Enterprise-wide software challenges plant engineers to expand their influence

Until recently, mentioning the enterprise more than likely conjured up images of a well-known starship. In the last year or so, however, the term enterprise has come to be connected with an entirely different subject: enterprise-wide software.

04/01/1998


Until recently, mentioning the enterprise more than likely conjured up images of a well-known starship. In the last year or so, however, the term enterprise has come to be connected with an entirely different subject: enterprise-wide software.

Thanks to advancements in several technologies, once isolated islands of industrial tasks and operations (both automated and manual) are being brought together to create a seamless and transparent manufacturing environment. From the business office to engineering and maintenance, to the process and beyond, a myriad of functions are being linked electronically -- across the enterprise -- and with it has come a plethora of products to accomplish the tasks.

Industry-focused enterprise-wide software systems are prolif- erating. They are provided in function-specific modules, off-the-shelf packages, and suites of comprehensive solutions. As customer demands and open communications architectures provide incentives for integration, suppliers once dedicated to specific areas of the enterprise, such as MES, MRP, or CMMS, are now providing multifunctional packages that reach across and connect disparate disciplines.

Some of the major offerings are summarized in the enterprise-wide systems and solutions guide included in this article. Products are listed alphabetically by program name. For more information, readers may contact a supplier directly using the phone number listed, check out the company website online, or circle the reader service number at the end of the listing.

To boldly go...

A number of factors have contributed to the proliferation of enterprise-wide solutions. Technological advancements have, of course, played a role. Large volumes of memory and storage methods are available at decreasing cost. Client/server systems are simple to operate and more readily accepted in the workplace. But most significantly, communications technology has advanced to the point that it offers enough openness and bandwidth to transmit sufficient data reliably and rapidly. Network reliability (in both LANs and WANs) is critical to the enterprise. Data transfer integrity must be ensured either through a reliable network structure or middleware that protects and supervises the data packets.

As information has become the lifeblood of the industrial manufacturing plant, integrating multiple information systems into a common environment has become almost a necessity. More elaborate and complex manufacturing methods, coupled with the increasingly global nature of business and commerce, have given nearly every task an impact on the whole work process. Enterprise-wide software responds to these trends by providing an organization with an electronic information repository, process control applications, and distribution and navigation tools to facilitate the dissemination of information efficiently to all departments, suppliers, remote facilities, and customers.

As a result, many plant engineers today are being called on to accept new responsibilities and respond in ways they have never had to before. As part of the enterprise, they must assist in integrating the plant engineering team into the global picture and helping select and implement the best software products possible with which to unify the enterprise.

There are tangible benefits and substantial savings to doing business electronically, including reduced downtime and improved productivity. The ideal enterprise-wide solution lets all users access information that is relevant to them, bringing any critical document used in the operation to the desktops of those who need to use them regardless of what it is or where they may be. The company itself determines the relationships, structure, and documentation it needs to represent the physical state of the plant, satisfy government regulations, and manage and control change in the future. Then, it implements a system or suite of products to reach that goal.

Making it so

Most companies have some software systems in place already, even if they consist only of planning and scheduling on an electronic spreadsheet. Typically multiple, disparate packages, these legacy systems might include a CMMS, accounting package, inventory control software, and the like. To move away from these often outdated databases, companies seek ways to merge them into or replace them with an enterprise-wide solution that lets everyone work with the same data.

Seamless integration of information management technologies with legacy systems, existing networks, and subsystems requires a complex level of skills and experience. Effective implementation of an enterprise-wide solution needs more than technical expertise. It also demands a change in the organization and in the way it does business. As part of the implementation methodology of a solution of this magnitude, a corporation must be well-managed before any enterprise-wide approaches can be overlaid.

Tasks must be defined in the electronic system in the same way they would be in a manual system. Those involved must know the traditional workflow processes, take time to analyze them, and understand how to implement changes that make them more efficient. An operation needs to look at the types of information it uses, what data needs to be captured, and relationships that exist between types of information.

Implementation of a system of any size requires an average of 9 to 15 mo, but can take as long as 2 yr. In most cases, system investigation, selection, and implementation is done by a corporate team that can range from 6 to as many as 25 to 30 people. Expertise in every area being affected by the installation should be represented. The entire implementation team -- from finance and marketing to engineering and maintenance -- must agree that everyone can comfortably work with the product or products they choose.

Making that selection is often a complex, time-intensive effort. Specifics vary markedly with the installation, but some general concepts apply universally.

- Don't send out a request for a proposal. A standard RFP is like a multiple choice test. Interpretation may be easy, but the answers will not be detailed enough to provide any useful information. Every supplier knows how to answer the questions on a stock proposal form to put its product in the best possible light. Ask essay questions. Request test runs using your actual data.

- A consultant is not required for every installation. Call one only if your company's experience with these systems is insufficient to make a decision without added input and expertise.

- If a consultant is needed, choose one with a var- ied practice. A firm with a wide range of experience is better equipped to direct the company to the software suppliers qualified to meet company goals and needs.

- Once the field has been narrowed, call in three or four suppliers for review. Tell them what needs to be done and have them explain how they can accomplish that goal. A vendor must know your industry to provide an appropriate answer. A word of caution: most suppliers will not want to take this approach because it takes too long. One who will, however, is likely the one who will work with your company and give the job the attention it deserves.

- Before a final decision is made, ascertain the financial stability and potential longevity of the supplier. And always check references. Talk with companies who run a business similar to yours. Benefit from their experience.

In addition, effectively implementing an enterprise-wide solution requires a company to be proficient in three primary skill sets.

1. Knowledge of how a fully integrated system interacts. What data are critical? What are the major areas of interaction? Define some actual simple relationships. Understand the overall picture.

2. Knowledge of the industry and products. A company must understand its present business practices and know how its business works today before it can improve and automate them.

3. Knowledge of project management. As critical to implementing an enterprise-wide software solution as technical expertise are incredibly strong project management skills.

Live long and prosper

Reaping sustained benefits from integrated systems requires that everyone -- from the person on the dock to the mechanic on the plant floor to the filing clerk in purchasing -- take a personal interest in the effort. Training, communication, and committed support are significant. Training must be rendered at two levels: physical specifics of using the equipment (usually provided by the software supplier) and philosophy of the benefits of the system (provided by the company). All users need to know how they fit into the overall picture as well as how to do their individual jobs. They need to make sure the data they input are correct and they need to know why it is important that those data are correct.

Another element critical to the implementation of any enterprise-wide system is executive commitment throughout the process. Management can't be committed at the outset, then lose interest as the process unfolds. Active support and approval must be ongoing.

Although most companies would prefer that all facets of its enterprise-wide solution come from the same supplier, this approach is often not practical. Several vendors can easily be involved in putting together an enterprise-wide solution. Products are available to address each area and specialty. Developing a best-of-breed or best-of-class solution requires working with those who have the expertise in each specific area of interest. In most cases, no one vendor can be expected to do it all optimally. There are simply too many aspects for one supplier to be expert in them all.

Second star to the right, straight on 'til morning

The future of enterprise-wide systems and solutions is bright and dynamic, driven by dramatic strides in open architecture and computer technology. Concepts that once seemed like reaching for the stars are becoming reality. And options will continue to increase as today's global system is configured to function like a personal computer system with the complexities of the database hidden and the front end customized like a desktop.

With web-enabled software, the scope of these systems is expanding even more, extending the enterprise across corporations and the globe with online links to suppliers and customers. Transitioning to an environment that is web enabled is giving everyone internet/intranet/extranet access to the same data. Web-enabled systems let users access plant data through a web browser anytime from anywhere. In fact, some speculate the Internet has the potential for becoming a global plant data bus.

Technology today is moving so fast that even software and hardware gurus admit to the almost overwhelming complexity of the field. But rapid change is likely to continue. The plant engineer called upon to participate in the planning and implementation of an enterprise-wide solution needs to acquire as much knowledge as possible through conferences, seminars, and publications. Do as much research as possible before participating in a major undertaking. Become familiar with the terminology, acronyms, philosophy, and goals. The domain of the plant engineer is expanding, and with it comes the opportunity to influence how plant engineering and maintenance will fit into tomorrow.

In other words, take time to know your enterprise. It's not just a starship anymore.

Plant Engineering magazine acknowledges with appreciation the special contributions to this article from the following companies: Cimage Enterprise Systems, Irvine, CA; Industrial & Financial Systems, Inc., Tucson, AZ; Intergraph Corp., Huntsville, AL; Marcam Solutions, Inc., Newton, MA; and Technology Solutions Co., Chicago, IL.A special thank you to Honeywell Industrial Automation & Control, Phoenix, AZ, for providing the cover photo, which shows an enterprise-wide software solution in operation at a paper mill.

-- Jeanine Katzel, Senior Editor,7847-390-2701, j.katzel@cahners.com

Key concepts

Advancements in open architecture have led to the proliferation of software systems and solutions that manage various industrial tasks and operations.

Enterprise-wide software gives an organization an electronic information repository, process control applications, and distribution and navigation tools to facilitate the efficient exchange of information to wherever needed.

Take advantage of the opportunity to influence the role plant engineering and maintenance will play in the development and implementation of enterprise-wide solutions.

Enterprise-wide solution helps electronics manufacturer simplify processes, reduce costs

Implementing an enterprise-wide software solution requires a company to have a clear vision of its goals and expectations.

When a global manufacturer of automotive electronic and electromechanical components decided to implement an enterprise-wide software solution, the company first had to define exactly what it expected the software to accomplish. Before any action was taken, decision-makers formed implementation teams -- both internal and external -- which then carefully defined the project's scope, set a mutually agreed upon schedule as well as project and budget parameters, and put the right resources and a rapid methodology framework in place to get the job done. These steps are key to every successful enterprise-wide implementation and to a rapid return on investment.

The high-volume manufacturer operates four geographically diverse manufacturing facilities. However, phase one of the implementation involved one plant employing 450 people. Applications to be installed included financial accounting, cost center accounting, asset management, materials management, production planning, and sales and distribution. In addition to 180 end-users at the site, about 25 people from the company's financial group needed to have access to the system to satisfy global financial reporting requirements.

The biggest single issue facing the firm and driving its decision to move to an enterprise-wide application was that its existing configuration did not adapt well to a multiplant environment. Each facility had its own system, and none of them could communicate efficiently with the other, making it difficult to share data, leverage vendors, and service customers. Technologically, the legacy system had reached the end of its life cycle.

It was slow, and some purchasing activities still had to be done manually, making it difficult to track orders and update their status.

Challenges created by working with 300+ vendors, combined with the high-volume, volatile nature of the business, indicated that the time was right for a more effective solution. In addition, the company was looking to a future that included streamlining core manufacturing and business processes to facilitate the implementation of such advanced technologies as Internet-enabled electronic commerce.

Working with an experienced implementation partner, the company initiated an accelerated implementation plan and completed the first phase in just 8 mo. Teams are presently aggressively moving forward to link three additional sites sometime this year. Among the immediate first benefits, and largest single justification for the investment in this solution, was reduced inventory. Levels are expected to drop by 50% over the life of the project. Operating costs also have declined. Although specific savings have not yet been calculated, one factor contributing to the amount will be continued growth in sales volume without a concurrent growth in support staff. On the basis of savings realized from reduced inventory and operating costs thus far, the firm expects its enterprise-wide solution to pay for itself in approximately 2 1/2 yr.

The international consulting and systems integration firm that assisted this company in implementing its enterprise-wide system specializes in helping organizations with information technology and provides services in advanced network computing, packaged software integration, enterprise customer management, telecommunications, project management, education, and training.

Technology Solutions Co.

www.TechSol.

More info

Some information management associations also offer material about enterprise-wide software solutions. Contact the organization directly for more information.

Association for Information and Image Management International (AIIM), 1100 Wayne Ave., Suite 1100, Silver Spring, MD 20910-5603; 301-587-8202; Fax: 301-587-2711; www.aiim.org. AIIM brings together users and providers of document technologies with technical and research information on applying these technologies in business. Its Document Management Alliance (DMA) task force is dedicated to a standard approach for the creation and operation of enterprise-wide document management systems.

Manufacturing Execution Systems Association (MESA), International, 303 Freeport Rd., Pittsburgh, PA 15215; 412-781-9511; Fax: 412-781-2871; www.mesa.org. MESA members supply integrated MES, point solutions, hardware platforms, databases, and systems integration services. The organization offers educational materials, roundtables, and more.

The Association for Work Process Improvement (TAWPI),& 185 Devonshire St., Suite 770, Boston, MA 02110; 617-426-1167; Fax: 617-521-8675; www.tawpi.org. TAWPI is involved in education and management development for professionals in data capture, desktop, document, electronic information processing applications, etc.





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