Automation and / or result?
In the 90s the word "computerization" was very popular. At times, colossal funds were touched on the acquisition of computers - even without an understanding of its role in improving labor efficiency. The low literacy of most businessmen in the field of automation, which was often encountered in those years, can now cause a smile on our face, but I recommend that you look good around it and find out: what do your friends who have their own business or those in top positions know managers on this topic? What has changed?
According to my feeling, I can absolutely unequivocally say that the literacy of most businessmen in matters of automation, although it has moved, is still far from the point where people will well understand what exactly they are paying for. Moreover: those who sell automated control systems rarely imagine what they get paid for. Low productivity of introducing the view to the naked eye: BI systems that are designed to give the toolkit to the end user, but in fact require the maintenance of a staff of powerful programmers and analysts, expensive ERPs, where behind the beautiful “facade” instead of the promised know-how, banal arithmetic is found, and execution control systems that give incorrect tasks to performers. The cost of error in our time is amazing:
The specifics of my work is such that I have to conduct many express audits precisely on the basis of the implementation of information systems. Only in the last 2 weeks I managed to visit 4 enterprises that demonstrated: inefficient BI system, WMS not working correctly, just not working MES, and to the heap - a complete misunderstanding of the result. The most surprising thing was that the customer at the same time easily agreed to “write a statement of work” for the contractor, without understanding anything in the subject area, and the contractor accepted the poorly structured text, to which the term “stream of consciousness” is more applicable than “document” ". Even more surprisingly, customers emphasized the following “positive” characteristics of the implementing companies:
1) “They saved a lot of time by refusing to formalize the processes”
2) “We agreed to carry out all the modifications directly in the trial operation mode, without fixing them in the documents, so as not to increase the project budget”
3) “Real professionals! They even told me what the settings will be in the system! ”
Now I propose to consider in turn those cases that I recently had to face.
Case 1: Ineffective BI
The company acquired a very expensive product when it learned that users will be able to independently develop all the reports they need. The sales manager colorfully outlined the wonderful concept when the CEO, using his favorite tools, builds the most complicated reports, predicts sales, receives notifications about the least efficient employees, and much, much more. There were only two things between the starting point and the dream of the director of obstacles: to conclude an agreement and pay for the product and work. The surprise came a little later, when consultants came to the head to get information from him about those reports that he wants to see. When he reminded them of "any report with his own hands," he was gently corrected: a report can be made with his own hands, but before that you need to configure the data model,
The head quickly made a decision: he called all the top managers and the analytical department, and brought them directly with consultants, instructing them to come up with the maximum possible number of objects for analysis. After thinking well for several days, they presented their findings to the consultants, for which they received another soft correction: it is impossible to build a query from objects that are not connected to each other in any way, so now you need to work out all possible angles for data analysis.
I will not list the misadventures of management and analysts for a long time, I will only say that in the end we returned to what we were fighting with: in order to create a competent model, you must first develop a reporting system. The director has already given up on his dreams of artificial intelligence, which allows us to build reports from “I don’t know what”, and gave the go-ahead to the work of consultants in developing key performance indicators and reports that will allow us to evaluate the work of departments. However, the consultants performed their work in the same “highly efficient” mode: they simply asked key users what they want to see and structured this gigantic amount of information a little.
Result: a server with fantastic characteristics, on which useless cubes are considered, in order to be able to look at diagrams in the web interface. The manual was played by the query designer, but now it uses the integrated reporting system of its CIS.
Conclusion: any tool requires competent use. Swinging a hammer in different directions, dispersing mosquitoes is a completely ineffective activity. Nevertheless, there is an investor in any project, and some project managers believe that a project can be considered successful when the investor receives what he wants. The immediate investor satisfaction from the “toy” as a result was disappointing when the tool turned out to be completely useless. Needless to say, the customer does not want to work with this supplier anymore.
Case 2: WMS not working properly
In a short review article about WMS, I mentioned what basic functions are available in such systems. Now imagine a warehouse on which WMS is installed, but having very stripped down functionality, and even issuing incorrect instructions to the performers. Moreover, problems exist not only in the functional part, but also in the implementation methodology.
Problems begin with the warehouse topology: buffer places are not reflected in the system, but are controlled by warehouse workers. At the same time, there is no regulation that would include at least general information on how to implement this control. Huge cells are deployed for 12-15 pallets, and the label that is glued to the pallet has a very small size. This means that when completing a task, an employee is forced to look for a pallet with a specific number, reading through each label, and reducing its productivity in short operations by 3-4 times. Further - more: when placed on shelves, the system does not recommend in which particular place it is required to place the cargo. The staff does this at its discretion, and its discretion is "came the pallet - we place the pallet, the box came - we place the box." In this case, no one even thinks about that some goods arrive in whole pallets, but leave slowly and sadly, so this pallet will last 3-4 months. What is the point for such an unpopular product to take a whole pallet, if you can replenish shelves?
I will not list in all, as a result of a two-hour run through the warehouse, we got a solid report, and most importantly - specific recommendations for improving productivity. What is surprising: the contractor who introduced the product did not even write the terms of reference. He was guided by the wishes of the customer, and most of the functionality was redesigned during the operation of the system. The customer considered this advantage: the contractor’s employees were ready to carry out improvements directly according to him! However, the reality turned out to be much sadder: in none of the documents are these improvements recorded, and the guarantee from the supplier extends only to the "boxed" functionality, the description of which the customer received upon payment of the license.
It is also surprising that the contractor was fully confident that he worked "excellently": his employees took part in more than a dozen projects, and developed, in his opinion, "best practices." The only problem is that “practices” are far from always “best”. If what is repeated from project to project, and does not cause frank problems, is called “best practices,” then consuming small amounts of arsenic is also “best practice.” When it comes to the fact that it is harmful, it will be too late for the one who invented it and for those who took up such a “useful” initiative.
Summary: now you need to write a full-fledged TOR for setting up the acquired system, and if you can’t configure it, you will have to change the product, spending money again. But before the development of TK, it is necessary to invest in the development of a rational technology for cargo handling in order to have information on those specific advantages that will be obtained after automation. WMS is, again, only a tool that allows you to fix the process and ensure its implementation by issuing appropriate tasks to the performers. Lack of substantive knowledge at the customer and at the contractor led to the fact that "one incorrectly said, and the other misunderstood."
Case 3: Broken MES
In this case, I would not use the term MES, since this is a system that does not plan to load equipment and distribute along lines, but ensures - just like WMS - compliance with the technological process, but not in the warehouse, but in production sites. However, for lack of better terminology, I will classify this system as MES.
The customer has a small production, which implements fairly complex processes with the transfer of materials between different technological areas, there is a variety of processing and the formation of semi-finished products, the mandatory use of a weight complex, and many employees, each of which is unique in its own way. Naturally, no one wants to depend on whether any Ivan Vasilievich comes to work tomorrow, and that is why the management decided to introduce a system that allows them to adapt more quickly at the workplace and reduce the requirements for staff qualifications. Plus, I want to keep track of stocks of materials in many production warehouses.
In general, they turned to the local system integrator for implementation, who agreed on the technical specifications, implemented the set processes, and rolled out the product to the customer. And then - as in the best comedies: the customer looks at the product, and does not understand: it seems that everything that they wanted was realized, and what we have at the output is incomprehensible. So, without understanding, and accepted the product, even signing a press release on successful use. Then they sat in a circle in front of the computer, and began to master. Not understood. They tried again - they did not understand again.
I can only say that it’s not possible to laugh like that every day, week, or even six months. The contractor implemented the customer’s wishes in the form of an electronic document management system, where instead of stationary and mobile workstations, sensors on the lines and integration with controllers, a banal “paper” scheme was implemented: a “Production Plan” document was created, which is closed with documents like “Finished Goods Release” and “ Production of semi-finished products. ” Each operation was implemented as a separate document, the interface and functionality of which did not imply its use in the workplace. Instead of a system that should issue tasks, they wrote a system that performs a simple accounting function.
The cases described are just the tip of the iceberg. I can give many examples when the customer literally rested his hands and feet, defending his position, so that after a few months frowningly say: “I think I understand.” And someone does not even admit, defending his position and losing competitiveness only because he lacks the character to admit his wrong. Nevertheless, the human factor is a powerful force that can be used both for good and for harm. But the customer is also the customer in Africa. He has money, he pays it, and therefore has the right to not know, being ready to pay for this ignorance. Suppliers who look like genies with a catch are more surprised: each desire must be thought out in detail, fixed, and signed. However, if we look at the European experience, then such an approach is used extremely rarely: professional solution providers develop their competencies and are ready to offer many us cases on their products, as well as develop an individual solution with a full-scale feasibility study. Nobody exempts business from observing the basic principles of ethics, and even if you “called yourself a cargo”, then “climb into the back” and gain knowledge about the area in which you work. Do you know which profession is in great shortage now? It is the analysts. Programmers - in bulk, managers - similarly, but competent analysts - in the afternoon with a fire to look for. The project’s effectiveness suffers from this: introducing products literally with their eyes closed, relying only on luck is too expensive a pleasure for which - as a result - everyone pays: the customer - with money, the supplier - with reputation.