Changing times for e-business
In this time of mergers and acquisitions, it seems as though the economy is favoring larger companies. How can a medium-sized company compete? This question was the topic of a live webcast entitled, "Sorting through the e-business rhetoric: A manufacturer's guide to the business revolution," presented by MSI, a Cahners publication, at National Manufacturing Week in March.
In this time of mergers and acquisitions, it seems as though the economy is favoring larger companies. How can a medium-sized company compete?
This question was the topic of a live webcast entitled, "Sorting through the e-business rhetoric: A manufacturer's guide to the business revolution," presented by MSI, a Cahners publication, at National Manufacturing Week in March. The three panelists were Julie Fraser, analyst from Industry Directions (Cummaquid, Mass.); Bruce Kirschenbaum, director of business solutions from IFS North America (Tucson, Ariz.); and Phil Zurawski, manufacturing systems manager from Wickes Inc. (Vernon Hills, Ill.). The discussion was moderated by Kevin Parker, editorial director of MSI.
Each agreed that a revolution is taking place in the world of manufacturing. Inventories are becoming a thing of the past; instead, focus is shifting to creating a "to-order" manufacturing system in which demand dictates supply. Another term for this phenomenon is "just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing," which indicates that supply is manufactured as soon as a customer wants it. The JIT concept has been known for some time in manufacturing, and some companies claim they have implemented it to some degree.
Internet changes everything
This revolution has been ongoing. But a new element has been added— the Internet.
Even systems such as ERP are going by the wayside. Now, the buzzword is "ERP2," or "extended enterprise." This term refers to the shift from proprietary software systems once needed to run a successful manufacturing enterprise to the openness of the Internet, which allows users to connect to the plant floor from anywhere with a web browser.
According to Ms. Fraser, a maturing process is taking place, in which the tools available for enterprise are becoming more complete. As a result, mid-sized companies are frequently opting for one total enterprise solution rather than a best-of-breed mix of components.
Ms. Fraser went on to say that mid-sized companies can compete with larger conglomerates by remaining focused on strategy, knowing which parts of e-business matter to the company, and choosing modular solutions that can continue to be tailored as needs change.
Factors to consider
When choosing an e-business solution, according to Mr. Kirschenbaum, it is important to consider the foundation. Different solutions work better with different architectures. Also, consider the tool set that will be needed, and the design of the database behind the scenes. The solution provider's experience is also a good indicator of how well the solution will work.
The greatest challenge to implementing an e-business strategy, according to Mr. Zurawski, is the "people equation." Switching over to a new system is no doubt going to cause a culture-shock among those employees who are used to another way of doing things. Care needs to be taken to make the transition as painless as possible, and minimize friction between departments.
An archived version of the webcast can be found at www.manufacturingsystems.com/seminar/. Other e-business-related webcasts can be found here as well.
NMW 2001 Show in Review— www.controleng.com/nmw. See text and video highlights.
Webcasts coming to Control Engineering
Look for webcasts to come to Control Engineering Online as well. The first webcast, sponsored by Opto 22, will take place May 1 at 10:00 AM CST (11:00 AM EST). The topic is, "The next generation I/O." If you would like more information about CE 's upcoming webcasts, go to www.controleng.com and click on the "webcast" link in the right-hand column.