This week Microsoft announced their Reference Architecture Framework for Discrete Manufacturers, or DIRA, as it is now abbreviated. One factor driving Microsoft to launch this framework was their focus on helping the industry better integrate processes within and across the enterprise. They would like to extend the reach of the network to more companies globally, and as part of that process, connect more smart devices (ideally, those running on Windows 7) to the cloud.
Here at Apriso, we say “Hallelujah!”
Beyond raising awareness of Microsoft’s focus on manufacturing operations, this announcement points to the fact that this is a big challenge for manufacturers, one that they are now focused on.
Microsoft has been a long time partner of Apriso. FlexNet is built on .NET, we have embedded Silverlight as part of some screen displays and we leverage SharePoint as part of our advanced SPC capabilities, so it makes a lot of sense that they reached out to us to help execute upon this vision.
Despite all the incredible technology breakthroughs, communications capabilities and lightening quick data networks that have been globally deployed, manufacturers still struggle with accessing the right information by the right people, who can then act upon that information in a timely manner.
One challenge that must be overcome is how to best manage an IT infrastructure that comprises literally hundreds of different systems, including “homegrown” applications that are difficult to manage and virtually impossible to change. By migrating down to a reasonable number of applications that are highly flexible and can be easily changed, manufacturers can make an enormous impact to their operational excellence and ability to respond quickly to demand shifts or the need for process improvement.
Another challenge is how to establish a best practice process and then distribute that process across all operations. Perhaps a more consistent communication strategy – whether that is through the cloud or across social networks – can address the complexity of initially identifying what a best practice process is and where it is located. With that information, best practice processes can then be replicated to every location.
We may look back at 2011 as the beginning of a new dawn where collaboration across manufacturing operations saw significant improvement … or, a new approach will be applied in the continuing journey for process improvement. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft’s focus – and resulting attention they will generate on this topic – can bring resolution to this industry challenge that has been holding back productivity and process improvements at many of the world’s manufacturers.