I was discussing with a customer this week their systems, solutions, what was being asked of his team, and how even on a medium sized business and mature production processes the solution complexity is growing. He talked about the continued pressure of audits, regulations to satisfy government and just the consumer, combined with an increasing rate of " new product introduction" (npi). Yet production agility, timely actionable decisions, demands real time transparency into production, and across the supply chain.
Over two pots of tea we mapped out a high level functional landscape, his comment what happened to traditional solutions. His comment was valid as the traditional supervisory solutions of 10 years ago, had transformed on the paper in front of us to "operational management architecture". With now an architectural landscape that connects to:
1. Multiple vendor controllers and smart devices from ever increasing intelligent process equipment
2. The range of people with different roles is increasing, in this example we have 8 different roles interacting with the solution, and taking actionable decisions
3. The location of these people has shifted from the control room to every where, eg in the control room, roaming the plant floor, roaming the office, working remote outside the plant.
4. Multiple applications that the system interacts with, has gone from to 7 This is not a big system, yes it is a batch system, but now cyber security, data transformation to deliver the correct trusted information for a role is available.
So complexity is increasing but the outlook is this will not change that business will continue to demand more interactive, real times, collaborative, and transparent solutions in order to maintain competitiveness.
As seen below from an interview in North America, note the % of skilled and highly skilled roles, and the future additions of roles is in this skilled and highly skilled area:
So the complexity grows at a time when we have a transition to a less experience workforce, that will be in constant state of learning, and dynamic nature. In the conversation we talked about the team on his site, that he now had 50+ experienced and a junior engineer in his 20s. Fully capable but different, and less experienced on a site and role.
The diagram below shows the same people when trying to fill these skilled and highly skilled roles.
This is the paradox of today's dilemma facing engineers and operations, combine this with the demand projects with shorter project time, and that the system will evolve.
Now the control on the prices systems has not dramatically increased this is well defined and mature, it is the ability to absorb change that is key.
As we concluded our second pot of tea, it was clear the need to shift away from customer, home built solutions, away from customer excel sheets, to "off the shelf" solutions products that interact, can be easily configured and provide intuitive use, and learning, on an architecture that absorbs evolution and change. The discussion shifted to how transform their internal resources from internal customer code creation, to configuration, and acceleration of a more expansive solution building on their skill and knowledge.
The key walk away from this conversation, and why I shared it, was the realization by the customer that his approach to projects, and direction of addressing demands from operations needed a rethink in their approach, and using of existing staff, especially with the key experienced staff, and development of new staff. This included looking outside their own industry to potential significant advancements in addressing common operational approaches.