweaver or Microsoft Front Page) installed, licensed and ready to use?

GRAPHICS EDITING SOFTWARE

Are you planning to create your own website graphics or edit pictures? Do you have the necessary software (i.e. – Adobe Photoshop or Photo Studio)?

DATABASES

Are you planning on creating a database for your website and, if so, do you know which software to use for this purpose?

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How to Change the MPI Node Address For a Siemens S7-300 PLC

I have seven Siemens S7-300 PLCs connected together using the MPI (Multi Point Interface) interface. The Siemens MPI protocol is used by Siemens PLCs to communicate with external devices. I want to rename each of the seven PLCs. Here are the steps to accomplish that task.

First, connect your MPI cable to the first PLC. I will be connecting my laptop to each PLC individually. Power up the PLC and open Simatic Manager. The "New Project" Wizard window will open. Just click Cancel to close the window. Now click the Accessible Nodes icon on the toolbar. A window will open showing the identification of the PLC you are connected to. My window is showing MPI = 2 (directly). Make a note of this address and close the window.

Next we need to download a hardware configuration to the PLC. This is where we will rename the PLC node address. There are probably a couple of different ways to do this – following is how I accomplish this. All seven of my PLCs are the same model; Therefore, I am using the same hardware configuration. For the obvious reasons, I want to give each a different MPI node address. I have a project file that contains all seven of my PLC programs and one hardware configuration file. I open the one hardware configuration file, and then double click Hardware in the right hand window. This will open the HW Configuration window. In this window you should see your PLC with its MPI address given.

Remember when we clicked the Accessible Nodes icon and saw MPI = 2 (directly)? My Hardware Configuration Window is showing a MPI address of 7. Place your mouse cursor on the 7 and double click. Your CPU Properties window will open. It should open to the General tab. Look down and you will see Interface Type MPI with an address of 7. Click Properties and the MPI interface Properties window will open. Using the pull down menu, choose your MPI node address and make sure the MPI (1) 187.5kbps is highlighted and click OK. You are now back on the CPU Properties window where you will see your address has changed. Click OK and you will go back to the Hard Ware window where you can verify your MPI node address has changed.

You will now click the Save and Compile icon and then click the download icon. The Select Target Module window will open. Click OK and the Select Node Address window will open. Here you will see the MPI node address you assigned earlier. You will need to click the View button right below this. You will see the current node address appear, this should be the same as what you saw earlier when you clicked the Accessible Nodes icon. Simply click on this number and you will see it appear in the MPI address slot under the Enter connection to target station. Click OK and the Download to Module window will open. Click OK and the Stop Target Modules window will open. Click OK and the "Do you want to start the module?" Window will open. Click Yes.

Now go back to the SIMATIC Manager window and click the accessible nodes icon. You will see your new MPI node address. You can see this same article with pictures at http://www.morerobototics.com .

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Understanding the Significance of Computer Hardware

We are living in an age that is highly influenced by technology. Most of the activities we need to do now are automatic or computerized. Of all the technological developments achieved in the recent past, one significant tool that got developed and which will certainly keep influencing our lives is the computer. You would agree that computers play a very basic role in our daily life, just like the television and the cell phone. We are already at a stage where life will be difficult without a computer. That makes it important to understand the way a computer works, and then be informed of what we should do if it stops working. The most important part of any computer is its hardware, in the absence of which it just can not function.

If you are really keen to assess what has gone wrong with your computer when it stops working, you should understand the working and constituents of its hardware. You should especially have solid knowledge about the computer hardware when you want to undertake its troubleshooting on your own. One important part of the hardware is the RAM memory of any computer. For running any program or application, any computer needs a RAM memory. Other than that, if the computer has a RAM with specifications that are not compatible with the programs it is expected to run, its operation will be slowed down and it would almost crawl. When choosing a computer, you need to ensure that its hardware is not outdated, otherwise you'll have to upgrade it in order to be able to use the intended program.

You must take certain basic precautions while handling the hardware of computers. The most essential precaution is to ensure that the power supply to your computer is switched off, else it could cause an electric shock. Then, before you touch any part within the computer, ensure that you are not carrying any electric charge by connecting to a grounded piece of metal or you may procure an anti-static mat or wrist band available in the market. While inspecting the hardware components, you should look for broken or damaged component, as these are most likely the reasons for the computer malfunction. If a component does not fit in the slot, you are probably trying to fit it in the incorrect slot.

Once you know the hardware employed in your computer and the role it plays in the functionality of your computer, you'll be in a position to undertake its troubleshooting when it malfunctions. Each piece of hardware contributes to the successful function of the computer. To a large extent, the working of a computer depends on the quality of its hardware, making it imperative to keep it in good condition.

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10 Top Reasons Why I Have to Upgrade My Computer

The rate at which technology is improving is very fast and in the time you get comfortable with the computer hardware you have bought, several new and improved models appear in the market. While some people prefer to keep their computers state of the art, most of us have a 'If it is not broken, do not fix it' attitude when it comes to upgrading or replacing our computers.

This is a strategy that could prove expensive in the long run. It is always better to upgrade your computer on a regular basis, especially if you have had it for over 2-3 years. Even if your computer has had a large trouble-free existence, you really need to consider periodic upgrades and here are the reasons why you must dos so:

1. Increase in Processing Speed ​​- This is one place where you really get to notice an improvement in performance. If you are upgrading from a Celeron 433MHz processor to a Pentium 4 1.6GHz, you would really notice the difference in performance!

2. Faster Memory Access – Improvements in CPU speed are typically accommodated by improvements in the speed at which data transfer occurs between the CPU and RAM. This is another area that provides an improvement in performance.

3. Size and Capacity improvements – Technology drives a reduction in component size coupled with an increase in storage capacity. This means that a RAM card or hard disk of the similar size as the older ones in your computer could have double the capacity!

4. Software Compatibility – Many of the new software packages you may wish to use in order to improve your productivity or entertainment experience may not function well on you old computer. It is better to upgrade your computer to enjoy the benefits of new software fully.

5. Obsolescence of Hardware – As your hardware gets older; Getting a replacement will get more difficult once manufacturers start phasing out the production. With improvement in technology, the older hardware becomes cheaper initially and becomes expensive as supply dries up.

6. Technical Support Issues – Many manufacturers stop providing technical support for older components as they cease production. The older your computer gets, the harder it is to find help in fixing it when it malfunctions.

7. Development of New Hardware – New hardware products appear in the market frequently that revolutionize your computer experience and are based on newly developed technology. The chances of your old computer supporting new devices are very low.

8. Faster Devices – Your old computer may not be in a position to accommodate the speed at which the new devices communicate.

9. New, Fast Communication Protocols – You may not be able to implement new or faster communication protocols in your old computer because the hardware is unable to support them.

10. Operating System and File Format – Your old hardware may not be able to run newer operating systems and some of the file formats may not be supported.

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Review of Takeoff Software for Estimating Construction

So often people want to rush out and buy estimating software or takeoff software without first trying to define their internal estimating processes. Once the estimating process is clearly defined, then and only then, can you actually try to compartmentalize the process into segments. So often the segment is really quantity takeoff. Takeoff of what you may wonder? That is like the million dollar question. This article will speak about the takeoff software process which usually associated with estimating software processes. The takeoff software process can often be takeoff of materials for some folks, and to many others, the takeoff process of scoped systems to create estimates or proposals. This review or comparison will not try to explain the estimating software process but bring to you valid quantity takeoff thinking among estimators in a quest to find which product thinks the way you do. These are the opinions of the author.

I will review and compare 3 types of measuring takeoff products:

It is extremely important to note that these are ONLY measuring takeoff programs, NOT estimating programs.

1) Planswift

2) On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software

3) Electronic Plan Takeoff Software

All three products have their strengths, however, Planswift and On-Screen Takeoff are stand-alone products and Electronic Plan Takeoff is actually dynamically integrated live with Microsoft Excel which means that it starts and finishes and saves in Excel. They all integrate with Excel, however, you will have to evaluate your thought process and decide which of the three products work-flow think along the lines of how you think. For instance, what is the first thing you do when you get a set of plans? Typically, you start flipping through the plans to see how involved the project is and what type of work do you see that is attractive for your company. Then when you decide you are going to estimate this job, more often than not, you start like 80% of companies in the world of construction estimating by opening your takeoff master template Excel spreadsheet. You rename your spreadsheet to the new job or project and off you go performing takeoff. This is where the differences are:

In Planswift, you decide what drawing you are on and then you perform the measuring of an item you want to perform takeoff on the plan. Unfortunately, that is not exactly how an estimator thinks. Planswift does give you the ability to add a type of takeoff item on the fly by naming it and then perform takeoff of it; somewhat of a very manual and slow process. They also provide you with the ability of applying a type of assembly to a takeoff to aggregate quantities of items in that assembly. Not quite the way an estimator thinks. It forces you to jump to different screens which slows down the process. Typically, the main start of anyone’s takeoff process, or some may think of it as a checklist approach, is to start with your own spreadsheet of YOUR items. Those items can be material items or can be scoped assembly system items. Either way, by starting with a master spreadsheet say in Excel for example, many estimators think of this as a risk reducer, not to forget things they normally takeoff. Being that Planswift is a stand-alone takeoff program, it typically saves your takeoff images in Planswift instead of your estimate in Excel, if Excel is your estimating system. If you are using Excel, you have to manually save your takeoff measurement numbers in Excel and your takeoff images in Planswift or elsewhere, just not in Excel where the takeoff quantity resides. Again, if you want to integrate with Excel, they force you to either export or import takeoff items from Excel rather than being dynamically integrated live to Excel. They do however have the ability to dump the measured quantity from Planswift into any Excel spreadsheet or Word document. The main purpose or the primary focus of this program is measuring, therefore it does a good job at that function. Most of the other functions require you to jump around different screens, and essentially, you loose your thought of where you are. There are some features that attempt to address the estimating process, however, there are many features that are missing for Planswift to be a full fledged estimating system; it is NOT one. Planswift does integrate with the leading estimating system Sage Timberline, but the integration is weak. Since Timberline’s power is in assembly takeoff and where most estimators reside in Timberline, Planswift does not give the estimator the ability to add quantities of miscellaneous Timberline items or one-time items that need to added on the fly to an assembly while they are in Planswift at the Timberline interview screen, and while being in the measuring phase. Planswift does allow the deleting of assembly generated items as well adjusting assembly item quantities in a different screen. Again, to perform all that, you are forced to jump around to different screens. No assembly is ever perfect in any estimating system since project conditions are always uniquely different, therefore, having to add items to an assembly is extremely important. That adding of items and associated quantities is an absolute requirement any estimator typically has to do during the takeoff measuring and estimating phase; something that Planswift struggles with as related to Timberline Estimating. Planswift does allow the direct send of measurements to Timberline Estimating items and assemblies while in Timberline Estimating, just as you would do with the old digitizer measuring boards. Training, support and maintenance are extra for Planswift. On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software, and Planswift charge their annual maintenance and support fees per license (mandatory) which costs the end user more expense annually especially if a customer has more than one license.

On Center’s On-Screen Takeoff is the Grand Daddy of software takeoff products due to the fact that it has been around the longest. On Center recognizes that On-Screen Takeoff is primarily a measuring program. That is why they have a separate estimating program named QuickBid for those who want an estimating program. On Center does not try to trick you into thinking it is an estimating system. In On-Screen Takeoff, you also decide what drawing you are on and then you perform the measuring of the plan. BUT, before you start, you can load a master set styles of things you typically takeoff or measure from your own library. That process seems to be less complicated than that of Planswift. On-Screen Takeoff does give you the ability to add a type of takeoff item on the fly by naming it and then performing takeoff of it; somewhat of a manual and slow process as well. The program does come with many features that are primarily focused on simple measuring to advanced measuring issues all with attention to detail regarding easy navigation for the takeoff process. On Center does a very good job at that. However, there seems to be a disconnect of thought from an Excel spreadsheet items you may use for estimating and/or proposals. The integration to Microsoft Excel is not a dynamic live link, more like an after thought in my opinion. Yes, you can establish links to named styles to cells or ranges in Excel, somewhat rigid. But the question you will have to ask yourself, which will happen more often than not is: What do you do when you need to add things on the fly during takeoff and in an Excel spreadsheet? Again there will be manual associations you will have to establish with Excel which is another major slowdown. You have to manually save your takeoff measurement numbers in Excel and your takeoff images in On-Screen or anywhere you decide, except the takeoff images will not be saved in Excel where the takeoff quantity resides. This type of situation arises when a takeoff program is a stand-alone program. On Center’s On-Screen Takeoff has the best integration with the most widely used estimating system in the USA: Sage Timberline Estimating. It basically mimics the same interview process as you would do with the old digitizer measuring boards. By working directly with Timberline, On-Screen Takeoff allows the estimator to perform takeoff of a Timberline variable question and immediately returns back directly with the takeoff quantity in a Timberline assembly at the variable question. By virtue of this process, On-Screen Takeoff allows the estimator to continue his/her Timberline interview process in Sage Timberline Estimating by reviewing/massaging generated quantities, or adding items in a Timberline assembly as the estimator see fit. That workflow process gives full control to the estimator, good job On Center. Training, support and maintenance are extra for On-Screen Takeoff. On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software, and Planswift charge their annual maintenance and support fees per license (mandatory) which costs the end user more expense annually especially if a customer has more than one license.

This next system is ONLY if your estimating system or proposal generator is Microsoft Excel. Electronic Plan Takeoff Software is a plug-in for Excel. You start your spreadsheet, you perform the measuring takeoff, you may even add some more items on the fly all the while you are in the measuring phase in the Electronic Plan Takeoff program. When you are done, even if you added items on the fly, they automatically appear in your Excel spreadsheet. Excel is the control of everything. Your project is started in Excel, your takeoff is saved in Excel, the estimate or proposal is/can be produced there in Excel; one program, one place. Many takeoff programs interface with Excel somehow, but only Electronic Plan Takeoff is live linked with Excel, meaning all your Excel spreadsheet descriptions appear in the measuring takeoff program so you always know where you are in Excel. That is a huge difference in comparison to Planswift and On-Screen Takeoff. You can even change a description of a takeoff item in Electronic Plan Takeoff and it is automatically changed live, in your Excel spreadsheet. When you talk about the estimating and takeoff phase you must keep processes cleans and easy and this program does just that. There is no getting lost in this program. Just like the other reviewed programs above, the central focus of this program is takeoff measuring, and it does a GREAT job at that. The navigation within the program is really simple and easy. It is not made to work with other estimating systems, but there is a version that allows the direct send of measurements to any Microsoft Windows program awaiting a keyboard entry, just as you would do with digitizer measuring boards. There is also a version that works with digitizer boards as well. If you use Microsoft Excel for estimating, or takeoffs, or proposals, then this Electronic Plan Takeoff program for Excel would be your best choice. The integration to Excel is unmatched in Electronic Plan Takeoff compared to Planswift or On-Screen Takeoff. What is quite different in Electronic Plan Takeoff is that training, support, and maintenance are INCLUDED with a purchase, whereas training, support and maintenance are extra for Planswift and On-Screen Takeoff. Moreover, annual support and maintenance for Electronic Plan Takeoff year two and beyond is a low fee per company per year, instead of per license. On-Screen Takeoff by On Center Software, and Planswift charge their annual maintenance and support fees per license (mandatory) which costs the end user more expense annually especially if a customer has more than one license.

Microsoft and Excel are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation. Planswift is the registered trademark of Tech Unlimited, Inc. On-Screen Takeoff and QuickBid are registered trademarks of On Center Software, Inc. Sage Timberline Office, Sage Timberline Estimating are registered trademarks of Sage Software, Inc.

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Microsoft Access and Medical Private Practice

For physicians medical office software installation could be nerve-wracking, not because they want to avoid electronic medical records, but because the majority of the software packages are too complicated and very expensive for them.

The good news is, you can make your medical office software system uncomplicated and relatively easily maintained with one of the popular database software packages being used today, the Microsoft Access.

Microsoft Access is a relational database system developed by Microsoft. Microsoft Access is one of the easiest and most flexible database management solutions for the medical office and provides data validation and user-friendly features on data entry screens. It has been the dominant lightweight database system used for the last decade and has continued to grow with additional features. Access is a productive and very customizable solution for small medical practices and comes with MS Office (or standalone). However the next step up in a medical environment would be MS SQL Server but small medical offices usually only has need of a lightweight application and the added functionality with MS SQL Server, comes with a heavy price.

With this relational database system you can be up and running in one hour, which means that it is not necessary for your practice to spend lot of money to purchase, configure, update and maintain an SQL Server solution. Microsoft Access includes without any additional costs, points of integration with popular software packages including: Microsoft Word, Excel & Outlook and provides a free runtime version.

MS Access network setup is very easy. A medical office with 2-8 users is up and running within ten minutes, while installation and application maintenance is extremely simple. Virtually any user with a basic knowledge of Microsoft Access can handle all maintenance procedures without the assistance of IT personnel.

Keep also in mind that SQL Server is the flagship database system from Microsoft and it is suitable for use in environments with up to thousands of users. Microsoft Access can handle 2- 8 users and it is limited to 2 GB data storage.

We are convinced that the best way for private medical offices around the world to enter the world of electronic medical records is to purchase a professionally designed but inexpensive and affordable Microsoft Access based software solution.

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