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Convergence drives new strategies for manufacturers

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Information and business intelligence as becoming increasingly important as manufacturing companies seek to take their place on the global stage.
Rockwell Automation has announced the release of a white paper that reveals a snapshot of how manufacturers are beginning to bridge the historic divide between controls engineering and IT.

The paper, based on interviews with a select group of manufacturers representing a broad range of industries, identifies the organizational and business process challenges involved with IT and engineering convergence, and outlines the potential business benefits available to companies as they move further along the path to convergence.
Commissioned by Rockwell Automation and authored by analyst firm Industry Directions and consultant firm Systems Innovation Management, the paper provides a glimpse into how far some companies have come in their progress toward convergence and identifies the best practices they are learning to accelerate the process.
According to Kevin Roach, vice-president of Rockwell Software, Rockwell Automation, the rise in the strategic importance of information and business intelligence reflects the role IT can play in manufacturing success.
“Executives are increasingly demanding better information flows, as well as more efficiency not only in the plant, but in IT and engineering. While an organisational transformation of this magnitude can take a tremendous amount of time and effort, the potential long-term rewards are enormous.”
The white paper highlights some of the best practices that are enabling IT and engineering to work together successfully. These best practices were identified by the respondents, as well as co-author Ray Zimmermann, who managed the convergence process at the largest U.S. brewing company. While technology integration may be one of the objectives of convergence, the major obstacles lie in mindsets, communication and education.
In fact, according to the paper, the missing link in most companies is cultural, not technical.
“Many practitioners on each side of the fence have pre-conceived notions about what the other group does and why it may not be as effective as it could be,” says Julie Fraser, principal and industry analyst, Industry Directions. “Therefore, it’s important that companies align production, engineering and IT departments around common goals and find ways to foster effective communication, mutual understanding and the willingness to listen to different perspectives.”
The white paper identifies management pressure as the most significant driver of convergence between IT and controls engineering organisations. Higher-level management focus also is a critical enabler, since major organizational changes otherwise become turf wars between equals. Senior management plays a critical role in defining the strategic intent that will bring the groups together, the study found.
To help companies gauge their convergence progress, the white paper includes an IT-engineering convergence maturity model that shows three core paths and five stages of maturity for each of the major categories of issues: organizational structures, business processes, technology deployment and business results.
Each company is likely to be at different levels in each category, and in some cases, even on various factors within a single category. Companies that have moved further along the path toward convergence report higher efficiency, better business continuity, shorter project timelines, enhanced reliability and improved disaster recovery.