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Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Decline of Monoliths and the JAM (Just Another MES) Trap

How many times have we heard this? "We are implements XYZ system and the project plan has a go live date in 1.5 years." We also know that immediately after hearing this statement that anybody with even minimal experience will adds 6 months to this date - just to be realistic. This is what we have been accustomed to in the area of traditional manufacturing systems -there is a sense of inevitability and even desperation. 

Good news, in the current era of digital technology this does not need to be so. As I have explained many times before transformative digital technologies time to value is measured in days and weeks and not years. They are implemented in a bottom up iterative manner that is focused on adding value by making frontline operations more productive. 

But what makes this possible and why can't traditional systems do the same? That is because traditional systems are monolithic, they are built on the premise of providing a business function that works the same for all. The same solution that can serve all industries, in all modalities, in all scenarios, with any equipment, and for all operators. They have to be implemented top-down with a lengthy implementation process that maps out all the requirements, scenarios and contingencies upfront. They require the adaptation of existing operational processes to what the system can support and in the way that it supports it. They provide standardized rigid hierarchical structures for representing manufacturing operations with a standard data model in a one-size fits all approach.  Monolithic systems are also designed for maintainability, meaning that they try to optimize to ease the maintenance and management of the solution by a team with specialized skillsets. 

Bottom Line! Monolithic Solutions rob your organization of rapid time to value and exponential productivity increases that is at the core of the digital transformation (Industry 4.0, Smart Factories, etc).  This may not be news to some but the reason I felt it was necessary to discuss this topic is because I see many companies adopting new digital technologies but then go happily down the path of recreating monoliths. A path that will inevitably result in what I call "Just Another X": JAM, JAL, JAW, JAC - Just Another MES, LIMS, WMS, CMMS, etc. These solutions that will at best be “just as good” as the other MES, LIMS, WMS, CMMS, etc., and will inherently have all the associated shortcomings.

A Composable solution is built from the bottom up in an iterative manner. It is inherently agile and adaptable and provides the most efficient way to digitize manufacturing operations. It provides a solution in which the manufacturing execution is organically integrated with the operations and business processes. It provides the most robust and effective way to increase productivity with a modern digital tools specifically a Frontline Operations Platform.

This is in stark contrast to a Monolithic approach where top down hierarchical process is used to provide a solution that fits within specific constraints that is hard to change. The goal is to fit the solution to the process in contrast to fitting the process to the solution. Composability removes the difficulties associated with adhering to complicated standards and systems. It frees the engineers to focus on rapidly building targeted apps that solve a specific problem, fit the process, and increases the rate of solution development by an order of magnitude.
  • Tailored specifically to each process, activity, operation - no compromises.
  • Instrumentation of each discrete process - capturing granular data about each activity
  • Complexity is distributed across the solution's Apps and easier to maintain
  • Highly adaptable and agile - easy to change, minimal impact to overall system behavior

This brings us back to Holonics and holarchies which explain the fundamental principle enabling agility and why monolithic system will never be able to support agility. We talk all day long about digital transformation but until we understand that the technologies we use have to enable these fundamental principles we will not get the promised order of magnitude productivity increases. Let me close with a quote from what was once the Agility Forum, one of the research initiatives that is the foundation for Industry 4.0: 
“Instead of building something that anticipates a defined range of requirements based on ten or twelve contingencies, build it so it can be deconstructed and reconstructed as needed.” 

                                                                                                   -Rick Dove, Agility Forum 

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