Struggling For Clear Responsibilities in MES

Feb. 6, 2008
Recently, I met a production manager who told me that she wanted to purchase a manufacturing execution systems (MES) solution.

She had contacted her company’s engineers for help, but they sent her to the information technology (IT) department. When she went to the IT department, she got sent back to Engineering.

Her story made me curious. I myself did not have a clear answer to the question which of the two should have helped her. When I asked two of my clients, who in their company was responsible for support of MES projects and maintenance of MES systems, I got contradictory responses. I decided to do some research, in a very informal, non-scientific way. The purpose was to get more insight into the current situation at different clients, to collect different opinions, and to list some advantages and disadvantages of MES support by IT and MES support by Engineering.

“It cannot be a coincidence that we keep addressing the same subjects,” was the reaction of an MES project leader when I sent him a small list of questions. “I’ve just become member of a working group to investigate this very same subject. It appears that in our plants, we think differently about it. The purpose of the working group is to develop a recommendation for a boundary between the different disciplines and the related organization. The final goal is to develop a common approach.”

Other people also responded enthusiastically and sent me their opinions. I got fifteen responses, partly from engineers, partly from IT people and partly from production people, from companies in the United States and in Europe.

When I asked them: “What are the strong points of IT, in the support of MES?” they mentioned aspects such as IT knowledge (e.g. Ethernet), IT methods (e.g. professional back-up procedures), centralization (IT has an overview of the complete site, or even the complete company) and knowledge about the integration with level 4 systems.

But people also agree that IT can learn many things from Engineering. For example, Engineering has a better knowledge of the production processes, and it is better suited for providing local and 24/7 support. Engineering also has the required knowledge of and experience with the level 2 systems landscape, which usually contains diverse systems from different technological periods in time. 

Although the fifteen respondents appeared to have different, and strong opinions about who should support MES (some say Engineering, some say IT and some say both), the small survey made clear that both bring in essential knowledge and experience. So they should at least work together, e.g. on a project basis, or by becoming colleagues who work in the same department.

“In my opinion, IT and Engineering do not work together in our company,” an engineer said. “Even worse, they are opposed to one another. Although the technical gap between IT and Engineering is getting smaller, the chasm between the departments still is huge. I think this heavily impacts the success of MES implementations.”

What’s the fix?

And, of course, this guy is right. But how can we improve this situation? Currently, hardly any information is available about best practices in the organization of the responsibilities of IT and Engineering. It is important to be aware that, if you ask someone what is the best way to organize this, the answer you get is an opinion, and not a fact.

Organizations and research companies such as the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA), MESA International, ARC Advisory Group, Aberdeen Group and AMR Research are the ones who can do independent research and collect best practices and pitfalls. Until then, the only thing we can do is go on, on an individual basis, finding our own ways.

Bianca Scholten, [email protected], 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