I was having a discussion with a client about some of the jargon that is popular in the realm of manufacturing software systems. We got to one of my favorites. “One Source Of The Truth”. This will be professed by vendors in the ERP space, the automation space, the PLM space, the MES space. Basically, anyone that wants to take ownership of the manufacturing IT turf will proclaim that you, Mr. or Ms Customer need to have one source of the truth. …and MY system provides you with that truth!
In fact, the vendor is sometimes not looking to provide one source of the truth, they are looking to be the ‘owners’ of the truth. It gives them staying power and leverage over adjacent systems that may want to make the same claim.
This is not a new phenomenon. I recall attending a conference a manufacturing standards NIST in Gaithersburg, MD in the mid 1990’s. I was sitting with a group from a major aerospace company that was in the process of implementing ERP, PLM and MES simultaneously. This project was legendary in size and scope, allegedly the project team filled a seven story office building. I asked one of the gentleman from the project how things we going. He said “We’ve spent months in a holy war on who owns the Bill of Material”. The source of the truth was not the issue, the ‘ownership’ was.
Let’s look at a hypothetical example of “one source”. Picture a process plant where an extremely hazardous chemical is pumped through the plant in support of a critical production process. One day there is a reading on a dashboard that says the pump bearing is running hot, much hotter than normal operation. If you are plant maintenance, your truth is that you have a pump to fix. If you are the production manager, you’re truth is that production may need to be halted. If you run the business, your truth may be that you will be unable to ship product and may lose business to a competitor. If you are responsible for environmental health and safety, your truth is that you have a possible environmental disaster in the making. The same single data point has very specific, very different meanings depending on your part in the process.
With this in mind, when I mentioned “One Source of the Truth”, our client retorted:
“No. There’s one source of the FACTS. The truth is CONTEXTUAL”
That pretty much sums it up. This also sums up the challenge of IoT, smart manufacturing and smart machines. The farther away you are from expert interpretation of the truth from the facts, the larger the possibility of missed interpretation. The recent news story of the Google driver-less car causing an accident is a great case in point. The Google car hit a bus. The ‘fact’ recorded by the sensors on the car was that the bus was moving. The interpretation of this fact by the automation software was that “in truth” the bus would yield. It did not.
In this case, the contextual truth inferred by the recorded facts was incorrect. The truth is contextual, the facts don’t lie. The IoT / Smart Manufacturing challenge is not just collecting the facts, and it is not just interpreting them. It is interpreting them in context.
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