IT: The Eighth Hidden Waste

Lean manufacturing principles can help IT achieve goals both old and new

IT is tasked with creating a technology infrastructure that is more flexible, responsive and adaptable to a company's growing and changing needs while pursuing efficiency and tighter management controls, all at a lower cost. There are many factors to balance in addressing the information infrastructure requirements for the manufacturing enterprise such as standards-based technology, scalability, uptime and reliability. The system must be easy to manage and monitor to ensure potential problems are discovered and corrected before they threaten the ability to do business. Flexibility is also a prime concern.

Lean manufacturing principles can help IT achieve these goals. Most commonly applied to eliminate the seven areas of waste found in manufacturing operations, continuous improvement initiatives are rarely applied to IT, the 8th hidden waste for manufacturers. Waste is hidden inside the IT function in the form of slow moving business intelligence and reduced efficiency within the IT organization itself.

The 'Leaning' of IT

When lean principles are embraced by IT, the IT department can become a multiplier of efficiencies throughout the enterprise by moving information closer to the point of activity throughout the company. The implementation of continuous improvement initiatives in IT further amplifies the 'lean factor' in manufacturing processes by eliminating time employees waste on the manufacturing floor moving to a computer to obtain information needed to complete tasks, and streamlines overall processes throughout the company.

The leaning of IT can play a significant role in the enterprise. It can contribute to overall business health by improving productivity, data accuracy and product quality, as well as reducing cycle times. It can also help sharpen the company's competitive edge by reducing the cost of doing business while ensuring that accurate, up to date information is available to the right person at the right time, improving customer satisfaction and retention.

The application of best-in-class IT management solutions can dramatically reduce the time required to manage IT assets, especially mobile assets. When centralized and remote management capabilities are added, the need for IT to physically travel to an asset to perform inventory, maintenance or repair is replaced with the ability to remotely control the device. Now, IT can quickly and easily discover, provision, monitor, and control devices. From the network operations center (NOC), personnel can easily schedule a software update or provision a new application, complete with configuration settings -- regardless of whether devices are located throughout one And in the event a device is malfunctioning, such as a notebook or handheld mobile computer, IT can easily view a wide variety of device settings to help troubleshoot the issue from afar -- including memory, installed application versions and configuration settings. And remote control functionality allows IT to literally take control of a device to enable rapid and remote resolution of a device problem -- or to lock a device that may be lost or stolen. As a result, the administrative percentage of the IT workload is significantly reduced, acting as a workforce multiplier. Now, the same number of IT personnel can not only handle the existing workload, they have more time to tackle additional strategic business initiatives.

The deployment of a services oriented architecture provides a major new capability -- servers can be quickly repurposed on the fly as needed to provide support for applications. This new flexibility eliminates the need for the traditional single application-per-server IT environment, where server utilization may normally run as low as 10 percent for 90 percent of the time in order to ensure capacity for peak usage periods. Instead of a massive bank of under utilized servers, the SOA enables a more efficient IT architecture. Multiple applications can be hosted on a single server, and server resources allocated as needed to meet application demand. The resulting shared pool of servers dramatically reduces the number of servers required to support the enterprise. Now, the enterprise server farm can be scaled down significantly -- as well as the associated costs. Since fewer servers are required, capital costs are reduced. There are fewer servers to manage and maintain, reducing operational costs. And as servers must remain powered up 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, a substantial reduction in the number of servers can also translate into a significant decrease in overhead costs -- less electricity will be required to power and cool the devices.

When IT recognizes the hidden waste inherent in IT operations, continuous improvement initiatives that effectively "lean" IT can be implemented. And through this effort, manufacturers can streamline the flow and improve the availability of more accurate information throughout the enterprise -- an initiative that reaches well beyond increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of IT staff. Through the leaning of IT, manufacturers can achieve cost-effective environmental or regulatory compliance, improve customer service levels and reduce capital and operational expenditures, ultimately increasing profitability -- and stockholder value.


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