Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why System Integrators Need to Put Users First

Posted by Erik Dellinger

Walking into the world’s largest polymer manufacturing plant, you’d see nothing unusual. Your guide would proudly show you the pristine new control room or the 40 towering, shining steel silos. You’d probably not meet Christine—even though without her, the whole thing would come to a grinding, expensive halt.

Hidden away in a windowless, tiny office, Christine and her small team are managing those silos. Almost all the production risk is on their shoulders. Get it wrong and the silos overflow, or a product is contaminated, stopping production and costing millions of dollars an hour. 

This team needs a simple process to follow; every action they have to perform increases the risk. If their process includes digging through a SAP screen for each silo, exporting data to Excel so it can be properly viewed, sending data to other teams for MES, DCS, and Labs data to be added, and then sharing it with a third party logistics team, something is going to go wrong.

OPC Client Application

All over the world, complex, high-risk manufacturing environments rely on similar small teams, grinding their way through unnecessarily complicated processes. From production planning, through shift logging, to mass balance or loss accounting, the platform of choice for monitoring and collaboration is Microsoft Excel and email. Plants are designed and upgraded by engineers and for engineers who have production rate and quality in mind —yet Christine’s office has no windows. 

But it is people that make these huge production facilities work. System integrators can, should, and must do better. We have the technology to bring data from different sources together as needed: any data, any business process, any function. Technologies like device communication platforms allow system integrators to seamlessly connect to a device and then make that data available for consumption by robust business intelligence and visualization applications.

Fortunately, Christine gets to work with the right kind of system integrator. She has a solution: a 60” plasma screen sits where once a manually updated white-board did. It pumps out the current operational situation continually in real-time, where once her team had to manually update their white-board 15 times a day. The dark art of complex Excel macro programming isn’t needed here; what they need is right in front of them. Their logistics and operational colleagues have their own TVs, with their own view of the data, so there are no error-stricken email round-trips.

Everything a user needs can be put in front of them. SAP, MES, DCS, and Labs systems can flood into an easy to read display. In seconds, Christine’s team can make the right decisions on what product is directed to which silo, or which silo is ready for a change of use.

Christine may not have any windows, but that TV is the most important view of all.

About the Author

Tim Sharpe Co-founder and CEO/MD of Sabisu; a cloud application for seamlessly sharing your business information with communities of colleagues, clients and suppliers—your data stays safe and everyone can work with it. Find him on twitter at @timjsharpe.