A little girl was helping her mother prepare a ham for a holiday dinner. She noticed her mom cutting the ends off of the ham for no apparent reason before she put it in the pan. When she asked her mom why she did this, her mom responded because that is how grandma does it. The little girl then asked her grandma why she cut the ends off, the response was because that is what her mom did. The little girl found her great-grandmother and asked her why she cut the ends off of the ham, learning that was the only way to get it to fit into her pan.
While this makes for a cute story, it is amazing how often companies continue to do things without really understanding the reasons why. It has been said the seven most dangerous words in a company are, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Perhaps it made sense at one time, but as the business grows, it retains legacy activities that retain significant inefficiencies. As a result, the software is adapted to fit the business process, rather than adapting the process to fit the software. Industry 4.0 efforts should be used as a time to review processes and determine what can be improved.
A Better Mousetrap
Many years ago I sold sanitary tank bottom valves. These are drain valves at the bottom of a vessel in a food or pharmaceutical plant. Current designs always contained what was called a dead leg. This was a small pipe stub use to connect standard drain valves. Because of the design of standard valves, a clean out port was added in the leg to ensure it was cleaned during the clean-in-place (CIP) process.
The design I offered sealed flush against the bottom of the vessel, which eliminated the dead leg and the need for the clean out port. Naturally, the customer asked for us to modify the design of the valve to include a port, as this was their specification. In the end, the customer changed their specification, but not after a considerable amount of rather heated discussions.
Fill ‘er Up
Perhaps you have seen a tanker truck at a gas station filling up the tanks. The trucks themselves are filled at what is known as a petroleum marketing terminal. The terminal itself is operated through a terminal automation system. I was involved in an effort to upgrade the software version at roughly 40 terminals. The cost for the effort to just configure the software was close to $500k (not including hardware and other OS needs). This was largely due to the very specific business rules each location had.
To be fair, the terminals were spread across multiple world areas, which did have specific operational requirements. However, much of the needed functionality was due to how the terminals had operated since inception and how the business practices remained. As a result, the software was customized for their need, rather than adapting their business practices to a solution. In essence, they cut the ends of the ham, even though they didn’t need to.
Transform your Thinking
The exact same situation continues to occur today. Business software is written to support a modern business model. Unfortunately, rather than changing an inefficient business practice, the company customizes the software. Of course, this is quite expensive and takes a considerable amount of time. How many ERP efforts are you aware of that come in on-time and under budget? The biggest reason is the sheer amount of custom code required to support what may be an inefficient business model.
When companies first embark on an industrial transformation, they tend to focus on what solutions exist, not necessary what technology they should use. Not to pick on IT, but the tendency is for them to select the software they know and customize it to fit the need. This can be rather costly in both time and expense. To illustrate, just think about your last dashboard effort.
When you embark on an industrial transformation, this makes a great time to rethink your business processes. Rather than continue to customize the code, understand how the software was written. Take a look at business processes and determine if it makes sense to make a change. Finally, determine if there is a way to transform those processes. Along with a robust digital transformation you eliminate inefficiencies. In short, you should also transform your business, not just the technology. You no longer need to cut the ends off the ham.