The Portal Server is “a very open platform,” adds Drew Costakis, Microsoft USA’s director for manufacturing. From it, he says, end-users can integrate data from factory floor as well as from business systems such as enterprise resource planning. Besides collaboration, the capabilities of the single-location, integrated Microsoft technology include enterprise-wide search for people and information, enterprise-wide creation and management of documents and other intellectual property, creation of workflows and electronic business forms, and access to critical business intelligence.
“We’re focused on role-based productivity,” Colyer emphasizes. One big trend Microsoft sees now with use of the Portal Server is team-based manufacturing operations. “It has become an extension of overall collaboration strategy [because] you don’t want different segments having their own strategies,” he says. “It sets up a much easier way of managing it [strategy], and how it gets leveraged and used.”
Such leverage and use appear limited only by end-users’ creativity and desire. “What you’re trying to drive is the capability to allow people to interact with a situation directly, in the confines of how they do business daily,” Colyer comments.
One typical example of daily business he cites is an alert at a plant. “It’s the classic huge fire drill.” Interacting in that situation involves real-time communication of information that triggers real-time action on that information. “If you see a fire, you’re not going to send an e-mail to the fire department—and the same thing applies to the factory floor,” Costakis remarks. What the Portal Server offers is “presence,” he asserts. “This will tell you whether someone can be contacted in real time.”
So, in the alert, instead of initiating e-mail and telephone calls, an end-user can have unified communications within the SP Portal Server, Colyer explains. “You find who’s available, who deals with issues like this.” That allows end-users to break down barriers and even look at multiple sites. Whatever happens, though, “I have information that’s delivered that right there in front of me,” he states.
Movement of information through SharePoint from a single site across the company also finds application with issues such as intellectual property or preserving institutional memory from soon-to-be-retiring workers, Colyer adds. Another application Costaskis mentions is Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp.’s (www.intel.corp) “copy exact” concept for duplicating fabrication facilities in remote locations, based on designs and layouts for facilities close to company headquarters.
Or SharePoint can be built into products. Manufacturing software supplier Aspen Technology Inc. (www.aspentech.com), in Burlington, Mass., leverages SP Portal Server in its Operations Manager suite of software, Colyer states. “They take advantage of SharePoint’s document library.” That allows check-in/check-out of documents, and searching across specific areas within the portal service.
Besides its capabilities, the Microsoft technology is independent of a company’s information technology (IT) group. “It is not an IT-centric solution. You can manage the infrastructure from a business level,” Colyer remarks. But, he notes that IT is going to be involved “in some shape or form.” That might include establishing policies, such as how sites are managed. But day-to-day use of SharePoint occurs at the business level, he stresses.
The technology seems poised to penetrate even deeper into manufacturing, because, as Costaskis observes, “on the factory floor, they’re craving and demanding information.” SP Portal Server technology—described in detail at www.microsoft.com/sharepoint/default.mspx—could satisfy that appetite, regardless of where the floor is located or how many different floors are involved.
C. Kenna Amos, email@example.com, is an Automation World Contributing Editor.