Close to 200 people registered for the MESA International North American Conference going on now at the Ford Conference Center in Dearborn, MI. After an opening night banquet with keynote speaker Lou Holtz–famed football coach and now ESPN analyst–we had a good day of presentations. I’m just back at the Dearborn Inn after dinner and time to browse at the Henry Ford Museum. As an aside, if you’ve never been up here and seen the Museum and Greenfield Village (and the iMax Theater), then bundle up the family and head for the Detroit suburbs. It’s a great experience. Can’t wait until my grandson gets old enough to bring.
The conference atmoshere has been great with conversations and networking going on at a brisk pace. If you deal in information, you should have been here. Be sure to check it out next year.

Holtz talked on leadership, and I love to pass along leadership tips. Most of what he said, you’ve probably heard before. But his delivery was great–and he tied in to the conference and attendees when it fit. His points included having a vision (Martin Luther King had a dream–would it have worked if he had said, “I have a strategic plan”??), choosing your attitude, executing with enthusiasm (you have to have fun, but also have a passion to win), and hold people accountable for their actions (the most awesome responsibility you have as a leader is to get the maximum performance from each individual).

He noted there are just three things you need to ask about people: can I trust them, are they committed to excellence, do they care about me and the organization. His conclusion was also three points: Do right; Do everything to the best of your ability; and Always show people you care.

Conference begins

Mike Yost, MESA conference chair, executive chair of the marketing committee and a marketing manager at GE Intelligent Platforms, opened the conference defining MESA as Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association–an association of end users and solution suppliers focused on software and services at the intersection of operational practices and enabling technologies. The conference theme is “Unlocking The Potential of Your Operations.”

Yost, Dyck, Fraser, James

John Dyck, MESA Chair and Global Business Development Director at Rockwell Automation, called understanding and unlocking operations potential–operations management–the next major frontier in manufacturing. He noted most operations still use paper and Microsoft Excel for data collection and analysis, whereas modern applications specifically tailored for manufacturing information offer stronger data collection and analysis functions.

Julie Fraser, chair of the MESA Metrics working group and a principal at analyst firm Cambashi, updated the group on the latest work on metrics including results of a study relating use of metrics to drive performance and the company’s financial performance improvement showing a positive correlation of the use of metrics.

Mike James of ATS International outlined a plan for a MESA educational program that could lead to training courses and perhaps a recognition process.

James Tettreault, Ford Motor Co. Vice President of North American Manufacturing, outlined the alignment of Ford’s recovery plan and manufacturing. The company has been aggressively restructuring manufacturing to operate profitably at the current demand and achieve flexibility to quickly change product mix based upon sudden changes in consumer buying habits, for example, driven by fluctuations in the price of gasoline. Similar to all successful companies, Ford continued to invest even during the downturn and a financial situation that left it heavy in debt. But the debt is in the process of being paid down, and the company’s outlook is better now.

Rick Bullotta, chief technology officer and co-founder of Burning Sky Software, a co-founder of Lighthammer (since sold to SAP) and “industry luminary” gave an overview of where manufacturing software stands today and challenged the audience with where it needs to go in the future.
Essentially, software products today are still very much organized in the traditional manufacturing way.

“About a trillion dollars spent in software investment to date has been targeted at processes that benefit from bringing assembly line concepts to information workers. It shares characteristics of assembly line thinking such as high startup costs, difficult and expensive to change or retool and structured work processes.” He called these “monoliths” on a power curve chart familiar to “long tail” analysis. The long tail–and the future–belongs to modern software techniques and “mashups” where new applications can be developed and deployed in hours instead of years.

Today features an “unconference” where attendees can choose breakouts and contribute their own ideas, questions and experiences on a number of topics. Hope they enjoy the experience–especially since I had a hand in developing the idea.

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