The (Great) Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1563
Industryweek 24963 100517 Tower Of Babel Pieter Bruegel The Elder2 0

Why Is the Tower of Babel Like the IIoT?

Oct. 5, 2017
Folks in operations, the C-suite and tech all need to be able to talk with each other, regularly and seamlessly. That's often easier said than done.

Let me introduce you to three people I work with every day: Bim, Mim and Tim. Each works in a separate area:

Bim is in Business, the C-suite. He thinks in terms of cost, investment, ROI and profit. He has a vision he's working toward.

Mim is in Manufacturing, in operations. He's responsible for the machinery and output, and he thinks in terms of time, resources and output: uptime ... downtime ... how-soon-can-you-solve-this time and what-resources-will-you-need.

Tim is in Technology. Technology people like Tim, the IT folk, think in terms of infinity, elegance, coding and add-ons.

Today’s manufacturing performance initiatives require the input, investment and involvement of each group, working as a seamless team. Let’s check out how that’s working.

Conversation 1: The World Is Infinite

Bim: Tim, what is the value of this software? How will it achieve our goal of saving $$$ by increasing production throughput?

Tim: It depends if you have Windows 10.  Actually, it works better on your smart phone.

Mim: Why do I have so much waste?

Tim: Our software can address that. We have interfaces with HTML5 now.

Mim: What is the root cause of my quality issues? Can you do traceability?

Tim: The IoT requires interaction with social media.

You’ll note that Tim speaks in statements and declarations. Bim and Mim, by contrast, never stop asking questions.

Conversation 2: Are You Speaking My Language?

Bim: What’s the business value to what you’re proposing? How will this ensure that I remain compliant with regulations?

Tim: With a bigger server, anything is possible.

Bim: How will this reduce my costs, or increase my throughput?

Tim: When you click here, you see the ID of what you’ve created, #80936.

Mim: Do you use standard or optimal speeds to track OEE? What about excluding changeovers? How many downtime reason codes do you recommend?

Tim: Have you considered going to open source?

Bim: Tell me what is required to help my business be more profitable.

Tim: We can do whatever you want.

Before you go off the rails with the above … please note. Tim’s a highly adept programmer. I may be making him sound like a goofball, but believe me, he’s not.

Conversation 3: UX? User Experience? Say What?

Mim: Our operators have to click eight times to get to the one piece of information they use 20 times a day [volume and pitch rises steadily]. That’s 160 clicks for something that should be one click away! The application isn’t usable!

Tim: I have done my job. The answer is there. The procedure provides what you asked.

Mim: And I don’t want waste per month. I need it per shift.

Tim: I just have to write a database stored procedure.

Mim: You already did, that’s how we ended up with the monthly figure.

Tim: I just have to write another stored procedure.

Did anyone talk to Tim, during design, about how a user works in real life? What information is most needed? And when? And where?

Conversation 4: Can You Explain the Underlying Process?

Bim: What is the approval process for this report?

Tim: [Presses three keys: Click! Click! Click!] Look! It’s dead easy!

Bim: No, you misunderstood my question. I’m asking: “What is the actual approval process for this report?” As in, it starts with the lab tech, goes to the supervisor …

Tim: [Click! Click! Click!]

It’s Not Tim’s Fault!

From what you’ve read here, you may have the impression that Tim is the heart of all these issues. Not so.

Often Mim and Bim repeatedly ask for the Moon. They may stubbornly fail to absorb the fact that even with today’s speedy CPUs and near-infinite possibility, sophisticated software cannot be generated in a few keystrokes. Not to mention, here comes scope creep!

So, Whose Fault Is It?

It’s the Tower of Babel’s fault. Bim, Mim and Tim have not been trained to speak each other’s language, and to a great extent it’s not their job to do so. Their job is to speak to the system integrator about what is needed, what their goals are, and what they can contribute.  

The IoT is an amazing ecosystem of internal groups and external suppliers … when it works, that is. When it doesn’t, it starts to look a lot like the Tower of Babel.

Ah … and the System Integrator …

Yes, the system integrator needs to not only know the languages of Bim, Mim and Tim, but recognize them in a heartbeat. So that they can answer the question that was actually asked, in the language in which it was spoken. At my company, Factora, we are increasingly formalizing our practice of ensuring that, as each consultant rises in seniority, they learn to recognize and speak the three B-M-T languages.

Note: everyone has a choice! IT professionals, for example, may choose to remain in IT, honing their craft and enjoying the rewards from their work.

However, this does mean that they will not become a customer-facing consultant. Their lack of language skills prevents them from filling that role.

In Summary

In theory, we should all be able to speak to, hear and understand each other, especially if we work in the same company.

But I deal with practice, and I know that far too often, it just ain’t so.

Did your Bims, Mims and Tims communicate successfully in your last performance initiative? More to the point, upon completion, did the Bims and Mims get what they’d been looking for? The results that had been projected, or promised?

Charles A. Horth is the CEO of Factora, a company of manufacturing consultants who use software to help factories achieve their full potential by raising the visibility of key information on the shop floor so that plant management, employees and company leadership can run more efficient manufacturing systems.

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