Nov 01 2012

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Still Stuck on Paper?

Despite a variety of robust software solutions available to manage business processes across the value chain, many industrial and manufacturing companies are still hesitant to adopt proven technology. In exchange, there’s a heavy reliance on manual and paper-based processes, homegrown applications, and legacy systems that are, for the most part, obsolete by even the most forgiving standards.

While these paper-based and legacy systems may work in some respects, there’s little comparison to the potential benefits offered by next generation manufacturing software. An abundance of case studies and research available support the concept that an investment in the integration of IT and business processes will greatly improve business performance, especially for global enterprises. But if that’s the case, then why are some companies still not modernizing operations?

The Paper-Based Mindset

Across different industries, the complexity of products and business processes is escalating, making the case even stronger for software. However, many companies seem to be stuck attempting to address these more complex business scenarios with tools that are 10 or 20 years old. Much of this mindset comes from traditional Lean manufacturing methodologies, which advised limited use of software. The reason for this was well founded at the time; traditional software was cumbersome and often didn’t effectively match business processes or deliver real-time data. The software itself added waste to the process and many companies, even very large, were better served by having operators and managers alike walking the line and observing the work process. Even though manufacturing technology has improved drastically since, as a consequence, a bias against software arose and persists in the industrial environment.

Interestingly, Lean practitioners advising against software were not the only voices in the market. Many companies that did try to adopt technology went through failings and negative experiences. Companies often had issues with flexibility that caused biases against software. Homegrown and early generation manufacturing software was likely purpose-built for a need or specific application. As the need changed, it didn’t have the ability to easily adapt, requiring significant IT support or the purchase of entirely new software. As a result, today, many companies that were early adopters of software have regressed back to manual processes.

The Issues with Homegrown, Manual and Paper-Based Processes

As a consequence of the bias against software, it’s typical today for companies to have disparate processes and applications across the value chain that don’t effectively communicate with one another. Additionally, the time taken to update spreadsheets or compare information between systems adds up to a considerable waste in resources. This disparity limits visibility and the ability to make informed decisions based on real-time data.

Another central issue with the disparity in management systems is the difficulty in scaling and centralizing the processes. In the absence of a platform for global communication, disparate applications tend to localize process improvement, cost reduction and amelioration to best practices. Other business units or plants that may have benefited from this information are out of the loop.

Adapting to a Modern IT Infrastructure

Advancements in modern software for Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) are addressing the biases many decision-makers may have against software. In the manufacturing environment, by converging IT and business processes, leading companies are taking a Business Process Management (BPM) approach with strong data modeling and real-time intelligence. BPM for manufacturing is delivering the capability to streamline, centralize, and standardize processes such as traceability, genealogy, non-conformance management, management of change, and compliance.

In addition to addressing the challenges created by increasing product and process complexity, leading companies realize the trend toward the consumerization of IT and the need to connect with the younger generation. In contrast to traditional industrial environments, many workers entering plants today are equipped with an almost inherent knowledge of software and technology. These workers will quickly grasp the true value of a BPM or MOM solution with less training than previous generations. Coupled with professional development, their knowledge of technology will likely drive improvements in efficiency and performance in the future.

Provided that executives and other decision-makers can overcome their biases, MOM software and BPM can make rapid and drastic improvements across the value chain. For instance, functionalities such as traceability that were once used to track product materials throughout the product lifecycle are now streamlined and centralized with the transformation from paper-based to software supported-processes. The time saved in recording this information and the effectivity of its management is significant. Leveraging MOM software and BPM is becoming a standard component of industrial strategy. By modernizing operations, leading companies are not only taking advantage of software, but also separating from close competitors that haven’t taken the leap.


Matthew can be found on Google+.


Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2012/11/still-stuck-on-paper/

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