Machine and Process Management

If You Cannot “Control” it, Try to “Manage” it.

Unfortunately, the language we commonly use is semantically very imprecise. This imprecision reduces effective communication. For example, looking at most English language dictionaries it is difficult to distinguish between the definitions of “control” and “management”, yet in industry these two words are commonly used to mean very different things. I would like to propose a tightening of the semantics in which “management” is used to refer to decisions made on human schedules (transactional decisions) while “control” is used to refer to decisions made on process schedules (real-time decisions). There is overlap between these two definitions, but at least they refer to two different aspects of decision making.

automation control

For the last three decades there has been a common acceptance across industry that there are two separate computing domains: the operational domain and the business domain. The operational domain is the universe of engineering (real-time computing) while the business domain is the universe of IT (transactional computing). Most traditional decision making fit cleanly into one or the other of these domains. The primary focus, therefore, has been, and continues to be, how to connect these two worlds together rather than which decisions should be in which domain.

The predominant decision time for business management has been monthly due to compromises made during the early periods of the industrial revolution.  Over the past decade the speed of industrial business has continually increased. Today, traditional business variables, such as the price paid for unit of energy or materials and the value of products produced change on a much more frequent basis than monthly. For example, the price of electricity on the open power grid in the U.S. changes every 15 minutes. This means that there are some traditional business decisions that have been made on monthly human schedules that need to be made in much shorter time frames, defined by the time constants of business processes, to have the desired impact.

Perhaps it is time for industrial companies to change the discussion from how to connect the operational and business domains to be what decisions should be made in a real-time control context and which decisions can be made on a transactional management basis. A vice president from SAP once said to me, “if you can control something do – if you cannot control it, try to manage it.” There may be considerable wisdom in this statement.

As more industrial business decisions are moving toward real-time dynamics the discussion has to become how to expand the real-time control domain to align with the dynamics of industrial business and in doing so, how to drive more business value.


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