As a manufacturer grows and expands market share, staffing inevitably becomes a challenge. Initial focus must clearly be on product availability, followed by distribution, sales and marketing. As these functions scale, the need to update your manufacturing execution system typically follows, thus potentially affecting other IT systems. Your initial scope of work is now likely out-of-date, necessitating a review and update of your IT strategy. It is at this point when you may first decide to staff internally or seek outside help.
Having worked with a number of manufacturing organizations, there is definitely a correlation between the size of your organization and the benefits of implementing a third party Systems Integrator (SI). As systems complexity expands, it becomes increasingly expensive to internally staff a wide range of IT expertise. Network administrators, Java specialists and software programmers are just a few – add in hardware experts, and you could quickly be at a very large department. At this point, the need to leverage third party contractors is virtually a given.
I would suggest that the decision to outsource your manufacturing IT might make sense earlier in your growth cycle than you might have considered. There are many advantages to leveraging outside SI expertise, including the 5 points listed below:
- Access to Best Practices – not only will hiring a Systems Integrator result in greater consistency across your MES build, but their knowledge in MES implementations means that you don’t have to try to learn how to do it all right the first time. Leverage their expertise to move along the experience curve faster, at less cost, with reduced chance of project failure.
- Standardized Configuration – a third party contractor is more likely to follow a standardized process and architecture during implementation, based on the fact that they are running an implementation or management business. SIs will train their employees to follow a consistent process during every build. This standardization helps an SI to better diagnose future issues, resulting in less cost to service and support your IT system in the future.
- More Robust IT System – once you decide to outsource the implementation (and possibly the management) of a Manufacturing Execution System or MES, the chance of future unplanned downtime can be reduced, based on greater consistency in how your IT architecture is organized. The reason is that internal employees typically have more focused attention on their specific area of responsibility, so they might not be as accountable as third party contractors, with regards to overall IT systems performance, such as how well MES integrates to ERP and PLM systems. They also might not have had as much experience, resulting in the need to use shortcuts or quick fixes as issues come up; these “Band-Aid” solutions can often lead to future systems failures.
- Contractor Interoperability – Not only will a third party SI be more likely to offer best practices, but their work will be easier to complement to other projects and tasks. This type of standardization means you can select one SI for the initial build, another to perform the roll out, and another to do application maintenance. Greater standardization and common methodologies leads to ease of support and third party interoperability, helping to better maintain budget and timeframe requirements.
- Optimize Local vs. Global Needs – Larger, global organizations can use best practices from other sites and countries, but language barriers can sometimes take away this benefit. Large SIs used to working in these types of environments can offer a global perspective to best support a global roll out. At the same time, they can support local language requirements when it comes time to implement the system on the shop floor. This combination of capabilities is a key factor of success.
Of course, there will always be exceptions to the rule. Internal employees can certainly perform each of the above requirements. In reality, a combination is often ideal whereby outside contractors can be brought in to kick off a new project and provide an architectural framework to help improve the chance of operational success. In the end, implementation standardization and the sharing of common best practices is the best strategy, so whatever staffing decision you elect should be based on the expected ability to adhere to this objective.