Upgrading manufacturing enterprise information management systems just got a lot easier – a viable alternative to “Rip and Replace” has arrived! A better path to success is now gaining traction based on taking a more incremental approach, made possible by changing focus from data-centric applications to the business process instead, managed through a process-supported user interface.
Traditionally, the upgrade path for manufacturing execution systems has been painful and costly, mostly based on Rip and Replace strategies with few viable alternatives. This type of approach inevitably led to unnecessary down time, resource and material waste as well as a learning curve for the staff to learn the new system. Historically, a requirements document was first written to provide an overview and a route from the “as is” to the “to be” environment. A pilot project was then developed and implemented to determine if any design changes were necessary, at which point a global roll-out was then planned. During this planning stage, specific differences between plants were identified (or discovered) and modifications to the standard software deployment were then planned in order to complete the global deployment.
In nearly all cases, the focus was first on the functions within the application and then the necessary differences within each plant, with an objective of trying to fit the application capabilities to the business needs. If you think about it, this is backwards. The challenge was that there simply was not many alternatives. Role-based information was important, but typically seen as secondary to the functionality. Deployment was expected to cause at least a temporary disruption, and at worst, significant production delays. Although disruptions could be mitigated through training programs, the learning curve was likely to be steep, arduous and contentious.
Process Migration as a Viable Alternative
Today there is a new alternative, which I call Production Process Management (PPM), a strategy based on business process management concepts that provides the capability for incremental migration on a process-by-process basis. PPM can be deployed to individual users, across one or more plants or across an entire enterprise. Here is a prior post I wrote introducing this topic.
Fundamental to PPM is the idea of process design that can focus on a user interface being available anywhere across the extended enterprise. PPM goes away from the opaque application “data-centric” world and moves to a process environment whereby every user interface can be dynamically created to deliver or receive custom role or individual user-based information. PPM processes can be deployed at the user level as a single event or as global processes across a wide range of users and/or plants, creating enormous flexibility with continuous process improvement. One example is a process that serves all production test positions either in a plant, an enterprise or across enterprise boundaries.
Another advantage to PPM is its ability to define, deploy and revise processes as we rationalize existing applications, and to do this with minimum user disruption. Users are primarily concerned with the presentation on their device, so existing applications can be removed without affecting the process, as long as the necessary data element is available elsewhere. The removal of extraneous applications will improve agility while reducing the total cost of IT ownership.
PPM allows you to build composite applications using process technology to extract data, perform operations and deliver the result, all without coded integration. This flexibility is only possible when working with a common data model, which can then be linked to consistent data elements through the use of process modeling tools such as BPMN 2.0.
Many basic ideas of information management are changed with PPM:
- Historically we have viewed the application as the center of information management activity. It was up to the user to interface with the application. In much the same way that the Smartphone delivers apps to fit the user, PPM is about how to best support the user, as the process can easily be changed “behind the scenes” without impacting the user experience.
- Flexible, visible processes are the connection with the user, not opaque data-centric applications.
- The business process is the unit of automation. Processes can be visible and individual to the user, while also be transportable to then be available to the user, regardless what location or what device they are working with.
- Processes are easily designed and revised to meet changing business conditions, creating significant agility for organizations to change faster to new demand conditions or market opportunities.
- Users and information are part of a business process, not just consumers or providers of data. All manual and electronic intersections with the process are flexible to fit the individual instance of the process.
- Existing applications can be extended by applying process management tools. Add a composite application that connects existing data sources and performs operations on the data. Link existing applications anywhere to then build new composite processes. The incremental nature of this concept is what virtually eliminates the need to ever “rip and replace” again.
By now it should be evident that the migration path using PPM is superior. It is much easier on everyone – especially the end user – which dramatically changes how we can improve our information infrastructure. Migration is no longer a one-time event to be dreaded. Instead, it can now be replaced with a series of roadmaps to support continuous improvement and improve business agility. I think we can now officially write the obituary for “Rip and Replace,” may it rest in peace!
If you would like to read more about this topic, I would encourage you to read a white paper on this topic that I co-wrote with Chris Will, Apriso’s founder.