Survey results: Finding the right enterprise software system for your facility

Jan. 20, 2020
New survey suggests that plant professionals expect more from both their software and their consulting partners.

In this article:

It’s no secret that 2019 was a difficult year for the manufacturing industry. The ISM Manufacturing Index declined in recent months, showing that there is industry contraction. If manufacturing is to remain a vital, driving force in the American economy, it needs to find new efficiencies in operations and be quicker to adopt new, effective technologies.

That sounds easier than it is. Manufacturing has been slow in adopting digital technologies on the plant floor, adopting an attitude of a fast follower in technology adoption. Manufacturers tend to wait until technologies are proven before they invest in them. This is in stark contrast to industries that continually improve by relentlessly challenging themselves through rapid early adoption.

The other fact that is holding manufacturing back is in the overuse and reliance of consultants. Trusting the advice of a third party to make smart investments is a tried and true concept. But in an era where technology, even plant floor technology, is advancing at a lightning pace, manufacturers would be wise to seek quicker ways to advance performance.

At the same time, manufacturing consultants need to stop relying on what has worked in the past and get better informed on cutting edge solutions that work right now. Staying in comfort zones feels, well, safe. But in an era when technology bought today is outdated tomorrow, consultants need to get uncomfortable and find low-risk, high-reward strategies that work.

A recent survey conducted by Plant Services and L2L sums up this view of an industry in desperate need of reinvention. The survey reveals a disconnect between the type of enterprise software systems being recommended and implemented, and what the plant floor actually needs.

The survey also notes that manufacturers often think of technology as a way to decrease their reliance on humans. A more effective approach would be to look for systems that really engage and energize workers on the plant floor. In fact, the human element could be the most important factor in keeping the manufacturing industry moving forward and adapting to changing times.

What consultants are doing, or not doing, to help

According to the Plant Services L2L - Enterprise Software & Consultants Survey, 82% of respondents agree that consultants recommend high-cost solutions. However, not only do the recommendations require a large budget, but they also provide more complex solutions (74% agreeing). Companies are throwing money at products that are more complex and could lead to lengthier installation downtime. Worse, by the time the software is in place, there could already be new updates that will take more time to install.

The survey revealed the sad truth that 49% of installations were behind schedule, 43% were over budget, and an astonishing 57% of enterprise software deployments fail because the “system does not fit the way work happens on the plant floor.” Which is to say, the software didn’t do the one thing it was designed to do.

Some of the responses to the survey demonstrate how following bad advice can lead to a loss of productivity. It’s alarming that only 21.6% of respondents feel that consultants are motivated to solve their problems.

This issue of thinking that the product with the most brand recognition and highest cost is the best solution can lead manufacturers into a trap of constantly purchasing new upgrades and not fully getting what they were promised. The product featured customizable options that forced the manufacturer to incur additional expenses. These circumstances have led respondents to believe that consultants are not giving them sustainable options, with 78.4% saying that consultants weren’t helping them find long term solutions.

The inference is clear. It’s time to stop looking towards the “biggest and best” and instead look for the best software solutions that could not only be cost-effective, but really make production work for those who are on the plant floor.

The importance of employee engagement

There is a disconnect between software providers and users that could be due to poor communication from the outset. According to the survey, 54% of survey respondents don’t feel like most enterprise software providers understand their needs and objectives in plant floor operations. It doesn’t bode well if outcomes don’t match the promised delivery.

As it stands, users are barely engaging with the systems they have since they are proving to not be efficient for their line of work. Nearly half (47%) indicated that lack of engagement from intended users was a major factor in enterprise software deployment failures. Clearly, if the system does not make the user’s job easier, or actually makes the job harder, they will not engage with the system. They will even look for easier workarounds, including things as incongruous as using whiteboards and sticky notes to track plant floor operations.

The survey, ultimately, is prescriptive in what should be done by outlining what isn’t working at present. By simply going against the numbers, you would quickly determine the kinds of enterprise systems that manufacturers should try deploying.

To start, the best enterprise software system would be easy to install. It would work with existing systems to collect and distribute data. It would be easily customizable. It would be cloud based, so that updates would be seamless with limited or no disruption to plant floor operations. There would be a high level of communication done prior to the installation so that both parties, vendor and buyer, would have a clear understanding of the problems and the expected solutions. Finally, it would be something that is easy for employees to use and, actually, make it easier to do their jobs.

I know what you’re thinking. But it is not a pipe dream. Now, today, there are many bright, sharp, and smart enterprise software developers that are in step with technology advances and understand the manufacturing industry. As is true in all investments, keep an open mind, ask the tough questions, and find a partner that solves your problems.

Note: The L2L – Enterprise Software & Consultants Survey was co-created in partnership with Plant Services. Survey respondents included engineers, technicians, plant managers, executives and directors throughout the manufacturing industry.

About the Author: Bob Argyle

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