Integrated Information Systems: Integrated Manufacturing Intelligence

Integrated Information Systems: Integrated Manufacturing Intelligence

Thomas Pierce, President, Integrated Information SystemsThomas Pierce, President Manufacturing Intelligence (MI) is rapidly becoming a crucial tool needed by manufacturing organizations to improve visibility of their operations and facilitate informed, collaborative decision making. The central challenge however remains: how best to balance the need for consistency and consolidation of reporting with the need for rapid dissemination of critical, timely manufacturing information. On one extreme, large corporations are consolidating both data and decision-making authority within centralized management systems, most of which lack the necessary tools for extracting and sharing information. On the other end, in satellite plants or isolated divisions, many organizations have developed their own, localized, disintegrated techniques which may support their own needs, but fail to produce the level of sharable, verifiable information required by higher levels of management. “True integration needs to address both of these concerns,” says Thomas Pierce, President, Integrated Information Systems (I2S).

I2S provides advanced enterprise MI that offers the sophistication of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in a simplified, cloud-based architecture.

For the past twenty three years, I2S has been mastering the art of integrating dissimilar manufacturing and financial systems—merging the robust maturity of legacy systems with the constant growth and improvement in data storage and distribution technologies—to produce a powerful set of inquiry, analytical, and reporting tools. These tools routinely pull current information from multiple systems into comprehensive, consolidated reports and analytical models, without requiring duplication in data entry. The company has developed a broad spectrum of performance measurement tools, integrated business analytics, forecasting algorithms, pricing models, and earned value management systems—all with the transparency to drill down into increasing levels of detail, back to the source data itself. As the performance capabilities of underlying technologies improve, I2S continues to enhance each of its tools, to make them faster, more comprehensive, intuitive, and tightly integrated. Over the past ten years, I2S has consolidated these powerful tools into a single web-based application, known as Integrated Manufacturing Intelligence (IMI)—offering traceable, auditable, and reliable flow of information through every area of a manufacturing business. More recently, I2S has extended its reach by adding data collection and transaction modules which allow IMI to stand on its own as an independent ERP system, without losing the ability to either migrate or import data from other active systems. “We have given IMI the ability to function as an entirely cloud-based system, in order to reach potential clients who do not have or want the infrastructure to maintain on-premises ERP and Business Intelligence systems,” adds Pierce.

Customers have been using IMI in a wide variety of environments: make-to-order, make-to-stock, design-to-order, remanufacturing, and systematic overhaul. I2S also offers solutions for strategic material planning, financial projections and cash flow forecasts, earned value analysis, risk mitigation and opportunity capture.

We have spent 23 years in constant adaptation, bringing deep maturity and vast flexibility to our products

The company’s approach, by its very nature, is perpetually adaptive, constantly adding new functionality and extending features, without ever losing sight of the core integration that makes all of the modules thrive in a dynamic environment.

Multi-level Analytics

With a strong understanding of the different perspectives and information needs of various roles and functions within a manufacturing business, the analytical tools and performance metrics within IMI are designed to maximize both clarity and confidence in the information presented. The basic strategy works at three levels. At the highest level, plant and operations managers need single-screen visibility into the overall status of key areas of concern. For instance, a single four-panel dashboard can quickly summarize and highlight any schedule concerns throughout the manufacturing process: placing purchase orders, receiving parts, completing production orders, or shipping finished goods. The second level, where the “brain trust” of the organization typically works, provides the supporting analysis behind any of the top-level summaries, with a wide variety of perspectives and intuitive filters, allowing analysts and mid-level managers to arrive at reliable, data-driven conclusions and recommendations. The third level—often overlooked, but equally vital—is the ability to drill quickly and dependably to the source data, to see the actual transactions behind each summary—complete with users, dates and times, quantities, prices, and collaborative remarks. It is the consistency of data through each of these levels, and the flexibility to look at the same data from different perspectives, that builds trust and confidence in the information and decision-making throughout the organization.

The underlying philosophy behind the analytical tools and key performance indicators within IMI is an intentional movement away from “what went wrong” and toward “what are we doing well.” While much industry software carries an unforgiving, sometimes punitive, orientation toward fault-finding and assignment of blame, Pierce notes that manufacturing software and performance measurement tools, at their best, should highlight and call attention to what “good” looks like throughout the organization, affirming and rewarding the behavior that helps the entire enterprise succeed.

Deep-Rooted Expertise

The expertise of I2S lies along two parallel paths. First, the company is deeply experienced in software design and development, particularly in the arena of manufacturing and technical services, finding innovative ways to address operational problems with robust software solutions.

Second, they have cultivated a wealth of analytical skills and insights, from both production and financial perspectives, which enable I2S to advise, consult, and guide clients to a more comprehensive understanding of the complex interactions that drive their business success.

A simple illustration of that mixture of expertise comes from one of their smaller clients, a process manufacturing outfit, primarily handling paint and plating operations for a large manufacturer. The client was trying to handle hundreds of new orders every day with spreadsheets and email—with the burden of following their progress through the shop, ensuring work instructions were up-to-date and compliant with customer demands, and tracking shipments and invoices back to the client. Understanding both their critical need for automation and their limited resources, I2S customized one of their earliest versions of IMI to give the client the much needed functionality, without the burden of unnecessary transactions. I2S was also able to provide this client with a simple electronic data interchange (EDI) interface with their primary customer, to automatically load their customer orders and track the expected customer-furnished materials, as well as a simple invoicing mechanism that integrated with their existing financial system.

"Customers have been using IMI in a wide variety of environments: make-to-order, make-to-stock, design-to-order, warranty repair, remanufacturing, and systematic overhaul"

Enhancing the Excellence of IMI

At a time when the pool of enterprise software providers is already crowded, and the explosive growth of cloud-based computing is fueling the chaos, Pierce’s buoyancy lies in the quality and maturity of I2S’ software. The strong flexibility of IMI’s modules to meet unique customer requirements and the company’s commitment to intelligent customer support are what set them apart in the growing market. “We are a small team of experienced, highly skilled software architects and operations analysts,” adds Pierce. “When a client surfaces a problem—or when we notice a problem even before our client does—we pull our experts together with whiteboards and laptops, draft options, and decide on solutions in real time.” According to Pierce, rolling out the cloud-based architecture of their ERP software package, IMI, has been a most fascinating challenge. “With our foray into cloud-based ERP, our strongest desire is to make the rich, integrated tools we have developed available to a wide range of manufacturing clients, at an affordable price, while expanding our network of satisfied users.”

I2S hopes to offer their oldest and newest clients not only the mature functionality refined and proven over the last two decades, but also innovative approaches and creative solutions to new problems as they emerge, encouraging clients to participate actively in the imagination, design, and development of new features and capabilities. “23 years is a very long time in the world of information technology. We have spent those 23 years in constant adaptation, bringing deep maturity and vast flexibility to our products, while continuing to anticipate the challenges ahead of us,” concludes Pierce.

- Eileen Singh
    September 14, 2016