Manufacturing Systems 



Although a system replacement may be desirable, it may not be affordable. Many managers see themselves in this dilemma. They can't conduct business with the current system, but they can't purchase a new one. Another option is available. They can reengineer their systems by methodically taking advantage of the user expertise that has been solving their system problems all along. The key to creating more effective user solutions is to provide the users a global viewpoint instead of a parochial perspective. The following steps represent a process for using the expertise of system users to improve current systems.

1. Select an appropriate application.

2. Document the current systems in that application.

          3. Establish a project team.

4. Define the mission and set objectives for the team.

5. Reward the team conspicuously for its successes.

Select Application

Focus effort on a single application within the company, but define it broadly enough to include the interdependent functions within the application. For example, if you select the purchasing appli­cation, you would also include receiving, inventory management, and accounts payable. Avoid tackling the highly complex appli­cations in selecting the first project.

Document Systems

The next step is to exhaustively document the systems within that application. This is best done with flowcharting. The analysis should trace the source and destination of every copy of every document. It should describe every operation that occurs through each transaction. Computer based flowcharting is an excellent tool for this analysis. Gathering the information about these systems absolutely demands that the information be obtained from the operations-level people who are doing the work. Interviews with managers should be used only to obtain an overview of the process flow. Along with the process descriptions, collect copies of all the documents used for transactions. Finally, after constructing the flowcharts, verify them with each of the people interviewed.

Establish Project Team

Once the flowcharting is completed, it is time to assemble a project team that will be charged with developing system improvements. The team should include system users who are interdependent on each other for the acquisition and transfer of information within clearly defined applications (e.g., purchasing, inventory control, and receiving). Ideally, the team should include a member who has resources and authority to implement the recommended changes.

Define Mission, Set Objectives

Explain to the project team that their mission is to simplify and integrate the information systems within the defined application. Their objectives should be quantifiable:

• increase the speed of transactions

• increase the accuracy of information

• reduce the paper required to make a transaction

• reduce the number of times identical information is typed

Reward Conspicuously

When confronted with the complexities of the flowcharts and the volume of paper associated with the systems, the team will find

that many significant improvements will become immediately apparent. When the team defines and proposes these improve­ments, give them conspicuous recognition. They will have dis­covered systems improvements for which you might have paid consultants dearly. Signs, parties, ceremonies are all appropriate means to show the organization's gratitude for the accomplish­ments. They also illustrate the extent to which top management values creativity in improving the information systems.


There has been a great deal of attention given to the process of determining how to select and implement new information sys­tems. Indeed, there is an entire software industry devoted to assisting companies shed old systems for new. Tough economic times, however, may force managers to consider a far less expensive course of action: optimizing systems that are already in place. This optimization process may be possible without purchases of hardware or software. The process may also yield something that systems vendors cannot provide: improved morale and dialogue between systems users. Systems users are often unrecognized insofar as their knowledge of information systems is concerned. These people possess critical awareness of the tiniest details regarding complex business operations. Although their ad hoc, unmanaged first efforts at systems improvement may not have yielded optimal results, they represent a reservoir of knowl­edge that can be channeled to create major systemic improve­ments. Engaging users to create system improvements will yield several benefits. The employees will appreciate the recognition. They will also enjoy having new systems that work better. The organization will operate more efficiently and will have achieved the efficiency at relatively low cost. The studies conducted in the process will also serve as a basis for a system requirements definition at such time as the company can afford to replace the systems. The company will receive all of these benefits by tapping into, and managing the creativity of its own employees.


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