Manufacturing Software: Tackling the Challenges

Feb. 1, 2011
John Southcott, co-chief executive officer of Brock Solutions, a systems integrator based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, takes the reins this year as the newly elected Chair of the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) International Board of Directors. He will begin writing Automation World’s IT View column, starting with the April issue.

As co-CEO of a large, independent integration company focusing on Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions and real-time operational systems, Southcott brings extensive management consulting and large-scale transformational program experience from multiple industries to MESA. In this exchange with Gary Mintchell, Automation World Editor in Chief, Southcott discusses the current state of manufacturing software.

Automation World: After spending the majority of your career in management consulting, specifically focused on the enterprise resource planning (ERP) space, what have been the biggest surprises you encountered in the real-time operations management environment?
John Southcott: The short answer is just about everything. It has been a real learning experience for me. But if I had to pick one surprise, it would be the amount of obsolete technology supporting mission-critical functions. It’s been quite a while since I have seen a DEC PDP 11, IBM System 36 and Data General Nova in operation. Furthermore, most of our customers buy parts off of eBay, which is somewhat scary from a support/sustainability perspective.

AW: Besides obsolescence, what do you see as the other major challenges facing large enterprises today from a real-time operations and automation perspective?
Southcott: The turbulent economic times we have all faced over the past few years has put a significant strain on resources. Our customers, out of sheer necessity or well-planned strategy, have focused their scarce resources on core operations. This has resulted in a trend toward outsourcing—both from a project standpoint and ongoing support. This means that companies need to call upon external organizations such as Brock Solutions to deliver and support new and innovative solutions rather than self-perform. 

Another overarching challenge driving enterprises to rethink their technical infrastructures is the increased regulatory environment. Product safety, traceability and new reporting requirements top the to-do list of many of our customers—and implementing new solutions rather than maintaining legacy systems is the trend.

Also, there are a number of other challenges, including aging workforce, convergence of IT (information technology) and engineering, and the need for new skill sets—subjects for future columns in your publication!

AW: With your new appointment as Chairman of MESA International, how do you think MESA can contribute to the solving some of the problems facing the industry today?
Southcott: Two things top the agenda. MESA has always been known as providing excellent content through producing high-quality guidebooks across a range of subjects. In addition, we think our ongoing research on metrics is second-to-none, and provides our members with excellent insights. We plan to continue to produce world-class content. In addition, MESA recently launched a Global Education Program, which has been a gap in the marketplace for a while now. Two- and four-day courses are being run in North America, Europe, Australia and South Africa, starting very soon. Details are on our Web site:

In addition, MESA provides a unique opportunity for collaboration with renowned experts in a wide variety of industry sectors and the accumulated knowledge of many industry leaders.  By utilizing these resources, greater transparency can be achieved in all aspects of operations.  These industry best practices can help combine existing proven techniques and emerging technologies to provide a better understanding of the problems facing the industry today.  This insight can lead to improved processes and better solutions to complex problems.

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