Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What Do Henry Ford and the Online Catalog Have In Common?

While Henry Ford's assembly line process was revolutionary, it did have a downside. All of the machine tools were created specifically and fixed in place for the Model T. Due to the significant costs of re-tooling, the Model T did not change for almost two decades.

Similarly, traditional computer software development involves vertical programming architecture where everything required by the program including data, the core application, and the interface are all created and fixed within that program. The online catalog is a great example. The bibliographic data, the application which searches that data, and the customer interface are also fixed within the online catalog system.

The assembling line problem was solved by General Motors which utilized a flexible manufacturing approach in which sub-assemblies were created at different factories which used interchangeable tools. This allowed GM to make changes to any of the sub-assemblies without disrupting the entire manufacturing process. The manufacturing approach that Japanese automakers used to cripple the American automakers took the concept one step further. They interchanged parts between model lines.

In service oriented architecture (SOA), the data, application, and interface are separated so that each can be implemented using the best technologies for the task. The pieces can be interchanged or repurposed.

If one were to build an online catalog using this concept, each of the pieces of the online catalog would be separate software modules. Each would be designed using the best technology for the task. One could then replace the interface module without disrupting the application and bibliographic data processing modules.

As with the Model T the amount of resources required to re-tool from one online catalog system into another are so significant that libraries also rarely switch. One hopes it doesn't take libraries two decades to figure it out. Sphere: Related Content

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