Standardization and Interoperability For Performance

June 1, 2006
Corporate standardization involves selection of a single solution to a common problem.

Market dynamics and related business objectives have stimulated interest in Real-time Performance Management (RPM). Manufacturing software suppliers and several new RPM-focused suppliers have addressed this need with a variety of solutions, and some common lessons learned are surfacing from the early deployments. One lesson is that corporate standardization programs are required to realize value from broad RPM initiatives.

Real-time performance management requires several diverse capabilities, including synchronization of value chains, integration of business and operations systems, automation of business processes, and productivity enhancement of assets and people. Most initiatives to achieve these goals have involved deriving more value from information that is scattered throughout the enterprise. Accordingly, the next phase of initiatives will include more attention to role-based environments and analytics.

Most RPM initiatives produce positive results during pilots but run into trouble when deploying across multiple sites. Frequently, budgets are set locally, site personnel and skills are scarce, issues vary among sites, and perceptions of benefits vary. During research on the business case for interoperability, ARC Advisory Group (ARC) concluded that RPM initiatives are a major driver for interoperability and that standardization programs are essential for multi-site success.

Corporate standardization involves selection of a single solution to a common problem and applying it across projects, organizations, sites and, possibly, partners and suppliers. Solutions can be formed from industry standards, internally developed standards, proprietary technologies, and even commercial off-the-shelf products, according to principles defined by standardization teams. Standardization programs can also facilitate collaborative requirements development, support business case analysis, manage technology migration, provide change management in selected areas and serve other functions related to the solutions being standardized.

Forming standardization programs

The benefits of standardization are familiar: reduced cost, faster projects, lower maintenance and support costs, higher quality results, less diversity and the like. More importantly, the holistic perspective and collaboration associated with corporate standardization programs can enable higher levels of innovation and more solution flexibility than may be justifiable for individual projects.

Standardization can be accomplished in several ways, and in fact, many businesses may have multiple standardization teams with different scopes (items and solutions). Where responsibility for selecting and supporting solutions lies within a single group, that group can be the standardizing body. For example, a central corporate information technology (IT) team typically develops and supports standard personal computer (PC) platforms for general-purpose use. But there is still value in defining operating principles and collaborative processes with representative stakeholder involvement.

When several organizations and projects have the ability to select and apply similar solutions, standardization processes have even more business value. An executive sponsor must establish a cross-functional, core team with a draft charter and authorities. Once the team is established, the team can form the charter, scope, operating principles and processes for executive approval. The sponsor must communicate this to the stakeholders and establish ongoing support for the program.

RPM and other initiatives require comprehensive, integrated platforms that include consideration of infrastructure as well as application software. Platform concepts allow standardization teams to address the integration of items with corporate standard solutions that can be deployed widely to satisfy a class of information system needs. Platforms provide role-based tools for rapid configuration to handle site-specific situations and increased sustainability by site staff.

Robert Mick, [email protected], is Vice President, Enterprise Architecture, for ARC Advisory Group Inc., in Dedham, Mass.