Develop a Plant IT Strategy

Oct. 1, 2005
What is your plant information technology (IT) strategy?

Have you considered the impact of new technology on your existing architecture? Do you rely on your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system supplier to eventually provide solutions deep into the plant? Perhaps, you count on your automation supplier to knit together all of the necessary plant operations and connect them to your business systems? Or, maybe you plan to address infrastructure issues first and then select best-of-breed application suppliers for functionality?

Establishing your own plant IT strategy is critical. If you don’t have a plan in place when you need to solve a problem, it is too easy to start down a path that leads you to the wrong destination. Seemingly independent decisions can have global implications. They can commit you to certain technologies and approaches that may not support all of your needs.

Unfortunately, software suppliers may often help you go down the wrong path. It’s not that they knowingly want to mislead you, but that they earnestly believe in the value of their solutions and are confident that you will be happy when you get to their ideal destination.

Think big picture

Manufacturers face a host of problems today that can be solved or ameliorated with new technology. Often, a problem demands immediate attention and drives the organization to select a certain technology. When the next critical problem appears, another technology solution is implemented using a “silo” perspective, with little leveraging of previous investments and little synergy in the resulting solution portfolio. These practices are not only wasteful, but may actually retard your progress toward needed solutions. Manufacturers should have the “big picture” in mind when deploying any new solution.

An effective plant IT strategy begins with an assessment of the business challenges that you may be facing, and the solutions that might be applied to address these needs. Common requirements can then be identified and used to establish underlying IT platform requirements that will become the heart of your future systems.

Many of the challenges that manufacturers are facing have broad, significant impact across the organization. Therefore, effective solutions will require real-time collaboration throughout the enterprise and supply network. Real-time business processes and better connectivity among IT systems—especially between plant systems and business systems—are key enablers of collaboration, and will enhance the benefits received from all solutions.

At the plant floor, manufacturers will increasingly need a solution set that spans and synchronizes all of their manufacturing operations. Manufacturing Operations Management solutions should at a minimum encompass solutions for managing production operations, quality operations, inventory operations and maintenance operations.

Manufacturing Performance Services solutions connect a wide array of existing plant applications and data sources, establish the manufacturing context for data, and share it with people and systems. This capability is critical for enabling visibility, decision support and system integration.

Data analysis tools are critically important to making better decisions throughout the enterprise. These can also take the form of performance metrics or key performance indicator displays.

The Strategic Integration Platform, sometimes referred to as a Bus, a Hub, or a Server, acts as a central point and integration engine for connecting disparate applications and systems throughout the manufacturing enterprise. These systems can be the backbone of a Service-Based Architecture.

Performance improvement often requires automating business/work processes. These processes may be at the business level, the plant operations level, or may cross departmental, functional and business boundaries.

In order for the Supply Network to function efficiently, there must be a “single version of the truth” for product data.

Master Data Management solutions cleanse and refine data from disparate systems, and act as the repository for this single version of the truth.

Greg Gorbach, [email protected], is vice president of collaborative manufacturing at ARC Advisory Group Inc., in Dedham, Mass.