model driven operations managementTim Sowell always packs many operations management ideas into a brief blog post. Sowell is a VP and Fellow at Schneider Electric Software (Wonderware). I’ve looked at his posts before. He is always thinking out in front of most people.

His Feb. 14 post, Composite Frameworks What Are They, the Shift to Model Driven vs. Custom: How Do They Play?, takes a look at moving the user experience of operations management software into newer territory.

He probably says much more, but this is the take I’m going to analyze. He’s pointing out the difficulties of using traditional approaches to programming and presenting User Interfaces in a way that keeps pace with today’s expectations.

“Traditionally companies have built User Interfaces to an API, with the calls needed to execution actions and transactions; these have worked well especially within a plant. But a key to operational systems being effective and agile is their ability to adapt on a regular basis. This requires a sustainable and evolving system. This is especially important in form/ transaction activities where information is provided and where actions/ data input, and procedures need to be carried out.”

He does not stop there but proceeds to enumerate some challenges:

  1. Operational Process cross-over functional domains and applications
  2. Lack of governance
  3. AgilityResponsive manufacturing business processes
  4. Increase the performance of their people assets
  5. Too much Custom Code, making it unmanageable and evolutionary

He wonders why we can’t use techniques gleaned from Business Process Modeling. That’s a good question! He notes that some people will say that BPM is not real-time like manufacturing/industrial applications are. But he rebuts that “this also aligns with what the industrial world is very comfortable world with—that of ‘stable in control loops’.”

Operations management  solutions

Here are some proposed solutions:

  • Providing a graphical configuration environment for the capture and defining of operational process including the validation of data input, and guiding actions, working inline with the user Interface/ forms etc.
  • Providing a framework for building of reusable forms, and reusable procedures that can be managed as templates and standards to enforce consistent operational practices.
  • Empowering the operational domain people to develop, evolve and manage their procedures.

“Most of all empowering the different roles in the plant, that operational close loop moving to an “activity” centric system where information, and action is driven from a consistent operational model and practices.”

This is a consistent Sowell message. Let’s see what we can template-ize or project as a model rather than custom code everything.

More and more owner/operators and users I talk to are getting tired of the expense and lead-time for custom coded projects. They need the speed and flexibility of using models and standards for application implementation. I think this is where Sowell was headed (if not, he’ll correct me, I’m sure). This will serve to move industry forward as a more profitable contributor to enterprise health.

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