It's tough to argue with The Connected Enterprise value proposition. Who wouldn't want to be part of a safer, more efficient and more profitable enterprise, where all decision-makers are equipped with the visibility and information they need to respond quickly and confidently to sudden market challenges and new opportunities?
The vision may be clear, but there are as many paths forward as there are companies setting out to become one. There will be potholes along the way, but wins will sometimes come from unexpected quarters, according to a panel of industry executives that shared their own companies' stories of justification, definition and value creation on the road to becoming a Connected Enterprise. The panel discussion was part of the Automation Perspectives media event held by Rockwell Automation on the eve of its Automation Fair event in Chicago.
Participating in the panel were Keith Nosbusch, president and CEO, Rockwell Automation; Art Clausen, CFO, Mullins Food Products; Jim Wetzel, technical director, General Mills, and chairman, Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition; and Lance Whitacre, VP and CIO, Anderson Corp. The discussion was moderated by John Nesi, VP market development, Rockwell Automation.
The urge to standardize
"Along the way we discovered there was a whole lot we didn't know we didn't know." Art Clausen of Mullins Food Products on the unexpected sources of challenge and reward on the road to becoming a Connected Enterprise.
One shared justification experience in the panelists' Connected Enterprise journey was the clear need, often identified at the outset, to simplify and standardize its business processes and the systems that support them. Here, justification started with improved visibility into manufacturing operations or, more broadly, into far-flung supply chains. A shared vernacular and improved portability of staff skills from plant to plant have also yielded results.
Jim Wetzel of General Mills, for example, traces the company's Connected Enterprise journey back to 1993. "Back then, we realized we needed to be connected," Wetzel said. The company progressed from using Ethernet-enabled PLCs to gather trend data "so we could tell what had happened "to visualization, optimization and enterprise analytics, Wetzel said. "Now we're on a journey to smart manufacturing."
Part of General Mills' journey has been to standardize the company's manufacturing processes and automation and information system architecture across its 60 plants around the world. "When we acquired Pillsbury, we converted all their systems to ours; when we acquired Ralston Purina's snack foods business, we ripped out relatively new PLCs," Wetzel said. The company had found that the costs of dissimilar systems—even fully functional ones—stymied continued improvement. "Now we're very homogeneous, and that's come at a cost," Wetzel said. "But we judged that the gains to be had were worth it."
Similarly, Rockwell Automation realized in 2005 that if it was to compete on the global stage it had to standardize its business processes and unify the variety of ERP systems it had collected through growth and acquisition, Keith Nosbusch said. "It was critical to long-term success and, frankly, to financial prosperity."
The company embarked on its own Connected Enterprise journey, with a global plan that led not only to a unified ERP instance, but a revamping of its global supply chain that involved plant closures and openings as well. Now, the company enjoys global visibility into its supply chains and can quickly respond. "When the Fukishima earthquake hit in Japan, we were able to rebalance our supply chains overnight," Nosbusch said.
Tip of the iceberg
And when Mullins Food Products embarked on its now three-years-on journey, visibility into manufacturing operations was the key motivator, said CFO Art Clausen. The company had a single ERP system (which was good), but lost visibility between when raw materials were received and finished goods were shipped.
"Along the way, we discovered there was a whole lot we didn't know we didn't know," Clausen confessed. "We achieved the basic ROI we were looking for but discovered that was just the tip of the iceberg—we now know there are many, many next steps."
"The project has led to questions of culture of training, employees, and leadership," Clausen added. "We've learned we can only chew off and digest so much at a time."
Other panelists concurred that issues of culture are enormously important on the road to The Connected Enterprise. In particular, when organizations transition from making decisions by opinion and gut feel to those based on facts and data, some employees find the transition unsettling, according to Lance Whitacre of Anderson Corp.
When finally armed with the information they need to make decisions—rather than constantly fight fires—quality, customer services and other outcomes improve, Whitacre said. In turn, the need for "heroes" who were once so valued because they could fix things that were broken yields to the need for employees with analytical skillsets who can further improve business processes. "People have to reinvent themselves," Whitacre said.
"We had lots of heroes, too," Knosbusch added," because they had to fill in the gaps between our systems." Today, people's jobs have changed, he added. "The Connected Enterprise needs different capabilities, different competencies—and yields different outcomes, too."