By Ron VandenBoom
The newest and most complex passenger aircraft ever built, the Boeing 777, went from design to completion in 4.5 years.
That was an extraordinary accomplishment, Dr. Richard Donovan told about 25 people attending a meeting in Havre Tuesday. The noon meeting at 15 West was sponsored by the Business Development Committee of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.
Donovan, an assistant professor of engineering at Montana Tech, told the crowd that the time span for the 777 was amazingly short compared to other similar projects. Previous Boeing aircraft took 15 years to make it from the drawing board to completion, he said. The Boeing 777 was complex, he said, because it was designed and built on three continents.
That story was just one of the illustrations Donovan gave to explain a new business development idea he wants to see brought to Montana called RAVE (Rocky Mountain Agile Virtual Enterprise).
Donovan explained that Boeing was able to accomplish greater speed and accuracy, resolve problems in the aircraft's design and engineering, and coordinate manufacturing activities by integrating all its various departments by computer and a concept called concurrent engineering.
Donovan wants to take the Boeing concept one step farther by creating in Montana what he calls "The Agile Web," a conglomerate of various businesses forming a network to provide high-tech products to customers.
It entails "building a collaborative business network among high-tech manufacturers to go after opportunities that individually they wouldn't have access to," Donovan said, "either due to a lack of competency, or a lack of capacity, or a lack of marketing."
A similar program in Pennsylvania has proven amazingly successful, Donovan said.
"Pennsylvania has provided funding to create 15 additional collaborative business networks like the Agile Web," he said.
The Agile Web would coordinate the various aspects of product design, production, and marketing, utilizing businesses already in Montana. It also would utilize Montana's colleges and universities to accomplish the task.
Donovan told the crowd that Montana can't rely on businesses like mining to turn its economy around describing them as "no longer economically viable."
"And if we wait for the manna to drop from heaven some big manufacturer to come in here and build a plant it's not going to happen," he said.
Donovan reminded the crowd that Montana ranks near the bottom in all economic indicators and, if Washington D.C. were included in the mix, would rank 51st in some categories.
He described the Agile Web as a bus coming down the road.
"We can either be driving the bus or we will be under the bus," he said.
Donovan estimated that e-commerce will be a $250 trillion-a-year market by 2006. "Let's say all we want is 1/100 of a percent of that," he said. "That's a $250 million-a-year business here in Montana."
Donovan said we already have the resources here in Montana to get the Agile Web started and that it will require no new sewers, roads, power lines or curbs.
"All we are talking about here is tying (businesses') excess capacity into a single company not unlike what Boeing would look like," he said. "We don't even have to be all that good. All we have to do is get in the game."
HB-307, introduced in this session of the Legislature by Steve Gallus, D-Butte, would have appropriated $400,000 for training and software to get the Agile Web started in Montana. The bill failed to make the appropriations transmittal date and for all intents and purposes is dead for this session.
For more information on the Agile Web concept, contact Dr. Donovan at 406-496-4770 or by e-mail at email@example.com.