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An interactive videodisc - the competitive edge in manufacturing

David Lee
Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research)
University of South Australia

Leanne Renfree
The Authoring House
Cheltenham, Victoria

The need to improve skills in strategic planning has been identified in numerous reports on the performance of Australian manufacturing industry. The World Competitive Manufacturing (WCM) strategic planning approach developed in 1987 has been strongly promoted by NIES for Australian use. Consultants and senior management have been able to acquire the necessary strategic planning skills by participating in intensive workshops While these workshops are most effective they are expensive and selective. There was seen to be a need for a complementary educational package to allow company personnel at many levels, as well as tertiary students of management and engineering, to gain an understanding of the need for strategic planning and to acquire the basic skills of the WCM methodology.

The result is the interactive videodisc The Competitive Edge in Manufacturing. It has been developed by a team including the technology management consultants who developed the WCM approach.

The videodisc allows the user to enter a simulated company environment, to interact with the management team and work with them to develop the company's strategic plan within the WCM framework. The user then experiences the consequences of decisions made in this process. Depending on the decisions made there are many possible outcomes for the company in the case study.

This paper describes why interactive videodisc was chosen for the project, comments on the educational, video and computing design and implementation . The important notion of a mentor base, embedded in this competitive edge disc in a limited form, is discussed as a key feature for interactive multimedia products.

The package has now been released commercially following successful trialing at the University of SA.


The need to improve strategic planning skills in Australian manufacturing enterprises has been widely recognised. For example the Australian Manufacturing Council report on manufacturing in the 1990s (Pappas 1989) identified " a long term strategic focus by management" as a top priority; the report also emphasised the need to upgrade employee skills.

In 1987 the Australian government, through the National Industry Extension service (NIES) had already commissioned the development of a strategic planning methodology known as World Competitive Manufacturing (WCM) to address this requirement. Consultants and senior company personnel were able to acquire these WCM strategic planning skills by participating in intensive workshops run by teams from Aptech Australia, the developers of the package. While these workshops are very effective, and NIES has subsidised special opportunities for academics, they are necessarily selective. There was seen to be a need for a complementary educational approach to allow company personnel at many levels, as well as tertiary students of management and engineering, to gain an understanding of the need for strategic planning and to acquire the basic skills of the WCM and similar methodologies.

Why interactive video disc

The national need for increased education and training in strategic planning was clear. How to deliver it was not.

The solution had to be suitable for universities and colleges of further education, for in house company training and, ideally, be accessible to senior secondary school programs since they represent a key phase in shaping an enterprise culture in Australia.

It needed to recognise that users would not generally have background knowledge of how a company, particularly a manufacturing one, operates.

The flexibility of computer aided learning systems was immediately attractive. The capability of interactive videodisc systems to bring the images, sounds and general operating characteristics of a manufacturing company to the user, coupled with this computer control made it especially attractive. The limited national availability of videodisc systems and the inevitable uncertainty of future technology development paths were negatives. However at the time there was a special opportunity to draw together an enthusiastic team with previous successful experience in videodisc development. Aptech were just completing a videodisc on Machining Centres, working with Jane Elliot and Leanne Renfree of Prologic in Victoria. Adelaide College of TAFE, particularly through the agencies of Nigel Russel and Herb Peppard, had released the widely acclaimed Aussie Barbeque language education disc. Prologic in South Australia were keen to extend their active CBE group into videodisc technology. The author, an academic with an interest in strategic processes and alternative learning systems, was currently working with Aptech and provided a linkage between the parties. Significantly DITAC and the respective South Australian and Victorian industry development departments all recognised the need for Australia to develop a distributable learning resource in strategic planning and to add to the pool of experience in using advanced learning technologies. With their support the project was commissioned and the team building exercise and conceptual design began. The project team and supporting agencies are acknowledged in the final section of this paper.

The package design

The objective was to develop an autonomous or small group learning tool, which would allow the users, in industry or an educational establishment to master the essence of strategic planning in a manufacturing company. On completion it was expected that the user could contribute to a WCM like strategic planning process in a manufacturing company.

How this objective might be achieved was the subject of a sequence of preliminary planning workshops to which a number of managers, consultants and academics contributed.

The development team worked through several case studies suggested by the above process at a WCM workshop specially provided by Aptech for the project.

Eventually the design settled on the core concept of a user learning WCM based planning skills by applying them in a simulated company environment. The 3D Furniture Manufacturing Company case study, used successfully in the WCM workshops throughout Australia, was the final choice. This case study had several advantages: furniture manufacturing is conceptually accessible to a wide audience yet rich enough to span the complexities of company operations and there was a set of accumulated experience from previous workshops to draw from.

The script for the video film sequences was built from this national workshop experience in the case study and from the project team, now enthusiastically committed to their roles as managers implementing the WCM process at 3D furniture. Professional actors were employed for the final filming.

In the videodisc implementation case study the user "enters" the company as an assistant to the company's general manager as he and his management team are about to be guided through the WCM process and seek to use it to plan their company's future. The user, now in the person of Jo (or Joe) the assistant to the GM, participates in the planning meetings, can interact with the other managers as they work through the process and decides on which views will prevail in the process. It is essentially a qualitative management game with a rich set of outcomes.

The central case study is supported by a number of other features and interlinked learning opportunities.

There is a structured tutorial in the WCM method. This tutorial is stitched together from the WCM consultant's briefings in the case study and other material from Aptech's workshops. While it is not necessary to take the tutorial to work through the case study it seems to be a popular approach.

The 3D furniture company has a sister company, MTC a metal treater and fabricator, which is two years in advance of 3D Furniture in applying the WCM planning approach. The user may choose to visit MTC at certain points in the study to gain some insight into the process in hand at 3D Furniture; it provides a very useful source of educational reinforcement.

There is also a mentor base. Essentially it is a glossary of terms and data base supported by videodisc images and video clips. The mentor base is accessible, like a help file, at any time and returns the user to his/her previous task or stage after the inquiry is completed. Originally it was intended to develop an intelligent mentor base - one which could infer what response to the question might be most useful given the users current task and stage in the learning process. For example, an early user browsing through the disc, may be satisfied by a formal definition and some examples to illustrate the term. A person in the middle of a case study may be better served by reinforcement of the definition with the relevant clip from the tutorial or by seeing what sister company MTC had done. Hence the term mentor; a source of wise advice appropriate to the occasion. A good idea, commended for consideration in future multimedia systems, but truncated here because of the pressures to achieve a product which was already overtaxing the budget and patience of the contributors.

There is a built in facility for the user to write his/her own notes onto a file. This may be useful to record key hints in the case study or allow the user to apply the method to his/her own company.

3D Furniture Case Study interface

The operational design emphasises the freedom of a user to navigate through the material as desired. Overall control is through screen menus. A mouse guided screen cursor is used to select menu options and to point to options in screens or montages to trigger desired responses or branches. A control bar feature overlays all interruptable segments allowing exit to control menus, fast forwarding or replay.

It is programmed in modules using the CPAL authoring language.


It is too early to comment on its educational impact other than to note the fairly positive outcomes of pre-release trials at the University of South Australia and SA Centre for Manufacturing. Originally the design emphasised autonomous learning but during trialing it has been progressively repositioned as an educational resource for small group work in association with a structured course or under the guidance of an experienced planner or manager. It does bring a business environment, and the interplay between functional units in an organisation, into the users experience in a rather dynamic way.

Apart from its use in business studies courses, an unexpected school use is emerging. Since many of the case study tasks require the extraction of information from the managers discussion sessions or comments, it is a novel source of comprehension exercises providing, almost incidentally, an effective insight into business life often missing from the school curriculum. It is obviously also useful in develop skills in learning via advanced learning technologies. Strategic planning skills are a bonus.


The support of the following organisations for funding or other material contributions is gratefully acknowledged:
Department of Industry, Trade and Technology (South Australian Government)
Department of Manufacturing and Industry Development (Victorian Government)
National Industry Extension Service (Australian Government)
Department of Employment and Technical and Further Education (with special mention of Adelaide College of TAFE)
University of South Australia
Aptech Australia Pty Ltd
The Authoring House, a division of In House Technologies Pty Ltd
South Australian Centre for Manufacturing Pty Ltd
Techsearch Incorporated
The project team comprised
Terry Tysoe (DITT) - Chair of the project steering committee
Jane Elliott and Leanne Renfree (Authoring House)
Nigel Russel (DETAFE - now Aussie Vision)
Jeff Clayton (Aptech)
David Lee (University of SA)
but derived great support from a number of other people in Adelaide College of TAFE, Department of Industry Trade and Technology, Aptech, Adelaide University and University of SA who generously contributed to the design or production of the disc.

The disc is marketed by Techsearch Incorporated Adelaide.


Pappas Carter Evans & Koop/Telesis (1989). The Global Challenge: Australian Manufacturing in the 1990s. Australian Manufacturing Council.

Authors: Professor David Lee is Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research) at the University of South Australia, Levels Campus, SA 5095. Ms Leanne Renfree is at The Authoring House, 35 Edward Street, Cheltenham, Victoria 3192.

Please cite as: Lee, D. and Renfree, L. (1992). An interactive videodisc - the competitive edge in manufacturing. In Promaco Conventions (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 99-104. Perth, Western Australia, 27-31 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1992/lee-d.html

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