Alison Smith: New organizational mash-ups: a cure for the convergence conundrum

In our last column, The time has come for the Operations Data Warehouse, we suggested that manufacturing operations organizations put on their IT hats—a timely tip given the airplay that the “convergence” term is currently enjoying. While it's largely vendor-speak at the moment, it captures the spirit of two market trends: one technology-related; the other, an...


In our last column , The time has come for the Operations Data Warehouse , we suggested that manufacturing operations organizations put on their IT hats—a timely tip given the airplay that the “convergence” term is currently enjoying.

While it's largely vendor-speak at the moment, it captures the spirit of two market trends: one technology-related; the other, an organizational issue pertaining to the care and feeding of that technology from a governance perspective.

The crux of the convergence issue lies in the perception of who has jurisdiction over plant-level systems that contain “IT,” that talk to enterprise systems like ERP, and that are seldom managed under the same IT policies that attempt to ensure the security, stability, and high-performance of corporate IT systems.

What we've gleaned from our clients is that industry is of two minds on the subject: half of the central IT organizations we talk with simply don't want to know. They've got enough on their plates dealing with ERP maintenance, upgrades, patches, network configurations, report generation requests, and all those nasty little desktop PCs.

The other half? They want to know, believe they should know, and further maintain that they need to have a say in the management of site-level IT!

From the manufacturing information systems (MIS) department—or automation engineering, or central engineering—this is radical change from the laissez-faire stance of the past, and one that generally spawns vigorous debate.

Now, organizational remixes and mash-ups bring about new roles to support manufacturing applications.

Rightsizing has taken its toll. Industry veterans will remember the MIS organization that was virtually a staple in any sizeable manufacturing concern. Those days are gone. Organizational rightsizing over the years has repurposed plant-level MIS people to corporate groups that are running leaner as well.

At the same time, more sophisticated software applications—and more of them—are finding their way into manufacturing environments; Industrial Ethernet has made its debut; the IQ of embedded systems is on the rise as we speak; and the number of IP-addressable devices will skyrocket over the next three years.

The quandary is this: Who should take responsibility for the health of all of these new applications—and some that have flown under the radar in the past?

Is it possible for most manufacturing applications—like MES, like APC, like batch execution systems—to be managed separately from the platforms they run on? In many cases, the answer is no. So what skills are then needed to jointly manage the applications and competently execute traditional system administration tasks as well?

Does outsourcing offer an answer? Not that we've seen to date, but I invite readers to forward their success stories and the names of the companies to whom they've outsourced 24/7/365 manufacturing application support! Inquiring minds want to know, so bring it on and we'll share the results in a later column.

In the meantime, we expect an upsurge in new organization maps replete with revamped job definitions and new skill profiles for the next generation of super users and site-level system specialists who are comfortable with a big-systems picture and a pager for those third-shift crises—all at the same time.

Please send your outsourcing tales to , referencing MBT's September column.

Author Information

Alison Smith is a director within AMR Research's Market Services group, where her current focus is on manufacturing operations. Smith offers insight on applying manufacturing execution systems, enterprise manufacturing intelligence, and asset performance management solutions across vertical industries. She can be reached at .

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