As I have noted in the last several posts I have been traveling a lot lately and it has just been recently that I have finally caught up with reading all my email, blogs I follow and the forums/groups that I belong to. Having been involved in automation and process control for almost 45 years, the last 18 as an analyst/consultant I am struck by the fact that the issues we are all discussing seem to be essentially the same as when I entered the field. Sure, the technology changes but the underlying issues seem to remain - so why haven't we, after all this time, been able to solve the fundamental challenges facing manufacturing? Why are we still struggling to integrate our businesses? Are we finally getting to the point where technology may be allowing us to achieve what has to-date been too difficult? or, are there other underlying issues?
When I was a Gartner analyst I was stuck by the fact that in fifteen years the questions never seemed to change. When I started in 1995 some of the most common questions were always around MES - how do we justify it?, who are the leading vendors? and MES or ERP? When I retired in 2010 the questions were the same. What really struck me the most was that in some cases the individuals asking the questions changed but the organizations remained the same. Usually this could be traced to staff changes over time. A project that may have been initiated in the mid 1990's got put on hold during the rush to ERP in conjunction with the Y2K crisis. After the millennium and ERP failed to fully deliver all the promised benefits attention returned to MES as the organizations tried to get better data to feed the newly implemented ERP applications. After the dot com bust and the subsequent economic contraction there seemed to be a wave of layoffs and lo and behold by the end of the decade another generation of automation engineers were calling asking how do we justify MES and who are the leading vendors?
The biggest difference between 1995 and 2010 was that in 1995 many of the MES applications ran on Unix boxes with PC clients and in 2010 it was about cloud, the Internet and mobile apps. Also, the vendor names may have changed, usually because of consolidation and M&A activity, but many of the people in the industry were still the same. So how do we get off this treadmill and solve the integration challenge? More on that in the next post.