The decision to purchase a Manufacturing Execution System or MES can be quite complicated, time consuming and political. The reasons why are obvious – an MES system has a huge impact on how operations are executed, how well production can be managed, as well as how well a manufacturer is poised for future product innovations requiring new business process management. When discussing a potential MES system, a company can face a multitude of questions that might be overwhelming but are important to clarify in advance:
- What are the potential benefits and what “time-to-value” is possible?
- How much of an MES system will be useful for your manufacturing needs?
- Which MES functionalities are really needed vs. which are more “nice to have”?
- How well will it fit within your existing IT applications infrastructure?
- Can it complement your business and operations intelligence requirements?
- Are there additional training and support issues to consider?
- What are typical challenges to master and pitfalls to avoid during implementation?
- Is it meaningful / necessary to consider the same MES-solution for all production sites, or is it acceptable to choose a heterogeneous solution?
- How important is it that processes can be managed and implemented consistently on a global scale?
The complex decision-making involved in selecting the right MES solution has a lot to do with the fact that a production system can potentially impact many people, functions and departments. As a result, your decision process must consider the different viewpoints, requirements and objectives of each different corporate and plant stakeholder. If one group disregards another’s concerns, it will be a sore topic each time the “ignored” stakeholder is inconvenienced or simply can’t do their job based on a poor system selection.
Investing in the Future
Taking a step back and looking at this process from a macro-economic perspective, it is crucial to consider an overview of global markets and trends, which might justify the introduction of a MES system or your future needs. A global manufacturer with multiple sites and products faces the challenge of achieving near real-time visibility, control and synchronization of their operations across multiple sites. An important question to consider is if the MES can become a competitive factor in your global manufacturing strategy? If so, what functionalities are important to enable both today and in the future to achieve growth targets, production standards and quality improvement on a global scale? And, how well can your solution change as these future growth objectives are adjusted?
Of course, it is likely the decision to purchase or upgrade your MES was triggered by an issue or challenge that simply couldn’t be solved by your existing system. Therefore, your decision criterion must obviously address that challenge. Just be sure to also consider how a single operations process impacts others, ultimately leading to more of a “smart” factory. Operating in today’s interconnected world means systems implementation decisions have a wide reaching effect, as it allows more efficient and effective production processes to optimize synergies by following best practices and integrating with other IT and Lean philosophies.
As much as we like to think politics don’t negatively impact important, strategic decisions, they often do. When the risk of a “bad” MES selection could mean significant budget overruns, lost productivity or even your job, it is human nature to build allies as part of a selection process. Stated policies such as “We are only an XYZ vendor shop” can hurt your decision process for many, many years to come. Alternatively, companies can also face peer-pressure to select a solution which might appear best for the first site as a good local solution, but then turn out to become a disaster when capability limits are quickly reached as part of a global deployment.
I have seen many decisions hinge on first implementing a pilot site, with the intent to make the final decision based on those initial results. The challenge is that if you pick wrong, it is often hard for the decision makers to admit it (try explaining why you lost a year of timeline of the project by choosing the wrong vendor to do your first pilot site). Once again, politics can become an impediment to making the right decision that is best for the company. The key is to be sure senior level executives are involved with a more longer-time perspective so that initial perceived short-term savings can be weighed against offsetting longer term, strategic benefits.
It is critical to consider whether a MES systems implementation can be done as part of an overall ERP roll-out, will be conducted as an isolated instance, or will be added to an existing ERP deployment that has already been completed. A major concern is how the MES integrates with existing IT structures, such as an in-house or outside acquired ERP as well as all other existing operational systems on the shop floor. An efficiency check of your IT landscape can be invaluable as part of your MES selection process. How suitable a MES integrates directly impacts future MES synergies, and will determine how well the MES is accepted by employees. Practical implications of MES systems such as cockpit and dashboard functionalities, mobile applications that can be used on tablets and smartphones as well as the ease-of-use in learning and working between systems has become even more important with current digital transformation now impacting manufacturing operations.
To find a safe way out of the jungle of selecting your MES solution, this process is best performed by collectively utilizing checklists, ratings and profitability analyses from each of the stakeholders impacted by the decision. Although there are various good vendors available, in the end there is really only one truly optimal solution to meet your specific needs. Your focus must be to choose the solution that best addresses each of these requirements:
- Strategically addresses your current needs
- Flexible enough to enable future expansion requirements
- Specific enough to your industry to ease implementation challenges
- Supports all the multiple manufacturing models your organization uses
- Operates well on a global scale across heterogeneous IT environments, and
- Can be embraced by those who on a daily basis have to work with it.
Is this an easy process? Certainly not. But, it can be rewarding when your new system delivers the benefits you sought, making your life just a little bit easier and less stressful!
Werner can be found on Google+.