The first ERP solution I worked with was Visual Manufacturing. At that point it was developed by Lilly Software in New Hampshire but was acquired by Infor and is now one of the 150+ products that they have in their pre-IPO portfolio…

We had great success selling Visual to mid-sized manufacturing companies who marveled at the graphical BOM (bills of materials) and in particular (and my favorite), the drag-and-drop scheduler. Oh we could dazzle prospects with the promise of forwards and backwards finite capacity scheduling and the ability to call up the detailed scheduling log telling the user every decision the scheduler made in deciding where to place the work orders in the schedule. Amazing!

The reality is that the scheduling engine was too complex. At the last Visual Manufacturing user conference I attended, they asked for a show of hands as to how many of the attending customers felt that they were effectively using the scheduler. Out of a room of 300 or so customers, only about eight or 10 raised their hands. This was later confirmed through a survey of the user base, which found just 3% of customers were actually using it. This was of course when they launched the new easier-to-use Easy Scheduler...

So what went wrong?

There was (and is) nothing wrong with the scheduling algorithms etc., but the reality is that the more complex the scheduler, the more accurate and timely data it needs to be able to do its job. Every scheduling system in the world does exactly the same thing—it loads a list of open work orders / operations to determine what it needs to schedule and THAT, dear readers, is exactly the problem.

You can have the most sophisticated, elegant, multi-dimensional scheduling system in the world with drag-and-drop drum buffer ropes, but if the list of open work orders and operations isn’t up to date then you are asking it to schedule work that has already been completed. So, I pose the following (rhetorical) question:

What is the most important element of scheduling?

a)    Drag and Drop

b)    Forward and Backward Finite Scheduling

c)    Accurate and Timely Data Collection

I’ll give you a clue – it’s not a) or b)

The basis of making good scheduling decisions is accurate and timely data collection—and given that this data could now be coming not just from your own production facility but from your supply chain partners, wouldn’t it be easier if that system was accessible from the web? Hmmmm…