My wife left a message the other day for me to pick up some things from the grocery store on the way home. It would have been a perfect little piece of Americana right out of 1950s television were it not for the fact that Sue e-mailed the message. Ward and June Cleaver meet Bill Gates.
What struck me as I was printing out the grocery list was not how '90s our family has become, but how ordinary the applications for the Internet are now. You know that a tool has truly taken root when it is no longer saved for our special needs, but broadly applied to our most mundane daily tasks.
The story about Hogge Precision Parts strikes a similar chord. This South Carolina shop put in its first computer-based shop control system only two years ago. At the time it needed a way to get its arms around some material management problems that were the result of a business outgrowing its administrative methodology. But once Hogge had the computers, the network, the data and the means to manage it, it was a surprisingly short step to develop a Web-compatible interface so customers could log into the system. In business, sometimes you need to talk to a person, but most times you just need information. And now when Hogge Precision's customers want to check the status of a job or get a list of outstanding orders, they can get that information themselves, immediately, and at any hour of the day.
Ten years ago this connectivity would have been deemed a major triumph of computer-integrated manufacturing. Indeed, some large manufacturing concerns spent vast resources building some very special computer systems to deliver similar functionality, only to reap mixed results. To be fair, those systems were created with much larger ambitions in mind. But to be accurate, that's why a lot of them failed.
Mainly, though, wide area integration didn't become widely applied because the tools weren't there for the average shop, and neither then was the value. That time is over. Now, the reason why a lot of people still have a hard time seeing the Web as a useful tool of industrial connectivity is that they can't see what they would use it for in their daily jobs. Hogge Precision does. Its application is such a spectacular example of why we all need to know the Web, not for the gee-whiz factor, but because it makes such basic sense. It's a logical tool to do a straightforward job. This is our future, and it is now.