Organized by The Manufacturer magazine, the “ERP Connect” symposium event was held in May at Ansty Hall in Coventry, UK. This very successful event formula alternates presentations of case studies, given by end users or independent suppliers, with 1:1 Q&A sessions and discussions between the delegates (ie the potential users) and the ERP vendors, who actually sponsor the event. The delegates effectively get to see all the ERP vendors in one room and also have the chance to network with other potential and existing ERP users. In reality, if you described this day as free concentrated consultancy, you would not be exaggerating, suggests the Northern correspondent for the Industrial Automation INSIDER Newsletter. But more than that, the day left the impression that the presentations each had a familiar ring – as the claims were those that, in the main, would be made by MES vendors. So the next step is maybe to assemble the MES vendors and resellers for a similar event, once again organized by The Manufacturer, to open up this discussion format wider.
The case studies were varied and discussed the reality of ERP implementation, its business benefits, what was learned on the way, and in one case how to pick up a failing implementation and turn it around. The Manufacturer had ensured that no actual vendor or reseller spoke, so the content was informative and as real world as it can get, mainly from end users. The only downside was that the necessary parallel sessions meant that delegates could not attend all the presentations in the time available!
To attend the event required registration and a fee, which was reduced if the delegate agreed to participate in the 1:1 sessions (why would one not do so and therefore not obtain the full benefit). Speaking to a random sample of co-delegates it was clear that the event was of significant use and was an efficient way to sound the market and make early-day potential vendor selection. For the suppliers, these discussions with the delegates gave valuable information and business potential assessment for later follow-up.
Implications for MES vendors?
The fact that The Manufacturer (http://www.themanufacturer.com) could get the co-operation of many ERP vendors to attend under one roof and sponsor an event is praiseworthy, and perhaps shows a ‘market-forces’ approach by these vendors, each of whom had brought their inevitable pop-up exhibit displays to attract the eye. Could such an event be co-hosted by the MES community?
There is an assumption that the ERP business comes expensive (in millions) and ties up an organization’s resource for over a year, therefore there is an associated market size and money to do such things, whereas this is not the case for MES. Well, not quite, as it was said that ERP today kicks in at circa GBP25K and tops out at GBP125K (whether this is full costing I do not know), and one presenter at a previous ERP Connect event talked about implementation in a few weeks rather than months (although he admitted to an assertive approach!).
Given that an MES project can be the same kind of money, and take similar times and that many of the benefit claims overlap, one has to wonder if the MES players are busy fighting amongst themselves rather than joining together to produce more market focus on the undeniable and unique benefits of MES. It seems that the potential customers for MES are the same as those for ERP, and give the same beneficial results.
Real time information?
Admittedly no one spoke at the event about such things as OEE, Asset Management, Downtime and Historians; and ‘realtime’ was just not mentioned! In fact the assumption was that the data appeared from ‘somewhere’ and ERP made good use of it in delivering useful information. Whether the information was about what was ‘supposed to have happened’ or ‘actually happened’ was unclear, but possibly barcode readers and keyboard input were part of these schemes. This however was a personal and theoretical observation, as there was an overwhelming endorsement in terms of business benefit – regardless of any concerns about data accuracy, reliability or timeliness. Needless to say S95 was not mentioned (this, it seems, is just NOT recognized in ERP-speak).
The whole thing was about business benefit – the case for which was presented very convincingly by numerous end-users during the day. The confusion for your reporter was the repetition to a high degree of what one would hear at MES presentations by vendors (and no doubt their satisfied customers); although I may have been the only person at the event to make this observation. Possibly many MES disciples could and would take exception to what was being said, but that would be to argue with satisfied customers that were testifying to measured business benefits from ERP, such as inventory reduced by 50%, and the reality in one case that over Euro100m of business had been previously managed on ad hoc spreadsheets.
Can the MES vendors co-operate?
It could be that there is an opportunity to develop an ‘MES Connect’ event proposal, to bring the functionality and benefits of MES to the attention of ‘the right people’ – people not currently seen by MES suppliers: and it does seem that these would in the main be the same sort of people that attend ERP Connect, which are presumably at the core of The Manufacturer magazine readership.
Can MES vendors come together in a group for the common good? Nothing is impossible, but without such a combined approach, MES vendors may find that they are nibbling at the edges rather than enjoying main-stream acceptance as ‘being as useful as ERP’, and UK manufacturers certainly seem to need and appreciate all the benefits of such systems, once shown what is available.
This article was first published in the June issue of the Industrial Automation INSIDER Newsletter
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