Having spent several decades working in the manufacturing industry in many roles, I have much experience conducting MES evaluation processes. While there is no easy path, it still amazes me how companies continue to struggle. My conclusion is that too much time and effort is focused on features and functions – more time should be spent understanding each prospective vendor’s industry knowledge, partner ecosystem, and alignment to your own IT infrastructure and staffing. Only then can an effective Manufacturing Execution System (MES) selection process be performed.
Some of the stories I could share are shocking. In some cases, application anarchy was rampant with individual business and functional units selecting whatever they want. In other cases, a mandate came down from an executive resulting in driving a square peg into a round hole, using tools for purposes for which they are ill-suited.
The cost of a poor evaluation process can be felt for years. I have seen cases where just the selection for a new MES took almost five years. Meanwhile, production struggles with old, outdated, and poorly integrated systems. In other cases, someone with a favorite solution pushed it across the business even though it is the wrong solution for many parts of the business.
Ironically, the biggest mistake I see is companies picking a solution that is technically elegant or incredibly feature-rich, but the provider has little to no domain expertise to compensate. I am convinced a company’s supplier choice should be based as much on who that supplier is as what their solution provides.
Here are 3 key factors to consider helping avoid a painful outcome from an MES evaluation process.
Factor #1: Trying to specify every existing functional requirement
Too much focus on existing processes and functionality while setting up an evaluation process can be a fatal flaw to an MES evaluation process. Here, manufacturers miss how business processes could be improved upon as part of a new solution – such as relying on current paper systems or outdated technologies. These are not likely today’s best practices if they do not leverage new technology advances. What happens is that these companies just automate sub-optimal processes. When you automate bad processes, you just “do bad, bigger, and faster.”
Factor #2: Focusing too much on a utopian end state
Alternatively, some companies make an effort to envision a better way of doing things and architect a future concept that might not be possible or is very difficult to achieve. Then, they seek the best possible solution to execute this vision. Untested functional steps are required to yield the desired results. Here, the challenge is that by focusing solely on the desired state, manufacturers may well struggle while transitioning from their current state without a total rip-and-replace implementation.
Factor #3: Falling into the trap of finding a “perfect” solution
Once an appropriate functionality requirements list is identified, a shortlist is made with the suppliers meeting these criteria. The next step will be a functional bake-off. Companies can spend months doing conference room pilots or detailed analysis of the products only to find out that no solution can realistically do everything perfectly. At this point, internal politics can enter the decision process with various factions lobbying for the solution that meets their specific needs, even if it results in an overall sub-optimal solution. Much time and resources are drained, resulting in decision delays and opportunity costs – all occurring instead of fixing the original problem that started the process!
The Solution: Focus on strategy, architecture, philosophy and domain knowledge
Do not ignore functionality. It obviously must be there for project success – but do not obsess over it either. Equally important is that the chosen supplier has a product architecture that aligns with the future technology and platform architecture path your company is now on.
Equally important is that your chosen supplier has:
- A product strategy that aligns with your business approach, such as adopting microservices for greater agility and movement to the Cloud.
- A philosophy that places success and continuous improvement at the core. MES is an ongoing process, not a one-time software implementation. The supplier should view MES as a process, not a package.
- Relevant domain expertise, be it within your industry, geographic, and/or regulatory environment; a supplier that has “been there and done that” can help you to achieve your goals faster, with greater success.
An MES or MOM project can and should be a critical part of your Digital Transformation efforts. As such, it will take time and evolve as you roll it out over your entire organization. Choose your partner for this journey carefully. One that knows your business is as committed to your success as their own, and has a technology and functionality vision that aligns closely with yours, is a far better choice than a cheaper list price or a feature-rich solution.
Dan Miklovic is the founder and principal analyst at Lean Manufacturing Research, LLC. He has a wealth of experience as an end-user, software vendor, consultant, and market research analyst. He led a plant applications development and implementation team at Weyerhaeuser, was a process system engineer at Scott Paper, led the network design team at a large engineering firm serving the pulp & paper and mining industries. His industry analyst experience includes roles at Gartner, Sustainable Collaborations Group, and LNS Research. He is currently a member of The Analyst Syndicate. He has authored dozens of articles, contributed to several engineering handbooks, authored a text on industrial networking, and was a co-host of World Business Review, a TV program seen on public television, CNBC, and other outlets.
You may contact Dan at [email protected].