MES on the “Cloud” – again

Some additional information I tripped over on the web, identifies some additional things one needs to consider before putting data on someone else’s server out there “in the cloud”.  That is, the extent to which the data may be subject to investigation or seizure under the Patriot Act.

Now, I believe in helping the authorities in any way to avert terrorism; I am not a huge privacy advocate.  But, apparently provisions of the Patriot Act, as well as other legislation may make it a little too easy for governments to get access to your data.  Great if these powers catch terrorists, or criminals, but if you are just trying to protect your intellectual property as a good corporate citizen, this could be a problem.

Here are some links for you to use to ensure that your cloud provider has adequate protection for your data.  Makes for some very interesting reading.

Mayer Brown is an international legal firm.  This document explores the exposure under the Patriot Act, as well as other international laws and agreements.

This is an article published in the electronic edition of IT Business News that provides an excellent summary, as well as links to additional articles.

Another article from the same publication that is named “Don’t fear the Patriot Act” but actually concludes that the powers that are available under the Patriot Act, are available under other legislation anyway…  so data is still vulnerable….

MES on the “Cloud” – another morsel to munch on

As you know from previous blog entries, it is my opinion that using the cloud (some server out there in cyberspace) for MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) data is not a good idea.  I am currently re-reading The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman’s 2005 treatise about how the convergence of technology, politics, business practice, and logistics has created what is essentially a worldwide competitive economy.

It is really interesting to read predictive texts during period being predicted.  Although I may disagree with some of the underlying macroeconomic assumptions, (that will be another rant) Friedman is spot on in many areas.  Perhaps I should re-read Toffler’s Future Shock… but I digress.

What I wanted to share with you is a sad but interesting anecdote on page 255 (any significance to the page number…?)  This is yet another consideration if you are putting your data in the cloud – the legal ownership issue.  I will essentially re tweet:

“ sort this one out as well.  On November 13, 2004, Lance Corporal Justin M. Ellsworth, twenty, was killed by a roadside bomb during a foot patrol in Iraq…. His family was demanding that Yahoo! give them the password for their deceased son’s e-mail account …  ‘I want to be able to remember him in his words.  I know he thought he was doing what he needed to do.  I want to have that for the future,’ John Ellsworth, Justin’s father, told the <Associated Press>.  ‘It’s the last thing I have of my son.’  We are moving into a world where more and more communication is in the form of bits traveling through cyberspace and stored on servers located all over the world.  No government controls this cyberrealm.  So the question is:  Who owns your bits when you die?  The AP reported that Yahoo! denied the Ellsworth family their son’s password, citing the fact that Yahoo! policy calls for erasing all accounts that are inactive for ninety days and the fact that all Yahoo! users agree at sign-up that rights to a member’s ID or account contents terminate upon death.  ‘While we sympathize with any grieving family, Yahoo! accounts and any contents therein are nontransferable’ even after death, Karen Mahon, a Yahoo! spokeswoman told the AP….  This is very real.  I stored many chapters of this book in my AOL account, feeling it would be safest in cyberspace.  If something had happened to me during my writing, my family and publisher would have had to sue AOL to try to get this text.  Somebody, please sort this all out.”

As Arsenio Hall was occasionally heard to say “Hmmmm”

Intuitive does not mean “No Training Required”

Why is it that people who work with computers all day get training on new applications or new releases of software; but people who make things for a living, and use a computer a few minutes an hour are expected to work “intuitively”?

Intuitive systems are wonderful. It is great that CNTRL_X (orALT_E_T or SHIFT_DEL) cuts, and CNTRL_V (orALT_E_P or SHIFT_INS) pastes, in almost every application under MS Windows®. (Not quite intuitive, but at least consistent.) But to build linked spreadsheets with logic, macros, cell protection… still requires some formal training.

Most systems installed on the factory floor are way more complex than Excel® (although they have to be simultaneously “easy to use” and “flexible”). The reality is that in order for any complex system to be really easy to use, it is fairly complicated to administer. Otherwise, how do you take very detailed and complex tasks like scheduling, data collection,SPC, or machine monitoring and make them dirt-simple for operators to use accurately? You do so by allowing an administrator to tweak the system to perfectly conform to the unique business practices of its user environment.

If a new finance person is hired, it is likely that one of their first tasks will be formal training on the ERP system. If a new manufacturing person is hired, they get formal training on their primary job, safety andGMP… but they probably get nothing more than a quick walk-through of the computer systems from the last person who had their job – knowledge being diminished like in a game of “Telegraph”. Every time the training gets passed on, the “message” changes slightly.

Seems to me that it is more likely that the finance person has a better chance at figuring out how to add an inventory item than an experienced baker has at figuring out how to properly interpret a batching,SPC, or OEE system.

ERP terminology is pretty common. But when it comes to rolling out MES or MOM, we often need to build a “customer lingo” glossary in order to use the “correct” terminology. Some companies call a light weight a MAV (Maximum Allowable Variance), others a UGA (Under Government Allowance), and still others GUL (Gross Under Limit) or any number of other acronyms. If the terminology alone is new-to-her, the system exacerbates the situation, no matter how “intuitive” it is.

Without ongoing training, what often happens is that existing systems limp along – but degrade from a proactive, responsive, informative tool, to a series of standard keystrokes, often with its own count or rhythm. How many times have you seen an operator enter some data, then press ENTER 3 times, then tab, then ENTER (like a paradiddle)? This is not using the tool to maximum effect – this is being a slave to the computer and fooling oneself that data is accurate and valid. Those 3 ENTERS may be significant questions that could provide a wealth of root cause analysis information.
Bad enough when data collection is rote… but it is even worse when the people who should benefit from analyzing that data are also untrained, and simply print out the one report they were once shown – rather than use the analytical tools available.

We have clients who spent a small fortune a decade ago to implement enterprise systems, but have not trained a single person since. The very fact that the system still works with virtually no trained people left is impressive – but that client is not getting anywhere near the payback they should. Data is being captured, yes, but no one knows how to analyze it – they just generate a standard daily report, and file it.

One user actually printed out a report every day, scanned it into a PDF and put the PDF into a daily folder on the server. She did that so that she could look at the numbers later and type what she needed into an Excel® spreadsheet – even though all of the information was in an enterprise data base and could be sliced, diced, filtered, summarized (and yes, directly exported to Excel®) with a couple of keystrokes (about an hour of training). Not her fault – without any training, how could she know what power was at her fingertips?

Recently a client gave us a disturbing list of what they perceived to be problems with one of our more complex systems. After reviewing the list, we discovered that fully 75% of the “problems” were training issues – they either did not understand how to do x; they did not know they could do x; or they were doing y and wondering why x was not happening. Most of the rest could be accommodated by tweaking administrative parameters to closer approximate their business practice, but they did not know what parameters or how to tweak them properly… And in some cases the system is doing exactly what it is supposed to do – just that isn’t what the user wants (Kinda like your spouse saying “you should know what you have done wrong!”) And, oh yes, a couple were legitimate issues that we are working on. Although the system had been in use for several years, not a single current user was one of the original people we trained, nor had the company had any formal training since installation. Users “learned intuitively”. What they ended up with was a large reduction in paperwork – but with a questionable automated result!

Often the user recognizes, correctly, that the system is no longer delivering the benefits; incorrectly concluding that the solution is replacement. Of course, with the new system comes new training, so this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In reality, probably 80% of the time, some formal refresher training for the new people will achieve (or maybe even exceed) the desired results – a new system may be prettier but often is no more capable (sometimes even a step down) from a pure functionality standpoint.

In most jurisdictions, training expense has preferential tax implications and/or government subsidies. So, before you junk a current Operations system, talk to the vendor and see if some inexpensive training or consultation will address your concerns, and if so, invest in the training. It may not be as exciting as getting a shiny new system, but it could be far less disruptive, less expensive, and achieve faster and bigger returns.