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Meet 21st Century IT – It Ain’t What It Used to Be

Information technology (IT) has long been an indispensable part of the modern corporate enterprise, but many work environments, and even IT departments themselves, continue to think of IT’s function as fixing printers and maintaining a...

February 13, 2013  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Information technology (IT) has long been an indispensable part of the modern corporate enterprise, but many work environments, and even IT departments themselves, continue to think of IT’s function as fixing printers and maintaining a technical status quo. Although IT started out this way several decades ago, the evolving role of IT departments in manufacturing must keep pace with – if not ahead of – the latest advancements in technological innovations that can revolutionize how business is done. IT has the potential to evolve as an integral part of strategic business planning and mill operations to reduce fixed costs while also improving efficiencies and increasing overall productivity and reliability.
There are several key elements that will shape the IT department of the future. While not all departments will share all elements, they will have some commonalities.

Strong IT leadership
The ability for manufacturing IT departments to make the shift and realize full potential of technology hinges on the organization’s IT leadership. According to John Mahoney, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Research, “We are witnessing the emergence of a new generation of CIOs, one that aims not so much to ‘run’ IT as to ensure that the business achieves strategic value from the use of technology.” This is the challenge for the new breed of CIO in the pulp and paper industry: to direct the corporate IT infrastructure to align itself with pulp and paper business goals of improving reliability, reducing fixed costs, and continually pursuing mill-wide efficiencies. The CIO must be an IT expert, an excellent communicator, and lifelong student of emerging business intelligence strategies. It is the CIO’s personality, vision, and ongoing pursuit of innovation that ultimately drives this new hybrid structure.

Clear department focus
Gartner Research identifies four models for IT departments of the future: IT as a Global Service Provider, IT as the Engine Room, IT “is” the Business, and Everyone’s IT. Essentially, each model describes a focus for IT and the way in which IT services are delivered. For manufacturing the “Everyone’s IT” model is of particular interest. The focus of this model is on information delivery, collaboration and aggressive innovation. It is a step away from a traditional IT model. Although some may view the step as reckless, the strong emphasis on innovation and research and development enables the exploration of the boundaries of technology. IT leadership is in control of the model used for an organization and it must fit within business parameters but the end goal is a clear understanding of the corporate direction of IT. The model drives IT decisions, budgets and even hiring practices. More information on the Garter Research IT models can be found at http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=2229015.


Updated key performance indicators (KPIs)
Finally, today’s CIOs and IT departments must redefine their KPIs to reflect the new roles of technology. Traditional IT departments have long since measured themselves by a standard key performance indicators (KPI), including one of the most common: availability. Availability is the measurement (in percentage) of the time that the network, servers, and key applications are available for use. Typical availability would be in the mid to high 90% range which equates to a few hours of unplanned downtime per year. Overtime systems are becoming increasingly robust and redundancy is built into everything IT does, leaving the quest for availability an almost assumed competence. This gives IT the ability to focus KPIs on quantifiable business contributions and successes. KPI measurement then becomes a pursuit of mill-wide efficiencies, streamlined processes, and reduced costs. Standard IT KPIs may still apply, but the increased scope of IT’s contribution is shown in measurable corporate-impact KPIs.  
How to become more competitive
With this new model for a more business-centred IT structure and mandate, the CIO and the IT departments can increase the competitive advantage of its mills in these three main ways:  

Get the right data to the right people at the right time
Pulp and paper mills produce a seemingly endless amount of data from various sources, including vibration analysis, employee demographics, oil analysis, pulp moisture, inventory, work order history, financial budgets, environmental reports and many more. Each department collects data and often stores it in disparate locations, such as Excel spreadsheets, small disconnected databases and in some cases Post-it notes. IT can use business intelligence (BI) and other tools to collate this data to create a correlative predicative analytic framework. Predicative analytics enable business-wide efficiencies by discovering patterns and trends within historical data and using this trending data as a proactive decision-making tool. There is no question – getting the right data to the right people at the right time will contribute to a mill’s reliability, efficiency, and overall competitiveness.

Get the right technology to the right people at the right time
In addition to getting the right data to the right people, it is equally important to get the right technology to the right people. Reliability teams, for example, need to have the right technology, mobile and otherwise, that enable them to interact with their predictive and preventative environments most effectively. Each department may vary slightly in what it may need to enhance its own unique work environment, so knowing what technology is available and knowing your people has never been more essential.

Nurture authentic mill-wide relationships
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, positive relationships throughout the mill are an integral part of IT success. IT is no longer represented by isolated nerds tucked away in server rooms. Effective IT personnel must augment technical skill with social skill and mix well in all areas of the mill. The development of strong, communicative relationships with workers in all locations, from the machine rooms, to chip screening, to stores and to the boardroom, allows IT to leverage relationships towards problem identification and ultimately to the best and most timely solutions. Any IT department that manages to do this will undoubtedly contribute significantly to the entire mill’s reliability, productivity and efficiency.
IT is moving away from traditional models
Traditional IT departments have owned and controlled the use of technology in a corporate environment. Their role was to provide a stable infrastructure and control access to that infrastructure at all costs. The incorporation of new technologies was often done at a glacial pace and the end-user experience and expectations were not always managed effectively. As a departmental entity, traditional IT departments found themselves reporting to the finance teams and often to the company controller. For today’s leading IT departments, these structures have been in a constant state of evolution moving away from traditional models. Today’s IT departments must evolve as an agile, self-regulatory, autonomous department that, with a detailed understanding of mill and business processes, match strategic corporate initiatives to appropriate technologies.

Mike Harwood is the IT manager for Zellstoff Celgar and has written more than 22 technology related books and several articles for print and CBC Radio.

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