Love Your MOM: Before Your Software and System Integration, Harness the People

By Al Bredenberg

A new study by Cambridge, Mass.-based advisory firm LNS Research shows that the best-performing manufacturing firms place a priority on selecting the right software and systems integrator for the implementation of manufacturing operations management (MOM) applications. However, internal project teams hold the primary responsibility for project success.

For its recently completed 2013-2014 MOM survey, LNS researchers interviewed some 325 manufacturing professionals about their practices in software selection and use of internal resources, systems integrators, and consultants. They found that it isn't necessarily only software and technology that makes MOM successful.

Speaking to Tech Trends Journal, Mark Davidson, principal analyst at LNS, said a MOM implementation must serve the key business objective of “operational excellence,” i.e., the application of continuous improvement to increase business and manufacturing performance. He believes that “the three key dimensions” of MOM are people, processes, and supporting technology, and the best manufacturers are aligning these elements to allow operational excellence to click in.

Tom Comstock, vice president in the DELMIA division of French technology solutions company Dassault Systemes, agrees that a MOM initiative should be governed by a high-level goal.

Comstock, whose division offers Apriso, an MOM solution, told Tech Trends Journal that a manufacturer is unlikely to be successful at MOM if the goal “is to simply replace legacy IT systems or to fix a broken process.” He said, however, that “if you seek a new approach to manage your operations on more of a global scale or to accelerate your innovation process, then the potential benefits can be quite substantial.”

MOM refers to a range of technology solutions for managing manufacturing from end to end, encompassing a company’s maintenance, production, quality, and inventory operations. In a guide to MOM software selection, Davidson wrote that MOM applications are meant to “provide critical support and enforcement of industrial and manufacturing processes and procedures, while facilitating a bridge between enterprise and business operations systems and the industrial automation systems that provide plant floor control.”

Many manufacturers have tried to meet this need with a mix of in-house applications, spreadsheets, and packaged software, he wrote. But such piecemeal solutions have been difficult to coordinate, standardize, and replicate across enterprises and external value chains.

More recently, though, new technologies and standards have emerged “that are proving to simplify integration costs, provide broader enterprise manufacturing scope, and enable real-time decision-making and collaboration across entire manufacturing organizations, along with their partners,” Davidson wrote. Suppliers in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution system (MES) spaces, as well as in product life-cycle management (PLM), have begun to extend the scope of their offerings to meet the end-to-end needs implied in the MOM model, along with platforms that facilitate development, integration, and collaboration.

Tech Trends Journal asked Davidson what the best-performing companies are doing in the MOM arena that sets them apart. His response did not place the priority on software or technology.

Instead, he said, “Harnessing the potential of people is one of the greatest assets that companies can leverage for an effective operational excellence journey.” Top manufacturers “have organized around cross-functional teams to support this journey.” The LNS MOM survey found that “50 percent of manufacturing companies have done this already.”

Another best practice Davidson pointed to is a focus on key performance indicators (KPIs), and actively aligning goals around those metrics. This is one of the areas where MOM technologies are proving themselves, he said: “This requires technology that provides better and faster data analysis and visibility of plant and enterprise information in support of driving the right behaviors from teams and individuals.”

Comstock of Dassault Systemes acknowledges that rolling out a MOM is a big project. However, he cautioned against “thinking you must do all steps at once.” Rather, he noted, “Focus initially on a single factory and how you can improve the performance of a specific activity and what impact you can make on the user experience associated with that activity,” taking the time to “evaluate what processes are being executed and how they could be done with greater efficiency.”

Once the project team has achieved initial gains and understands the potential benefits, it’s possible to expand the scope to other operations and other sites.

While Davidson sees MOM as a global trend pervading across all economies, he said that LNS sees “much more employee engagement and empowerment in the more mature markets of North America and Europe.” This speaks to his assertion that people are a company’s greatest asset in improving operational excellence, and it points to a potential advantage for U.S manufacturers.

Said Davidson: “Companies that do the best job of aligning their human resources and harnessing their energy and their ability to take action to rapidly react and improve operations, will outperform companies taking traditional or hierarchical organization approaches.”

The LNS survey found that “getting the software selection right is of primary concern” to manufacturers. Forty-four percent of respondents select MOM software and the integrator together. Almost an equal number, 43 percent, select the software first and then seek a capable integrator. Only 13 percent of respondents select the integrator first and then ask the integrator to recommend software.

In his write-up about the survey, Davidson cautioned that this finding is not to say it’s a bad approach to find an integrator first. In fact, LNS notes that there are situations in which “a small or mid-sized manufacturing company does not have the expertise or resources to properly go through the software evaluation process, and instead they use a trusted system integrator to take the lead in this area.”

While cost of services and implementation time are important considerations in selecting an integration services provider, the survey found that the top three criteria for choosing an integrator were experience in the industry, expertise with the chosen software, and implementation methodology. In spite of the importance of the software vendor and integrator, though, respondents by far (46 percent) gave their own company project teams the prime responsibility for a successful implementation.


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