Modelling and simulation is becoming more and more important to industry in order to reduce risk and enable changes to be made without incurring high cost. Before the design is committed to reality, simulation and modelling allow you to determine and validate requirements and design options. Consequently, it was felt to be critical to the growth of understanding in the systems integration arena. This was indicated as short to medium term.
The development, however, of robust models to fully describe the dynamics of the interconnected extended enterprise is extremely challenging. The parameters and agents proposed to be included in such models ranged from a human agent with patterns of knowledge and behaviour to fiscal models of the extended enterprise. This is particularly complex when considering multiple organisations producing multiple products or services involving competing supply chains e.g. optimisation of time to market may require a different behaviour of a manufacturing enterprise than time to customer. The dynamics of which need to be understood such as the optimisation of the performance across supply enterprises. In such a situation, the solution is not obvious from an intuitive approach - models are required.
Other problems posed required development of models of human behaviour for example team building and team working inside the enterprise, and across enterprises. It is maybe an indicator of the ambition inherent in these aspirations that the models being proposed for analysing inter-organisational relationships, and extended enterprises have not yet been developed and tested for the behaviour of a single enterprise. This was considered to be a critical requirement to sustain the UK competitive edge as its manufacturing profile changes due to business pressures.
The German Government has recognised the significance of this area and launched an initiative to completely model the product life cycle with its attendant virtual factories.
Capture and Management
This area was felt to be a "massive unstructured space". Attempts were made, however, to establish some forms of structure and three types of information classification were determined: static, dynamic and intuitive. The topics proposed covered potential research and mechanisms for dissemination of current state of the art, industrial and academic.
For UK PLC, knowledge equates to capability and competitive edge. This theme encompasses innovation, and the definition of appropriate roles for publicly funded research. It includes Foresight-type activities with analysis including real limits of models of the future. It also includes collation and dissemination of state of the art, and good practice.
In the engineering environment, the automatic capture of information should encompass the design knowledge contained within shared data environments and product configuration management. This knowledge base needs to be built into processes to enable re-use. Historical experience particularly contained on non-electronic media is a major problem as is the maintenance of knowledge in order to ensure topicality of the knowledge.
From all quarters, there was concern about extracting meaning from the huge volumes of data available to us - a general feeling that a step change was required to release the potential of available information.
There was also a discussion on the implications of knowledge power. Knowledge is the power of the organisation and not an individual. Often an individual is reluctant to share knowledge. From the human point of view, incentives for sharing knowledge need to be built into processes. There was a suggestion that individuals in organisations should be given an objective of sharing knowledge as part of the appraisal process.
It was determined that there were two types of standards, either de facto by evolving acceptance, or issued by an organisation or group of organisations with enough influence to ensure their establishment. There were felt to be many factors mitigating against open standards, not least that the vendors have incentives to establish "customer lock-in" through customised and non-standard solutions. Another factor causing difficulty is globalisation, requiring commitment from a vast array of countries and companies to establish workable standards across function, information and technology.
The challenge to the standards area is to reduce the life cycle of standards creation. Standards have to take into account simple and cost effective interfacing and interconnect at the so called low technology levels i.e. PCs to machine tools, common understanding of data and information packets (common language) and integration of applications from CAE to Web based procurement. The 'use' objectives of standards are generally to avoid the accumulation of costs not directly incurred by the business i.e. reduction of infrastructural costs. However, standards must not be over constraining to a business such that it cannot meet its customers' demands. De facto standards also contribute to the knowledge domain via coding and classification to aid retrieve and use.
Much of the discussion here also had a supply chain angle. From the point of view of the Universities supplying trained personnel to industry, a skills gap was identified around the shortage of "systems integrators". Engaging the supply chain across a number of tiers was seen as a challenge, with several participants urging a practical approach to this question. One suggestion was examination of the use of the internet for transfer of information and data within a sector or supply chain - with emphasis on real demonstration of the benefits. Another angle to be considered is the demonstration of interrelated organisations at the people, process and technology levels by the interlinking of distributed demonstrators.
Another factor is the non-insignificant cost, in terms of time and money, of implementing enterprise wide information systems. A typical consultant will cost around £1500 per day to implement an ERP or a PDM system. An implementation project may easily take 2-3 person months in the early stages and much more effort to complete. This cost is a barrier impeding full systems integration for UK industry. The cost of operation of these enterprise systems, once implemented, is also very substantial. The wider availability of the relevant knowledge, methodologies and tools to reduce time and cost of implementation is crucial to UK Systems Integration competitiveness.
Another strand of the discussion concerned the interrelated strands of product flexibility, upgradability and customisability, with manufacturing agility and tools for production. This requires generic manufacturing building blocks, able to produce the ultimate flexible product. In many discussion strands on this, and other themes, the need for a step change in ways of working was identified. One potential source for inspiration was felt to be learning from natural systems, which are frequently self-organising, the challenge being to engage with multidisciplinary groups of scientists and engineers.
Due to the increasing flexibility of business relationships, many issues are affected with respect to process and technology. Changes in the technological systems used to connect businesses, and the changes in business process that they enable, have profound implications. These changes can create significant shifts in power relationships, as evidenced in the "winners and losers" analysis of the rise of the application service provider. (See 'UK Manufacturing'). Such changes have social, moral and ethical implications, and extend far beyond individual company boundaries.
At the practical level, there are urgent requirements for robust commercial and legal frameworks for electronic environments. Issues of validation, authentication and liability were felt to be critical and there were concerns that trading requirements were outstripping the availability of technology. Less tangible, but equally critical was the establishment of trust in such trading environments. This may be underpinned by the evolving legal structures, but extends to finding equivalents of the personal touches possible in more traditional business forms. Concerns were expressed that in an environment of rapid change in b2b electronic commerce, and the dramatic rise of procurement portals, the emphasis on relationship was disappearing from supply chain management.
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