March 12, 2014

The Need for Manufacturing Software

What is a white space, and how do you best remove it?
Avatar Olivier Drean

In the 1990s, when manufacturing companies were looking to extend material requirements planning (MRP) into the enterprise, ERP was born. The purpose of the initial application was to automate back office functions, such as financial accounting and human resources. Eventually, however, front office functions that catered to customer and supplier relationships were integrated in, as well.  Of course, the more one gets, the more one wants, and customers were soon asking vendors to design turnkey application platforms that integrated everything under the sun.

Large software vendors complied, making acquisitions to build-out functionality or going back to the R&D drawing board. Soon, vendors were promising to deliver all that their customers were asking for, and more. But despite the fact that a vendor may be able to check off every capability on your RFP, inevitably, you will find that the manufacturing software does not fully meet your needs.

Your business has unique requirements based on industry, geography, business processes, and power users. There is no such thing as “one size fits all,” when it comes to application bundles—especially when a company is trying to connect the shop floor to the top floor.

This type of scenario means that there will be coverage “gaps” when purchasing any type of enterprise IT application. Despite investing in a large-scale software deployment, a company will likely have to dig deeper into the corporate coffers to do some customization work in order to fill the gap between the enterprise and manufacturing IT systems.

This fissure in functionality is what we refer to as “white spaces.”

In a business context, white space refers to the areas in an organizational or functional chart where there is no accountability. This can then become an area that presents the most potential for things to fall through the cracks.

In software, white space exists when the tightly coupled “application bundled suite” does not fully support the organizations needs. When this happens, the solution is not to buy more software because it is not an application issue, it is an architectural issue. What companies really need are flexible IT platforms that can serve up information where and when it is needed.

digital manufacturing software simulation example in automotive industry

A Three Platform Architecture Is the Answer

Of course, if you find yourself in a situation where the chosen manufacturing software suite is not delivering on its promises, your first step is to perform a complete gap analysis. Identify the functional tasks, determine the requirements for each task, and then figure out how the software application presently supports, or fails to support, the business objectives, processes and systems within the organization.

The next step is to use this as a starting point for adopting a review of whether the gap or white space to be filled is best identified as planning, design or execution. Based on your evaluation, the best way to fill the manufacturing application gap will then come from your ERP (planning), PLM (design) or manufacturing operations platform (execution). Rather that adopting a mindset of throwing more applications at your solution, consider what existing application could be extended to fill the gap. Industry leading manufacturers understand that all activities and processes can be grouped into one of these three categories, as a way of further simplifying their operations while steadily eliminating application gaps.

Once an application gap is identified as planning, design or execution, the next step is to decide how your existing application capabilities can be expanded to fix the gap. Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Business Process Management (BPM) are technologies and frameworks than can help address this challenge, laying the framework for a business methodology that focuses on continuously improving business processes. What results is that you now have really powerful and agile IT platform. It is one that can not only transform the way your organization handles change, but it is hands down the best way to wipe out the white space problem.

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