Engineers and Sarbanes-Oxley

Control engineers need to be more aware of and involved in automation system integration with higher-level business systems. The long-promised intersection of these two areas of technology will actually begin taking place at companies of all sizes over the next five to 10 years and it will have a lasting effect on engineers, not just because it will impact systems they use and the level of info...

By David Greenfield, Editorial Director January 1, 2005

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For further reading about plant-floor connectivity to SAP enterprise solutions, click on the following links:

  • Plant software providers roll out SAP-connected solutions

  • Siemens, SAP to link production, business data in one information portal

  • OSIsoft achieves SAP Netweaver certification

  • Venezuelan brewery contributes interface to World Batch Forum

Control engineers need to be more aware of and involved in automation system integration with higher-level business systems. The long-promised intersection of these two areas of technology will actually begin taking place at companies of all sizes over the next five to 10 years and it will have a lasting effect on engineers, not just because it will impact systems they use and the level of information they have access to, but because the everyday function of engineers will be thrust into the corporate spotlight (see the ‘Engineer-centered Supply Chain,’ May 2004).

With this new level of integration, corporate officers will see how plant-floor decisions directly affect company profitability. Engineers may groan about this development, based on a belief that this much insight will distract from the real job of keeping things running. I argue that it will focus the engineering effort like never before and should, in turn, increase the visibility of the engineer as a key component in effective business management.

The biggest driver today behind this integration push is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The law mandates a comprehensive accounting framework for public companies doing business in the U.S. Companies are required to disclose all pertinent financial performance information publicly in a uniform, transparent manner. This financial information must also have substantiating data readily identified and easily available for follow-up audits. For a manufacturing company, this means complete access to plant-floor information.

If you work at a private manufacturing company, don’t think that the coming integration of shop floor and top floor won’t affect you. Once public companies achieve integration for the sake of compliance, newfound efficiencies will force the hand of private manufacturers to reach a similar level of technological capability to compete.

Responding to this greater focus on integration, a number of companies are now releasing products designed specifically to achieve it. In the past six months, Siemens, Wonderware, Lighthammer, and OSIsoft have all released engineering-level products certified to integrate with SAP enterprise systems (see this column online for links to articles with details). These announcements came soon after SAP’s call in spring 2004 for greater connectivity of its systems to plant-floor software solutions through use of the ISA S95 standard.

Don’t be out of compliance with the future of manufacturing engineering. Begin absorbing as much information as possible about automation-to-enterprise integration based on systems in use in your facility today.

David Greenfield, Editorial Director

dgreenfield@reedbusiness.com

To read David Greenfield’s other columns addressing automation-to-enterprise integration and related ways of thinking, click the following links:

  • Get ready

  • Change Engineers

  • Monetize controls

  • Convergence of purpose

  • Why the integration push?