IT View: Operations Intelligence--A New Competitive Edge

The Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) is known as the source of knowledge and best practices for MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems), but the rapidly growing demand for better information flow and decision support for manufacturing has propelled another aspect of manufacturing information technology (IT)—Operations Intelligence—into the limelight.

An increasingly competitive and dynamic business environment is requiring manufacturers to be more productive and more agile, yet maintain alignment with overall corporate objectives. In order to survive in this new business climate, companies are looking for ways to reengineer their business processes and better engage the intellectual capital within their employees. Manufacturers are finding that empowered employees, armed with information, are providing that next competitive edge. The enabler for the new competitive advantage is a category of applications that facilitates solutions in both real-time decision support and real-time performance management.

The key to successful Operations Intelligence solutions is to provide information that is business actionable. The value of information is realized when action is taken as a result of the information. While Operations Intelligence solutions can be applied to existing decision processes to achieve better-informed, timely decisions, the greatest value of Operations Intelligence may be in the new business processes that are made possible.

When information previously scattered across a wide variety of back-end sources is related and presented in a timely fashion to a broad audience of users, new business processes are enabled. Traditional thinking about the knowledge workers of an organization expands to include virtually everyone engaged in the manufacturing process. Manufacturers are finding that when these domain experts are made aware of the possibilities of Operations Intelligence, they begin to create new, more effective business processes. In this capacity, Operations Intelligence becomes a powerful catalyst for business-expert-driven process reengineering throughout the organization.

When the information needs of the users of Operations Intelligence solutions are examined, the attributes of the information provided that are critical to the success of the solution emerge (see box at left).

In addition to the technical requirements surrounding the preparation and delivery of information, it is also important that an Operations Intelligence solution not lose sight of the needs of the user. An essential ingredient is the deep involvement of business domain experts. These experts need to be able to define how information is presented and organized, without having these needs reinterpreted by a programmer. Also, because Operations Intelligence solutions often trigger a course of business-process reengineering, it is important that solutions be flexible and easily modified. Quite often, the success of an Operations Intelligence solution lies in its ability to be easily evolved as user needs evolve.

John Dyck, jdyck@ra.rockwell.com, is Chairman of MESA International (www.mesa.org), an association of suppliers and users of manufacturing operations management systems.

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