Your personal downturn plan

Ups and downs in manufacturing are inevitable. Having a plan to survive a downturn is critical to support organizations such as manufacturing IT. They are often the first to suffer in a downturn because it's hard to tie their performance to overall productivity. You can find many examples of maintenance, training, and technical support organizations that are cut back in downturns, only to see o...


Ups and downs in manufacturing are inevitable. Having a plan to survive a downturn is critical to support organizations such as manufacturing IT. They are often the first to suffer in a downturn because it's hard to tie their performance to overall productivity. You can find many examples of maintenance, training, and technical support organizations that are cut back in downturns, only to see overall productivity later fall because of lack of maintenance, training, or technical support.

In light of these facts, your personal downturn plan should have several elements.

Know what you do. In a manufacturing IT organization, it is important to make sure that you keep track of all of the activities you perform to support production. This includes not only reactive activities such as responding to system, server, application, and network failures, but also proactive activities performed to apply patches, test and apply virus and spyware updates, and maintain and test hot and cold standby systems. This list will help you balance work load with resources and document what will suffer if staff is lost.

Manufacturing IT should be involved in any changes or enhancements in control systems, including handling the server, network, and application license issues. During downturns, there are pressures on manufacturing to increase productivity or throughput, and these often result in improvement projects. Manufacturing IT should be an integral part of these projects to make sure the new or improved systems don't break existing systems or networks or leave security holes. Also, you can check that you don't purchase software where you already have available licenses.

Take inventory of what you have . During downturns, corporations often trade plants and divisions like baseball trading cards. It is not uncommon for personnel in manufacturing to change companies several times without changing offices or jobs. If your plant or division is sold, it is important to have an application inventory. Usually application software is expensed, so it is not carried on capital equipment lists. Application software does not have a physical presence, so it does not have a physical asset tag. Application inventories should be maintained in a site database that includes the application, version, vendor, support agreement, paid-for licenses, actually used licenses, support contacts, and local system owners.

Don't be surprised to find that you have dozens or even a hundred different applications running in your facility. Companies that perform application inventories often find that they are overpaying for license fees because they are not using all of the licenses, they did not get volume discounts because the software was purchased piecemeal, or the software was no longer needed. With the average software support contract about 15% to 20% of the purchase price, there can be significant savings in eliminating unneeded licenses or applications. When building the inventory don't forget the non-traditional systems under IT support as well. This includes printers, copiers, fax machines, UPS systems, bar code scanners, VOIP phones, and Web cameras. These systems also have support costs that can be investigated and optimized.

Keep yourself current . In downturns you also have to watch out for yourself. This means you have to continue expanding you areas of expertise. The advantage today is that you can access a lot of training online at work or at home. For example, MIT has all of its classes available free online, including a wide range of electrical engineering and computer science classes. See MIT OpenCourseWare ( ) for more information. Other universities also offer online classes at little or no cost. While these classes or other studies may not offer certificates or certifications, the new knowledge you gain will help you and your site survive a downturn.

Author Information

Dennis Brandl is president of BR&L Consulting, Cary, NC, which is focused on manufacturing IT solutions ( .

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