I like history. It’s an affectation I’ve had since my school days. It’s amazing what you can learn by studying history. Going all the way back to the Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans…and George Jetson.
The Jetsons were on TV in 1965. It’s history – ask my kids. The Jetsons was supposed to take place 50 years in the distant future – 2015. Think about that. We have robots, automated appliances (sort of), voice activated intelligent helpers “Alexa order pizza”, and moving walkways. They just haven’t figured out that whole flying car thing. Yet.
Over the holidays, as an unabashed geek, I spent a lot of time watching hours and hours of Netflix series on math, algorithms and history. It was relaxing and enjoyable. And it gave my kids and friends something to tease me about. The hours of assimilating information on those topics were stored somewhere in my subconscious while I was pondering what to write for this blog post.
This afternoon I read an interesting article in McKinsey on what they termed ‘lighthouse’ manufacturing companies. It discussed how early-adopting “lighthouse” factories are implementing advanced manufacturing and AI-driven technology at scale, and seeing significant gains1. (The “lighthouse” refers to “lighting” the way).
So somewhere in the recesses of my brain a synaptic connection was made between manufacturing firms utilizing technology – and history, math, algorithms. This led to me thinking about my first exposure to manufacturing and software. 40 years ago (yikes!) I started working as a co-op student as a production control specialist on a manufacturing shop floor.
That position led to my participation on a team in the early 80’s to implement the company’s first MRP system. Everyone was freaked out that we were going to eliminate jobs – that the people working on the shop floor would be replaced by the massive computer (a Honeywell mainframe) and software that was supposed to track automatically what we were tracking manually. That didn’t happen. Over the years technology – both hardware and software – have evolved significantly. Yet the last time I checked there were still people working on shop floors in manufacturing firms. They’re just a lot more efficient than we were in 1979 with clipboards and pens.
Leading manufacturing firms are running with the latest technologies and seeing significant gains. Jobs are not eliminated, but they change. Capabilities are enhanced. Things that were impossible or very difficult due to system limitations become not just possible but common. Improvements accelerate.
What’s the next step? What if the limits of technology disappeared or become negligible? What if there was virtually unlimited processing power, and applications that learned what you wanted to do and became smarter as you used them? That’s on the horizon. The near horizon.
Maybe you could develop self-driving cars? Yep, they’re coming. Not ready for prime time yet, but look at the developments and the evolution of commercials over the last two years. Self-parking. Nice. Collision avoidance. Very nice. Lane change warnings. Very, very nice. Ever wonder what kind of complex processing has to take place to make those happen? Those of us in technology related fields go there directly. Geez, you need radar. GPS. High speed processing. Controls that know when something bad is going to happen – and so to take control. Complex. Impressive.
Most consumers think “Really? that’s pretty cool”. They might or might not think about what has to happen. They don’t have to – they’re focused on the result and the product. As they should be. When was the last time you thought about what happened behind the scenes when you said “Alexa, order pizza” or the transaction processing and GPS interfaces that have to exist when you ask for an Uber or Lyft ride?
You’ve seen the great blog posts from my teammates on various technologies and capabilities ERP vendors are developing. Our team is currently developing research on the future of ERP. Many capabilities of ERP will become easier and easier to use as the limits of technology diminish and applications become more intelligent. ERP systems will provide the foundation to enable things not possible even 10 years ago. Users will be able to perform their work without having to “fight the beast” of the cumbersome ERP systems of the past. A long way from a college student with a clipboard.
“Alexa, have a Mustang convertible with these options delivered”… and it will show up in your driveway. Without a thought to demand planning, configuration management or logistics. I won’t be all that surprised if my kids see that day.
I’ll be impressed if it flies.
1 McKinsey January 2019
‘Lighthouse’ manufacturers lead the way—can the rest of the world keep up?
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