Benefits suggested with convergence of IT, controls

With greater convergence of engineering and information technologies, companies report higher efficiency, better business continuity, shorter project timelines, enhanced reliability and improved disaster recovery, according to a Rockwell Automation white paper.

By Control Engineering Staff June 20, 2007

Orlando, FL —With greater convergence of engineering and information technologies, companies report higher efficiency, better business continuity, shorter project timelines, enhanced reliability and improved disaster recovery, according to a Rockwell Automation white paper, “ Come Together: IT-Controls Engineering Convergence Furthers Manufacturers’ Success .” The paper was among many manufacturing efficiency discussions at the 10th annual RSTechEd event .

Historically geared toward Rockwell Automation partners and field staff, the 2007 meeting, June 17-22, here, included more customers representing key functions across the manufacturing enterprise. About 1,600 were expected to attend. More than 400 educational sessions, panels, and workshops included demonstration of the company’s FactoryTalk integrated production and performance suite. The software aims to help companies close the gap between enterprise and plant-floor systems.

The white paper includes an IT-engineering convergence maturity model that shows three core paths and five stages of maturity for each of the major categories of issues: organizational structures, business processes, technology deployment and business results. Each company is likely to be at different levels in each category, and in some cases, even on various factors within one category. The paper, based on interviews with a select group of manufacturers representing a broad range of industries, identifies the organizational and business process challenges involved with IT and engineering convergence, and outlines the potential business benefits available to companies as they move further along the path to convergence.

Commissioned by Rockwell Automation and written by analyst firm

Industry Directions

and consultant firm Systems Innovation Management, the paper shows convergence progress and identifies best practices to accelerate the process. The team interviewed 22 individuals from 18 companies in a broad range of manufacturing industries. Companies, not named in the study to encourage candid commentary, ranged from well-known large multi-national manufacturers to smaller specialized firms.

“The rise in the strategic importance of information and business intelligence reflects the role IT can play in manufacturing success,” says Kevin Roach, vice president of Rockwell Software, Rockwell Automation. “Executives are increasingly demanding better information flows, as well as more efficiency not only in the plant, but in IT and engineering. While an organizational transformation of this magnitude can take a tremendous amount of time and effort, the potential long-term rewards are enormous.”

The white paper highlights some of the best practices that are enabling IT and engineering to work together successfully. These best practices were identified by the respondents, as well as co-author Ray Zimmermann, Systems Innovation Management, who managed the convergence process at the largest U.S. brewing company. While technology integration may be one of the objectives of convergence, the major obstacles lie in mindsets, communication and education. In fact, according to the paper, the missing link in most companies is cultural, not technical.

“Many practitioners on each side of the fence have pre-conceived notions about what the other group does and why it may not be as effective as it could be,” says Julie Fraser, principal and industry analyst, Industry Directions Inc. “Therefore, it’s important that companies align production, engineering and IT departments around common goals and find ways to foster effective communication, mutual understanding and the willingness to listen to different perspectives.” To gathered analysts and editors, she mused, “I thought this convergence would come sooner,” adding that Y2K dominated IT investments for several years, and that manufacturing operations now is becoming number one area of investment.

Management pressure is the most significant driver of convergence between IT and controls engineering organizations, the paper says. Higher-level management focus also is a critical enabler, since major organizational changes otherwise become turf wars between equals. Senior management plays a critical role in defining the strategic intent that will bring the groups together, the study found.

In a separate effort, the company previewed its soon to be released “Operations Management Systems for Real-Time Enterprises” white paper, published by

ARC Advisory Group

. This paper addresses the specific value and impact real-time, plant-floor information systems, such as FactoryTalk, can have on manufacturing performance.

Rockwell Automation Inc. describes itself as a leading global provider of industrial automation power, control and information solutions that help manufacturers achieve a competitive advantage in their businesses. Brands include Allen-Bradley controls and services and Rockwell Software factory management software. It’s headquartered in Milwaukee, WI, and employs about 19,000 people serving customers in more than 80 countries.

Control Engineering columnist Dennis Brandl addresses

controls and IT convergence topics monthly


Edited by Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief Control Engineering Daily News