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Invensys Production Solutions - Can Historic Strengths And The 'Protean Boost' Overcome Its Liabilities?

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: May 13 2003

Event Summary

Recently, after a lengthy and painstaking soul-searching exercise, Invensys plc, the global automation and controls group with headquarters in the UK, created a new group within its Production Management Division (PMD) called Invensys Production Solutions (IPS) (www.invensysproductionsolutions.com). The group will include the PRISM and Protean process ERP products plus the resources of Invensys Validation Services group (www.vtc-usa.com), a Montreal, Canada-based provider of regulatory compliance, validation, and consulting services encompassing the entire validation project life cycle and a range of validation services for the regulated supply chain.

While the newly formed unit should have much strength, since the PRISM and Protean products contain functionality that at least challenge the leading products in the process manufacturing arena, it also has liabilities that must be addressed, in a great part because existing users of its above solutions have suffered from frequent product strategy changes as a result of vacillations by the Invensys parent company.

In the past three years, Invensys process solutions' customers have experienced the displeasure of witnessing several radical changes of strategy, causing some of them to begin to seriously doubt the vendor will ever deliver their market-specific product capabilities. In July 1999, Invensys bought the outstanding shares of then struggling Marcam Solutions, and folded it initially into its Wonderware factory automation division. Further, in August 2000 Invensys acquired then also languishing Baan Co. (see Baan Yet Another ERP Vendor to Find a Sanctuary Under Invensys' Wing) and made it a part of the former Invensys Software Systems (ISS) division.

The initial strategy for the products, which was announced after the Baan acquisition was to release a unified Baan product that combined functionality for discrete and process manufacturing (see Process ERP Market Loses PRISM and Protean). After hearing existing customers' less-than-pleased feedback and after another reconsideration of its past investments, Invensys then modified that strategy to one of creating the Baan Process division (see Invensys Announces New Division - Baan Process) which included five process ERP products coming to Invensys through Marcam and Baan acquisitions: Baan IV Process, Baan Dimensions, PRISM, Protean, and Baan Cable & Wire. The announcement was a departure from rewriting all the products into one core iBaan ERP product the unit was not going to provide an integrated solution any longer, but would rather provide combined applications capabilities via an integration framework.

Finally, given Invensys has recently yet again put all its assets/investments under the magnifying glass, it has now allocated the PRISM and Protean products into their own profit-based division, called Invensys Production Solutions. Sanjay Razdan will be the newly formed group leader, and will be responsible for the development, marketing, sales, and support of the Protean and PRISM process ERP software solutions and the Invensys Validation Technologies. By joining the Invensys Validation Technologies group with PRISM and Protean, IPS should be able to offer enhanced regulatory compliance solutions for the process and regulated industries. Validation Technologies has been a part of Invensys Pharmaceutical Solutions, another group within the Production Management Division of Invensys, and one of the leading suppliers of validation, pharmaceutical, engineering, and regulatory-compliant solutions. Founded in 1994 and with over 110 dedicated consultants, the group is currently one of the largest suppliers of regulatory-compliant solutions in North America and Europe, dedicated to the pharmaceutical, biological, biotechnology, and medical devices industry.

Given the Baan product line focuses on the discrete and hybrid (with only simple process requirements) manufacturing sectors, this move should enable both organizations to fully leverage their strengths in their respective industry sectors. Under the new setup within Invensys PMD, well over 80% of revenues will now likely come from process industries, since, in conjunction with solutions provided by sister Invensys companies such as Wonderware, Avantis, Foxboro, Eurotherm, APV, and Powerware, Invensys Production Solutions also provides a broad set of capabilities for the process sector. Thus, Baan might now be singled out as the possible discrete manufacturing black sheep' in the family, causing Invensys to likely occasionally review the carrying value of its investment in Baan. Still, while Invensys does not plan to integrate iBaan ERP functions with PRISM and Protean, it does plan to leverage Baan's collaborative supply chain management (SCM) or customer relationship management (CRM) software, using Baan OpenWorldX enterprise management level integration framework, which, together with the ArhestrA framework at the plant automation level and Production Engine (PE) framework at the production management level, still represents a part-and-parcel of the Invensys Real Time Enterprise (RTE) framework (formerly referred to as the "sensor to boardroom" strategy).

This is Part One of a two-part note.

Part Two will address Invensys Liabilities and Strategy and make User Recommendations.

Historic Strengths

The company, although constantly morphing from Marcam to IPS, has a good track record and a heritage of selling solutions to manage divisional or autonomous plant sites within selected process industries. The products are very strong in plant level management functionality, given the IPS' progenitor, former Marcam Solutions, headquartered in Newton, MA, was one of the first global providers of ERP and enterprise asset management (EAM) software exclusively for process manufacturing enterprises and large corporate divisions. Marcam Solutions was created after the 1997 breakup of Marcam Corporation, a company that had struggled to manage the business of two product lines that targeted the two completely different markets of discrete and process manufacturing. Namely, the dissolution of Marcam Corporation had then created two new ERP software companies, Marcam Solutions and MAPICS Inc. (NASDAQ: MAPX), the latter of which is still going strong in its original form.

Paul Margolis and John Campbell founded Marcam (a name derived from their last names) back in 1980 to provide then IBM's MAPICS ERP product installation and customization services. In 1983 Marcam began developing its own planning and control software for process manufacturing companies such as food, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. The result was PRISM, which was first licensed in 1987. Marcam went public in 1990 and acquired ShawWare (maintenance management applications, whose Avantis product is now a part of a different unit within Invensys) in 1991, and the MAPICS product line from IBM in 1993. Marcam launched Protean ERP software in 1994, and during 1995, it all but halted major development of a client/server version of PRISM to focus on its similar but technologically more advanced and seemingly more prospective Protean line.

The PRISM and Protean software suites both automate tasks such as resource planning, production model development, and quality control management. Marcam sold its product primarily through its direct sales force in close to 20 offices worldwide. The Company also partnered with a number of industry-leading vendors including Hewlett-Packard, NEC (as a reseller and a developer of earlier versions of Protean in the Japanese market), IBM, and PeopleSoft, to name some. Marcam Solutions had approached its financial management functional gap by partnering and offering warranted integration to major financial applications such as SAP R/3, PeopleSoft and CODA. By 1999, the Company had approximately 1,400 customer sites in over 40 countries before it was acquired by Invensys' Wonderware division.

As mentioned earlier, the PRISM product is a veteran of the Process ERP market with many considering it the pioneer in this segment, and it can arguably be called the most widely installed plant-level process ERP product available. The company claims that 100% of its 1,200 sites (i.e., with its own server unit) are running plants with many installations running multiple plants, given these sites originate from little over 600 corporate customers. IPS' management estimates that PRISM currently has over 85,000 users worldwide, out of total 100,000 users for both products together.

PRISM

PRISM boasts deep manufacturing, financial and distribution functionality for process-oriented manufacturers and the quality advantage of decades of use by customers. However, its sales order management module has worked well mainly for environments with medium complexity of order management. PRISM's main liability though is its reliance on the reliable but lately less trendy IBM AS/400 (now IBM iServer) platform. The product was written almost completely in IBM RPG (Report Program Generator) aged language, with only a very limited number of C++ functions on the client side. Unlike Protean, which was envisioned as a product of the future and thus had the vast majority of development resources from its inception, PRISM had only limited enhancements that focused mainly on customer-requested functional, but not technological, changes in the product.

The most significant recent enhancement to PRISM was possibly Y2K compliance in release 4.3, which shipped way back in 1996. Thus, it continues to have quite limited success in IBM AS/400-centric process manufacturers and generates the bulk of its revenue from a large installed base. The large installed base in turn means that niche vendors with add-on enhancement systems that address the needs of the process market will have had increased opportunities over the last several years, and possibly going forward (see Stratyc's Laser-Sharp Focused Tools Retrofit Legacy Systems and MAPICS XA Expands BI Offering Through Partnership With Vanguard).

Protean

Protean, on its hand, claims much of the same functionality as PRISM with some functional enhancements on UNIX or Microsoft Windows platforms. Its major modules would be: Production Modeling, Formula Management, Planning and Scheduling, Inventory Management, Product Costing, Asset Management, Customer Order Management, Procurement, and Financials. It has a deep functionality for batch-based hybrid (i.e., both process and some discrete repetitive) manufacturing such as for food & beverage, pharmaceuticals, and consumer packaged goods (CPG) enterprises, as well as capabilities for complex process manufacturers requiring some continuous process capabilities, recycling and recurring materials (e.g., catalysts) and product characteristics-based planning capability, as in case of some chemical companies.

The company's motto has long been that reality that cannot be modeled, cannot be managed either. To that end, Protean's patented Production Model was devised to model, plan, cost, and analyze reality. It differs from almost all other ERP suites that have to tweak bill of material (BOM)-based systems, by uniquely dealing with process manufacturing realities and by avoiding so called software "fatal flows" (see What Makes Process Process? and The Fatal Flaws for Process Manufacturers) such as:

  • Many parts make many end items (not only one, like is often the case in discrete manufacturing), requiring all shapes of BOMs (i.e., the traditional "A" shape for discrete manufacturing, but also "V" shape or "inverted BOM", and their variations like "X" and "I" shapes)

  • Model the process rather than the product (again, the latter which is typical of discrete manufacturing practices)

  • Quantity and quality of the production are highly unpredictable and variable

  • The products are seldom made the same way, given differences by season, raw material, available production line, etc.

To that end, with its pivotal module, Production Model, Protean considers both the resources (e.g., primary and secondary materials, electricity, water, etc.) and the processes (e.g., routing steps, machines, labor, etc.) that work together to make a final product, as well as the elements that come out of that production process (e.g., co-products, by-products, waste, etc.), which is in contrast to a standard discrete' BOM recipe-like approach to production. The Production Model enables organizations to define the steps involved in making a product, but at each step, they can identify all the requirements, such as raw materials, water and energy resources, packaging, labor, machines, and all other elements affecting value and cost of the product. This information is then used by Protean in other modules or interfaced applications, including production scheduling, production planning, costing, and analysis, to provide a more accurate picture of the production process and promote better, more-informed business decisions.

Closely related to Production Modeling is the Cost Modeling application, which manages costs (such as fixed/variable overhead rates, co-product and byproduct, and the effect of recycled materials and waste) and margins across the supply chain, and allows users to perform what-if analyses for simulations and analysis for different strategic business scenarios. It also calculates costs of all resources used in the manufacturing process, and identifies the cost elements contributing to total resource cost, using activity-based costing (ABC) principles.

Also a landmark strength of the product is its process industries-oriented purchasing and inventory management, since users can track inventory by special characteristics down to the lot and sub-lot level throughout the life cycle of the product, even for recyclable materials. Also, not many peer products will offer an inventory inquiry capability that allows users to locate data at such a granular levels, as lots and sub-lots can be recorded and tracked with every inventory movement — from vendor receipts or raw material during a production process to the delivery of finished goods. For each lot and sub-lot, the software tracks inventory information, such as quantity, classification, availability, and multiple dates, such as expiration, manufactured, retest, shelf life, and user-defined aging dates (e.g., best sold by, ship-by, etc.). The application can track, move, and control inventory at the unit level (i.e., pallet, drum, slip sheet, etc.), with each unit having a unique system identifier. Multiple unit-of-measure (UOM) quantities are available when potency or catch weight control is required for some industries, resulting in a UOM conversion by lot. Location classifications are also available so that users can create various types of inventory states, such as inventory in quality control, in transit, on the loading docks, etc.

Also impressive is Protean Planning module, whose Quick Scheduler enables organizations to incorporate vital capacity data into the production planning run to shorten and speed planning cycles, since it addresses production resources and capacities in one planning pass. A Power Pegging feature allows organizations to view all demands affected by an interrupted supply or by changing production conditions, while one can view the production status for an order at the customer's request or notify the production floor of the impact when a customer order is canceled or changed.

Protean is used at approximately 250 sites from over 170 corporate customers, since, owing to its originals owner's protracted difficulties in the late 1990s, when Marcam Solutions was only able to close less than dozen Protean deals on a quarterly basis, with most of its revenue coming from the PRISM part of business. The product also claims technological advantages including an ability to change flexibly (since much of the configuration can be modified in operation by users and does not require domain experts), quick implementations and rapid implementations of new releases.

Protean was one of the first ERP applications developed exclusively using object oriented technology, albeit it has taken some time for the company to learn empirically how to improve performance and show true benefits to enterprises. Configuration of Protean is simple and intuitive through a combination of graphical tools for production models and screen forms that can be role-based customized for variety of users, without using training-intensive development tools. The product is also easily extensible because new objects and new data types can be added, again by power users only and without development tools. For example, terms that are more familiar within the particular manufacturing environment can easily supplant the corresponding default Protean's terms.

Ease of Upgrade

As a result, one Protean customer, with a different ERP installed in parts of the business, stated that it took less time to upgrade to a new Protean release than it took to estimate how long it takes to upgrade their other system to a new release. Because of Protean's ease of use, costing and shop floor functionality, it is one of the few ERP applications that can be deployed for process-oriented shop floor control. Although Protean uses the same patented production model concept as PRISM, it can be implemented using provided generic model templates that can significantly speed implementation and improve maintenance requirements, since the production model building is done graphically and can be readily assembled and changed.

Protean's exposed objects also give it a remarkable number and granularity of application programming interfaces (APIs). While traditional procedural products must have APIs written to allow interoperability, object-based products like Protean should have the APIs natively built into the product. Therefore, the Protean's object oriented product architecture has long boded well for its integration into a heterogeneous and evolving application environment, which has unfortunately not been highly appreciated until recently. Protean also leverages its object architecture in workflow management, since FileNet's Visual Workflo, can be linked to Protean's business objects to generate user-specific Protean workflows graphically.

Therefore, IPS' foray into recently all-the-rage Web Services has much credibility, since the company has likely dealt with the pieces of the concept before the latest industry buzzword has even been conceptualized. Namely, using objects (Web Services), Protean objects are driven by business processes, which, by the nature of encapsulation (i.e., making functionality known only by the interface it exposes), bode well for the ongoing product's instance agility.

Web Services/service oriented architecture (SOA), which have lately been on almost every vendor's lips, do have a potential of becoming the latest evolution of application integration technology and/or a revolutionary new web-based application design model by enabling developers to create or enhance applications by connecting granular components that are recognized and accessed via platform-independent Web protocols. While Web services leverage the aged (and not well utilized) concept of objects' encapsulation and reusability, they may finally offer that extra mile by adherence to standards that are increasingly taking hold (see The SOAP Opera Progresses - Helping XML to Rule the World). Further, Web Services components tend to be simpler in their nature, partly owing to the Internet standards, and they also tend to be higher-level abstractions, which implies more likely platform independence and "mixing and matching" opportunity by developers. Thus, the above changes in the market mindset should finally play to IPS' favor, and should mitigate Protean's functional incompleteness, which has plagued it in the past.

This concludes Part One of a two-part note.

Part Two will discuss the Invensys's Liabilities, Strategy and make User Recommendations.

 
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