Gain a competitive advantage, meet the challenges of enterprise information systems
Part 3 of 5: A central data repository is difficult to achieve because it is technically challenging and penetrates various aspects of a business. Implementation requires coordinating many parties and often introduces new technologies to the business. Advice below helps. See 3 attributes of a technical advocate.
The enterprise information system maturity model provides a general context for understanding enterprise systems; advice below guides an owner successfully from Level 1 (focused data systems) to the competitive advantage of Level 2 (a centralized data repository). See the diagram to review the maturity model in its entirety.
Central repository benefits
Why is a centralized repository a competitive advantage? Reaching maturity Level 2 signals a significant ideological change within an organization. It represents a shift from operating within independent silos to open data sharing and visibility across all operations. This shift in mentality by itself is a competitive advantage for a company.
The central repository enables an owner to combine information produced by Level 1 systems across their enterprise to understand their operations in real time. The goal of Level 2 is to provide a platform on which information can be easily collected, cleaned, organized, and stored in a centralized location. The organization also develops standards for interfacing current and new systems into the centralized storage platform to better sustain the overall operations.
So, why would a step that only stores information in a central place with no tangible “output” get its own maturity level? Simply put, because it’s not easy to achieve. Just changing how an organization thinks about information and implementing the central repository is a huge step.
A centralized repository that integrates systems across an enterprise can seem like an impossible feat. Level 2 is difficult to achieve because it is technically challenging and penetrates various aspects of a business. Implementation requires coordinating many parties and often introduces new technologies to the business. Advice below helps establish the central data repository of Level 2.
Right expertise, right platform
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the available options when examining the different technologies for implementing a central repository. “Big Data” and “Enterprise Analytics” have become marketing buzzwords that can confuse business owners. There are so many different and emerging technologies, such as SQL, NoSQL, Hadoop, graph databases, and massively parallel processing, that it can be difficult to know where to start.
Many companies do not have dedicated IT staff who are experts in the Big Data field as it relates to the real-time, plant floor operations of the Level 1 maturity model systems. If your organization does not have this expertise, now is the time to seek it.
3 attributes of a technical advocate
The key to getting the right expertise is finding a true technical advocate for your organization. These individuals are sometimes found within an organization, but typically they’re outside system integrators who are experts in enterprise applications. A technical advocate:
1. Acts as a consultant on another’s behalf for technical decisions
2. Works with the IT department, operations, and vendors to coordinate efforts and align goals
3. Offers objective advice as a partner and is not in the business of selling his or her own products.
The right experts will help select the best technology platform to integrate an enterprise information and prepare for the next step in the maturity model.
Select centralized hosting
A repository usually is seen as a choice between internal or external locations. Although this is true from a location and business standpoint, it’s important to focus not on the placement of the data, but rather on what features are offered by the specific hosting provider. If an organization has hosting capabilities and maintains a data center, be sure to evaluate its features objectively with external hosting providers as direct competitors.
Like many of the Level 2 decisions, determining a host can be a difficult challenge. The following provides some key evaluation points when selecting a hosting provider. This is another aspect for which a technical advocate can provide insight and assistance.
Capability and customer base
Hosting providers offer a range of services, and it’s sometimes difficult to compare providers based on datasheets and website information. One test is to evaluate the providers’ current customer base. Do they serve customers that are similar to your organization’s size? Do they serve your competitors? These are good indicators that they may fit your business needs. For internal hosting, ask the same questions in relation to operational size and the other business streams that are served.
- Corey Stefanczak is senior system architect, Leidos. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Gain a competitive advantage by meeting the challenges of enterprise information systems.
- A central data repository is difficult to achieve.
- Implementation of a repository requires coordinating many parties and often introduces new technologies to the business.
While a central data repository presents challenges, have you quantified the benefits missed without one?
This article online contains links to each part of this full five-part series on meeting the challenges of enterprise information systems looking at the maturity model introduction, taking the first step, gaining a competitive advantage, optimizing resources, and a highly mature enterprise.
Part 1: Understand the maturity model to better manage, integrate plant floor, enterprise systems Control Engineering (CE), August issue, Inside Machines section, p. M1
Part 2: Migrating toward enterprise information systems from Applied Automation (supplement to CE and Plant Engineering), October issue, p. A13
Part 3: Gain a competitive advantage, meet the challenges of enterprise information systems from CE Weekly News enewsletter, Nov. 25 [This article]
Part 4: Optimizing the climb up the enterprise information systems maturity model from CE November issue, Technology Update, p. 34
Part 5: Highly mature enterprise: Meet the challenges of enterprise information systems CE December issue, Inside Machine section, p. IM4