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Adding up the value of maths

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Companies should regard mathematical calculations as a form of corporate knowledge to be retained and re-used, Allen Razdow, one of the founders of Mathsoft, told Tom Wilkie.

Scientists and engineers have been using Mathcad for years to perform and document critical calculations, but Mathsoft is now promoting an 'enterprise edition'. What lies behind this?

Mathcad's greatest value is as a knowledge-capture mechanism. In industry, there's a lot of money being spent on 'knowledge management', but calculations were off the radar, so it's time to put them under the management. Mathcad has been the perfect vehicle for that for years. It is very good at capturing knowledge and highlighting that to managers.

Enterprises view calculation as a task routinely applied by engineers and scientists. We believe it is a central business application, and we're trying to approach it from that point of view. Even more so in science, calculation is critical to business. We leverage maths as a form of knowledge that enterprises can re-use, and verify, and discuss.

We have been miscast as a calculation tool with a nice interface.

In fact, the medium is the message - the knowledge capture is important.

Mathcad supports true mathematical notation - 'the nice interface' - and thus transparently documents calculations rather than hiding formulas behind cells. How does this help?

Excel is the most commonly used maths calculation software, but every sheet has one to two errors. The largest number of errors in spreadsheets are effectively data entry problems. Error management is important part of Mathcad. If you can read the formula you make fewer errors.

Mathcad also analyses and checks units. So if you have an exponent that is '2' rather than '3' then you will get, say, units of metres squared rather than metres cubed - but Mathcad will pick these errors up.

When writing spreadsheets, the programmer will pre-compute products of constants so that reverse engineering becomes impossible.

Mathcad encourages engineers to put in clusters of constants, and checks the units.

Mathsoft recently split and the part responsible for Mathcad went private again. Where does the enterprise edition fit in the new company's strategy?

We become a partner rather than a tool vendor, a friend of the enterprise. We began thinking about this in 1995/96 but now is a better time for us to do it, as networked infrastructure is in place.

We have two levels of client: the Mathcad user base; and the larger users that need thin-client access through browsers. There are five to ten times as many thin-client opportunities as heavy users.

We're trying to raise the importance of maths to managers, by offering a rich medium that allows organisations to have a discourse about their mathematics.