Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Envisioning the “Could-Be” When Crafting a Manufacturing EA


In my previous enterprise architecture (EA) post I talked about how to identify gaps inside the manufacturing organization vis-à-vis information needs. In this post I’ll conclude this mini-series on extending your EA efforts to the plant floor to create a Manufacturing EA plan by outlining some of the tools you can use to understand the realm of possibilities when it comes to crafting a vision of what you’d like your enterprise to look like in the future. These tools are:

  • Conference/vent attendance
  • Best-in-class plant visits
  • Vendor briefings and events
  • Research into best-in-class award programs criteria and academic papers/programs

Each of these tools offers different perspectives and should be used judiciously.

The Vendor View of the Future

Working with vendors to help expand your vision of the realm of possibilities when it comes to advancing the excellence of your operations is the proverbial two-edged sword. On the one hand, vendors often have insight into multiple industries and can help propagate advances in one industry to others. Many vendors have manufacturing centers of excellence, often by industry. They also have a very good grasp of what technology is on the horizon, as they are the purveyors of that technology. However, they obviously are biased to their own product set. They will do everything in their power to transform their vision into your vision to win your future business.

In past posts, I have emphasized the need for vendor neutrality to avoid designing an architecture that can only be fulfilled one way. It would seem that using vendors to help establish the realm of possibilities presents such a risk, but to be forewarned is to be forearmed. The key to using vendors effectively is seeking out not only those already entrenched in your business, but to expand your horizon by reaching out to a broader field that serve your industry. The way to forestall the hard sell is to be up front with the vendors and explain exactly where you are in your architecture process, and note that attempts to hard sell at this point will do them more harm than good. Besides vendor centers of excellence, vendor user group meetings and conferences are also a good opportunity to see and hear the vendors’ vision of the future.

Conferences, Events and Independent Research

The vendor approach has an undeniable bias, so many companies seek sources that have more neutrality. Third party conferences and events, such as those sponsored by professional or engineering societies, magazines, or research companies are one approach many companies use. When the event focus is on manufacturing excellence or initiatives, like Industry 4.0 or the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, next generation strategy setting the content is likely to be directly applicable to a manufacturing EA initiative. Other events may be less obvious, but just as valuable. Such events might be related to the Shingo Prize, Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Award, or MESA’s programs and initiatives. Industry Week magazine also sponsors events that focus on manufacturing excellence, particularly their “Best Plant” awards event.

In the case where an event or conference may not be available in the appropriate timeframe, independent research into the criteria and past winners may be a valuable tool. This will assist in understanding what a world-class manufacturing architecture might look like. Other research paths can include case studies by research firms like LNS Research, trade publications, or other publications.

Getting the Most from Plant Visits

Where there are manufacturing plants within your company, your industry or similar, you may want to visit some of them to better understand what a best-in-class organization looks like. Addendum to that, to understand the architecture that supports such an organization. These manufacturing plants are commonly recognized as exceptional performers and with well-defined systems to support operational excellence. It is important when selecting sites for actual plant visits that you:

  • Identify operations that resemble your own to the degree that you can and should emulate them
  • Ensure the host will reveal enough detail of their architecture and systems so you understand the technology they have deployed and how it might relate to your environment
  • The vendor mix at the host is relevant to your operation, particularly vis-à-vis vendors that are strategic to your own environment and are considered “monuments” or “untouchables” in your company.

When setting up the visit make sure the host understands your objectives and what you want to learn from the visit. Also make sure any competitive and non-disclosure issues are resolved prior to the visit. Finally, make sure you spend time with the actual users of the systems on the plant floor. This way you can understand what works well and what doesn’t.New Call-to-action

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