What ERP has Learnt from NASA

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Before setting three Apollo astronauts on top of 2,350 tons of liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen and kerosene, then counting down to launch, NASA sensibly ensured they adopted only the technologies they deemed ready to fly. They later standardised this approach and drew up a 9-point scale, against which every element of a development programme could be assessed for ‘Technology Readiness Level’ (TRL). This measurement process helped determine which nascent technologies to take forward through R&D, which ones to side-line and so on.

Decades on, NASA’s TRL scale is still a valid metric and widely accepted, with some adaptation, by industry and government enterprise. Readiness levels provide common terms to define technology from concept to commercial production and through to disposal, and first proved their effectiveness in the aerospace and defence sectors.

So where’s the connection from rocket science to ERP?

Measuring readiness levels can also assist in monitoring progress and planning business goals and actions. It enables self-assessment of business management systems, allowing companies to identify those that are ‘Go’ for launch and those that, without improvement, could threaten the success of ERP implementation.

There are six phases of activity that take a technology from basic idea (TRL 1) to finished article (TRL 9)

  1. Basic technology research
  2. Research to prove feasibility
  3. Technology development
  4. Technology demonstration
  5. System/subsystem development
  6. System test, launch and operation

In the era of Industry 4.0 it is easy to see how this phased sequence is relevant to introducing robotization and developing smart factories. The concept applies to the engineering design, the hardware, software and all the other systems and technologies with which robots interact, including the Internet of Things. For a manufacturing organization it becomes extremely useful to examine each of these elements and assign their TRLs.

With the potential ERP has to link business management technologies across entire supply chains, the TRL of an existing system, or a new one being introduced, can influence the success of the whole enterprise. Enter the TRL Exercise – giving businesses the chance to measure how well they are using technology already, how they might improve their existing technology and how new technologies could deliver advantage.

A TRL exercise can use a simple SWOT analysis and industry benchmarks to arrive at a point on the TRL scale. The result quantifies the readiness of a technology for implementation in manufacturing, materials, supply, distribution, communications, or any other part of the supply chain. But it can also indicate its ability to integrate with technologies already employed by a company, which may have different TRL values.

The technology under scrutiny may, of course, be an ERP software solution. By using a TRL exercise to assess the readiness of its business management systems, a manufacturer can reduce schedule slips and avoid failures to meet performance and operational agility objectives when introducing new ERP modules.

Businesses can now achieve seamless integration of planning, materials management and procurement, manufacturing, financial and business intelligence processes through a single ERP system. It can deliver complete factory automation and unify multiple business processes and disparate systems to better connect all facets of your supply chain. It can also enable you to work smarter, faster, and spend more time focusing on product innovation and servitization, instead of operating manual tasks to try and plug the gaps left in your poorly automated supply chain processes.

If you are going to reach for this level of business performance, it makes sense to first of all check where your component technologies stand and which new technologies are at a sufficient state of maturity to bring on board.

And if you are ready, there will be more detail on TRL exercises and benchmarking to follow…

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