Henry Ford had one-size-fits-all, and he wanted to own the entire supply chain. The world has been turned on its head to where every user wants to personalize everything, including their workspace.  How does this new world order fit with process manufacturing applications?

Not so long ago, process manufacturing applications (real-time databases (RTDB), manufacturing execution systems (MES), manufacturing operational management systems (MOM), enterprise resource planning systems (ERP)) were being developed by an enterprise’s own IT department. The first systems to be truly productized in the 1990’s were the real-time databases, with thanks to OSI, and the enterprise resource planning, with thanks to SAP.

At that time, in-house computing consisted mainly of big-iron mainframes supporting financial, HR, and similar corporate systems. Networks were limited to supporting remote terminal access. Mini-computers (a ridiculous label given today’s sizes, but they were truly transformational in their day) such as DEC’s PDP series were the best choice for departmental computing initiatives since corporate IT were not that interested in real-time data, recipe management, blend planning, and all the other detailed work necessary to operate a process plant. The mini-computer technology was a great choice for many reasons: they could be purchased under-the-radar of IT; they were local devices so had no dependencies on the immature networks; and they were close to the individuals that understood the actual business problems they were used to solve. 

Either the success of these departmental applications, the concern that corporate IT had regarding the increasing expenditure on these departmental initiatives, or increasing legislative or governance requirements meant that these applications were being pulled under the control of corporate IT. This was not entirely a bad thing because it could be argued that the focus should be on operating the plant, not creating and operating applications and associated infrastructure. However local ownership had its advantages as well: users would feel a sense of ownership and hence quality of the information; if there were missing applications they could be quickly created with Excel spreadsheets or Access databases, even though this contributes to spreadsheet-hell; locally-created applications could be quickly adapted to changing user requirements.  In summary, this was a period when users had a considerable amount of influence over their computing environment. However this influence has gradually declined over the last 20 years.

At the same time as we have seen a decline in the ability an enterprise application user has over the kind of and configuration of applications, we have seen the reverse trend in a user’s personal computing environment. Users can configure their own portals using iGoogle; they can set up their own meeting groups with FaceBook; they can browse for information using Bing and Google; and they can assess, locate, and install new applications by browsing app stores.

The challenge facing enterprise IT is to provide that framework so that end-users can create their own environment via a configurable portal, and even their own applications via configurable information, displays, analysis, applications, and work-flows. However LinkedIn, FaceBook, and Google have far more developer resources than enterprise IT can dream of. So instead of trying to emulate these social applications, why not embrace them to provide the capabilities the enterprise end-users need. As well as relieving enterprise IT of the development cost burden, it immediately provides access to those utilities (gadgets for iGoogle, web-parts for SharePoint) with which a user can fashion their own experience. 

Component Old Model: Enterprise IT New Model: Socialized Enterprise
Sourcing Role Sourcing Role Example
Platform Corporate IT architects Define and implement the platform upon which corporate applications will run. Cloud-sourcing Cloud-based PaaS platform reducing/eliminating the need for local platforms. Use Google App Engine
Framework Corporate IT Define development standards for in-house developed or purchased applications. Developer-sourcing Definition of Cloud-based Frameworks (data, workflow, BI, portals, etc) and SaaS designed for end-user configuration. Cordys or RunMyProcess cloud-hosted 
Applications Corporate Developers or Application vendors Buy/Build applications that met user-requirements as determined by requirements analysis. User-sourcing User-configured applications that adapt to the changing business needs without involving corporate resources: agile. User composes iGoogle with gadgets from the marketplace.
Utilities Users Locate utilities (Excel, mini-apps etc) that fill in the functionality gaps and can be deployed ‘under-the-radar’.  Crowd-sourcing User-acquired utilities from the open-market but which conform to the cloud-framework. iGoogle gadgets that solve specific user problems


Perhaps we are just turning the clock back to when the user within the process manufacturing plant had considerable control over their computing environment.

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