MES Massage

Somewhere between enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) you will find the manufacturing execution systems (MES) layer.

MES is rather new on the market, and it is hard to find information about best practices. Some system integrators used to do SCADA projects, and when implementing MES, they apply the SCADA project methodologies that they are familiar with. System integrators who have a background in ERP take those experiences as the basis for MES implementations. But of course, in the future, we want to have a project methodology that is a perfect fit for MES—a combination of the best of both worlds.

Traditional SCADA system integrators have learned the hard way that in MES implementations, technology is not the biggest challenge, but rather, that human aspects are.

An important difference between SCADA and MES projects is that in MES, so many more stakeholders are involved. In many cases, MES projects are about the implementation of data collection and reporting functionality. The system is built for a lot of different users, such as operators, supervisors, quality inspectors, maintenance mechanics, engineers and plant managers. The system can only be successful if those people are really going to use it, and use it in the right way.

This, of course, is the organization’s responsibility. But if a system integrator wants the project to be a success, then it could be a good idea to help massage the changes.

Coaching massage

This MES massage could be called “implementation coaching.” It is done by people who usually don’t know a lot about technology, but they are experts in communication, psychology and other human aspects.

“It is important that you involve future users and other people in the organization who will be impacted by the changes,” says my colleague Remco Moria. “That’s why we involve them in all the implementation phases. We prepare a thorough, integral Change Management plan to communicate with the employees and to prepare them for the upcoming changes. Some examples of our activities are establishing user groups, organizing workshops, developing training courses and communication plans. Often, it is not possible to communicate with every future user, so we work with key users. This way, it also becomes clear what is the best approach for specific types of users.”

The “implementation coaches” have interviews with different types of users and ask questions such as: What are your points of concern? How are you going to maintain the system? What do you expect in the future? How often should the system be online?

By asking these kinds of questions to different users, you get an impression of the current ideas about the system and of the contradictory expectations within the organization. When the misconceptions and obscurities have become clear, then you can make adjustments. This happens throughout the whole trajectory.

During implementations, it is important to pay attention to the “mental changes” that must take place (learning, involvement, acceptance, e.g. by training, workshops, newsletters). Moreover, a structural change is needed. The change will have to be embedded in the organization, for example, by implementing processes, developing procedures, defining responsibilities and the like.

In short: In MES projects, the success of the system largely depends on the massage of the change. This traditionally comes from the ERP domain; within SCADA projects, there usually is hardly any attention paid to this aspect. It is one example of the best of both worlds that—in my opinion—ought to be part of a yet–to-be-developed project methodology for MES.

Bianca Scholten, bianca.scholten@ordina.nl, is a Principal at IT integration firm Ordina Technical Automation, in The Netherlands, and a member of the ISA95 committee. The White Paper “IT or Engineering…Which of them should support MES?” is available at www.ISA.org.
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