Having worked in the real estate, banking, network security and software industries, I can personally attest to the fact that every industry has its own set of terms, expressions and abbreviations. Enterprise manufacturing software is no different. What is especially confusing is when the same term means different things, based on your industry perspective. The term “platform” falls into this category.
According to Wikipedia, there are at least 12 different definitions for “platform,” ranging from physical objects, politics, technology and arts, among others. From a software perspective, the technology definition is most relevant, which defines a platform as “a framework on which applications may be run.” This blog post will focus on defining three important IT platforms that manufacturers must consider as part of their operational strategy. I will then follow up this post later with a perspective on what specific advantages are possible by embracing a three platform IT strategy.
The advantage of using a platform as part of your IT application strategy is primarily consistency, which results in reduced development and implementation costs as well lower training and integration costs. For example, if you purchase a Microsoft Windows-based PC, it makes sense to install windows-based applications to run on it, as it will be more likely that these applications will run better, will be easier to install and will have less of a chance of causing conflicts and future system performance issues. Of course, these are broad assumptions, and exceptions certainly exist!
The adoption of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is another example of a well-accepted IT platform. Companies need accurate visibility to measure actual versus plan performance, which can then be used to generate financial reports. Consistency once again tops the list of benefits on why an ERP makes sense. Providing better planning and reporting accuracy, the domain of ERP falls within corporate accounting and finance departments and tends to provide the most benefits to these groups of employees.
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), from a traditional perspective, is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from its conception, through design and manufacture, to service and disposal. PLM integrates people, data, processes and business systems to provide a product information “platform” for companies and their extended enterprise. Note that some may argue that PLM actually comprises various applications and related processes, so in a sense, it is not quite as “common” a platform as ERP. But, for the purposes of this article, let’s assume it is an IT platform, since from an IT strategy perspective, the decision to implement PLM falls into this category. PLM can be managed in much the same way as ERP, and can deliver much the same benefits as ERP, simply doing so for the engineering perspective instead.
Note that the above definition of PLM assumes inclusion of manufacturing as part of the product lifecycle. Of course, a product that is designed and engineered must ultimately be built if it is to provide value to an end user. The question is: “What role does PLM play in the production process?” Clearly product geometry and as well as Bill of Materials and Bill of Processes must come from design / engineering. But, what about managing people, processes and equipment associated with manufacturing? How about scheduling equipment repairs or sequencing materials to the production line? It appears a common consensus is that these activities are best left to the manufacturing team to manage, optimize and continuously improve. Process changes that could benefit future design changes must be communicated back to PLM, but PLM is hardly the best platform for manufacturers to use as part of their daily tasks.
This conclusion brings me to our third IT platform – manufacturing operations. As an emerging trend, the industry has not yet standardized on how to accomplish this objective – in fact, the industry hasn’t even agreed on a name for this IT platform. For the purpose of this article, let’s call it a “Manufacturing Operations Management” or MOM platform. One reason why this type of thinking is now starting to gain ground is the fact that it is much easier to continuously improve operations if your measurement criterion are consistent – which is the case when you implement a MOM platform. As has been the case with ERP and PLM, consistency is the name of the game. In other words, a platform-based approach to manufacturing operations management can help to accelerate implementation, ease future software upgrades, increase operational efficiency and add more flexibility to an organization’s ability to respond faster to change.
Now I have defined what a three platform IT strategy comprises, the next question is “Who cares?” What would be the reason to embrace this type of strategic direction? I will explore this topic in my next post.