I’ve been catching up on my old ‘industry vertical’ lately, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES).
There are some interesting parallels with the introduction of mobile, social, and cloud technologies in manufacturing (referred to by Gartner Group as the Nexus of Forces) to what the music industry faced in the 1990s with the creation of digital music formats (MP3) and digital players (iPods, etc.).
The Nexus of Forces represents the confluence of mobile, social, information and cloud technologies. Together, these technologies are transforming the way people and businesses use information and collaborate.
Looking back to the two-pronged ‘attack’ on the record industry (MP3 format and internet file sharing), copyright infringement and music piracy were the issues that played out in court, as high profile musicians (Metallica and Dr Dre) as well as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), made certain that sites such as Napster would no longer be able to share music for free. The problem was, the cat was already out of the bag. Portable digital music was here to stay. While the RIAA and record labels continued to try to stop the inevitable, the portable digital music train left the station. in April of 2003, Apple opened the iTunes store. in the short 10 years since then, the sale of CDs has plummeted:
When music sales reached their peak in 2000, Americans bought 943 million CD albums, and digital sales weren’t even a blip on the radar. By 2007, however, those inexpensive digital singles overtook CDs — by a wide margin — generating 819 million sales to just 500 million for the CD.
So, what does this mean to the world of Manufacturing Execution Systems? Legacy MES and ERP systems were designed for a totally different paradigm. Data security and control were paramount, user experience was not even a term that was recognized as important in the industry.
In the 1990’s, we warned that the new workforce would expect the same sort of computing experience on the shop floor than they had at home. At that point, we were just talking about browsers. In one implementation that I was a part of, the shop floor users moved very quickly from “I’m not going to use a computer” to “why doesn’t this look like Yahoo?”.
That was then. What is happening now is a sea change. Companies that would not consider wifi due to security concerns are now looking seriously at moving data offsite to ‘the cloud’. The Facebook generation is demanding the same sort of mobile and social tools that are part of their everyday lives to be made available in the workplace. And, if these tools are not available in the workplace, users will use those technologies outside of the framework of their company’s business systems.
This represents a real challenge both for manufacturing industries, and the software vendors that support them. The answer is not simply distributing tablets to the shop floor. There will need to be a new generation of business process management, data security and mobility software to support this next generation of shop floor systems. This Nexus of Forces is a challenge and an opportunity for software vendors and manufacturers alike.
So, when it comes to the Nexus of Forces, are you going to be iTunes? or are you going to be the RIAA?