Managing Enterprise Performance with Web Services

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Web delivery of business and manufacturing process data enhances collaboration between multi-location plants. The facilities that yield the best performance can share results across the enterprise – learning about what works, and what doesn’t. Enterprise performance management using key performance indicators is becoming reality.

Old-style decision-making

Consider how business decisions were made in the past (still common in some organizations). Information was gathered through a variety of mechanisms (some manually) in isolated sections and departments. This was passed up a human chain, usually in a financial reporting time frame – monthly, quarterly and annually – to be reviewed for variances against plans and budgets. So, the job of a manager was to shuffle old, and in many cases inadequate and outdated, reports.

With the advent of computers, some of the data collection, calculating and reporting mechanisms were improved; but the time frame remained centered primarily on financial control mechanisms. Decision-making was typically a slow and laborious process, involving many people, sitting around a table to discuss printed reports. The reports were filtered and summarized through local decision-making successively at each level, culminating in top-level review and approval in the executive suite. There were little or no inter-relationships between different activities and locations. All multi-location, enterprise-level decisions were made in the same slow, lumbering timeframe – usually completely out of sync with the real needs. But, faster action was considered impossible, and perhaps even undesirable.

These control mechanisms may be compared to feedback in a control loop, something that is clearly understood by engineers. When measurements and control mechanisms change too slowly, the result is a series of oscillations which worsen the control rather than improve it. Using this PID-control model, conventional management theorists developed feed forward and other mechanisms to improve performance. But there were few results – the real-world problems were too complex, the realm of theoretical white-papers.

During the past few years – a decade or so and extending to the present time – most companies use packaged software solutions which work well individually, but create information islands. Each system produced information which is imported into other systems in a relatively ineffective process – and never real-time. Besides, after being imported from other systems, the data changes, resulting in inconsistencies and data isolation problems.

Web services link disparate applications

Today, Web Services, Supply Chain Management, Customer Relationship Management, Enterprise Application Integration and a plethora of other software tools and services are available for enterprise integration. Real-time measurements and information from all segments of the enterprise – including multi-location plants and factories – can be integrated to facilitate optimal decision-making at all levels.

The next, natural step is to make production and business systems work together for factory automation and process manufacturing. The same connectivity and interoperability benefits which users expect from selectable printer drivers for word-processing have become available for measurement and automation systems. There are many standard tools available to enable connectivity and interoperability of plant floor information between disparate fieldbus networks, programmable controllers, distributed control systems, plant assets and production management systems.

Integrated applications should access all data the same way, whether it comes from a server connected to a PLC network, an industrial network such as Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus or DeviceNet, a SCADA system, or a production management system. The overall system should provide access to real-time plant-floor information, production and business applications across the manufacturing enterprise in a consistent manner. Multi-vendor and multi-location interoperability is an extension with web services.

Sending process data via the web

Most industrial control systems are distributed around the factory floor or process plant. But that isn’t a problem for web services, which are well-suited to diverse, distributed, mixed-protocol applications. It should be noted that most industrial control systems operate in a real-time mode, and web-transmission delays are considered indeterminate. So, though relatively fast data availability can be web-services based, real-time process controls cannot.

Web services are very good at integrating diverse systems and applications together: providing a standards-based approach to connecting almost any application, no matter what language it was written in, what platform it runs on, or the underlying transport protocol. They also provide additional flexibility and cost advantages over traditional integration approaches, and offer secure connections.

With embedded control applications, most often all that is required is remote monitoring, control and data logging and the like. For these functions, web services work very well. They are also excellent for coordinating existing controls systems – for example, two or three existing processes or plants that need to be centrally coordinated or managed.

Web services improve productivity, supplying information inside and outside of the enterprise—and across firewalls. They do so with ease, reliability and security. And as interoperability grows and more application-to-application communications are developed, the need for web services will escalate rapidly.

Users can now have a seamless exchange of production and equipment status information across plant floors and multi-plant locations, directly up to the management level. And real-time decisions can be made in response to real-time changes – in some cases in as little as a few seconds to a few minutes.

Enterprise Performance Management (EPM)

EPM is a multi-disciplinary, cross-functional process that enables improved enterprise performance through alignment, visibility, and collaboration among business units and functional areas. More than just connecting goals to measurements, it becomes necessary to understand which metrics are important, how they should be measured, and what adaptations are needed for local differences. The pay-off is that the right information gets to the right people, at the right time, to make an impact.

EPM aims to provide the ability to manage organizational performance from the plant floor to executive suite. Here are some of the results that EPM can achieve:

  • Monitor performance of sales, marketing, operations, finance, supply chain, customer and product management.
  • Provide measurements to align and optimize technologies and business processes, tactics and strategies, resources and objectives, business unit and corporate goals.
  • Focus and execute on bottom-line business drivers across operational divisions to enhance enterprise-wide performance.
  • Collaborate and communicate with a scalable web-based business intelligence framework for faster, smarter decision-making.
  • Analyze and anticipate revenue cycles, supply chain and product performance, customer behavior with a uniform interface.
  • Leverage existing resources through flexible and adaptive business intelligence

With increased usage of web services, enterprise-wide performance management can become practical. Some advanced systems are already being used to automate operator forms, work-flow and data management across the enterprise. Systems are even available to enable customer-interaction for activities such as product customization, choice of special delivery and pricing.

Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

With the broad availability of enterprise-wide integration tools, it becomes important to develop agreed, quantifiable measurements that reflect critical success factors. These are the KPIs which reflect corporate goals that are set and measured in all parts of the enterprise. The definition of what they are and how they are measured should not change often, to ensure that different departments and locations remain in step, all synchronized to the same measurements. With a head's up view of KPIs, everyone should have the ability to manage to exceptions, monitor trends, and make smart decisions.

Indeed, perhaps the key job for the future CEO, or executive board, is simply to define, monitor and control the KPIs, letting local decision-making achieve results for the integrated enterprise.

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Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and commentator, writer, technology entrepreneur, investor and futurist. You can email him at: [email protected]. Or look at his poems, prognostications and predictions on his website: . Read extracts from his new book, “Automation Unplugged” at: