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Reflections on PowerPlex 2014

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy June 11, 2014

Automotive industry manufacture
Just before saying our goodbyes to some of the Plex staff, I'd sat down with my old sparring partner Vinnie Mirchandani to reflect on this year's PowerPlex. We both agreed that it was a very different style of conference to those we usually attend, many of them in the Bay Area around San Francisco, Las Vegas or Orlando.

In his analysis, Mirchandani said: 

It was a show about ERP as it was meant to be when we at Gartner in the 90s had evolved the concept of MRP. Somehow, along the way ERP lost focus on the plant and became much more  a white -collar, back-office phenomenon. In the two decades I have seen consultants hype up the concept as a reengineering platform, a change agent and more. At the other extreme, I have also encountered dreading executives behave as if they were marching to the gallows when they started an ERP project as if it was guaranteed to be doomed...

...Few slick consultants. Mostly executives to whom the software is functional and affordable. The session tracks screamed operational excellence – Kanban, Finite Scheduling and Cost of Quality (CoQ). The lunches had networking tables around topics like Traceability and Recalls.

Jason and others announced customers who are doing reference calls even before they go live. That shows a refreshing nonchalance that the software and the implementation project should just work.

I agree.

I was particularly struck by the 'business first' and matter of fact way in which attendees parse what's going on with Plex and the impact it's having on their business. No bitching about upgrades, costs, SI flubs and other distractions. It was all about the present and future.

Much of that was encapsulated in a remark Jason Blessing made during the keynote where he said - and I paraphrase - 'This internet of things...manufacturers have been doing it for years.' That took me back some 30 years to the time when CNC machines were becoming popular and where the automotive industry was going through gyrations as robotics were introduced to the plant floor.

In one of the companies where I was once CFO, I remember the day we switched on an automated Kaltenbach saw capable of knocking out entire steel frame carcasses for industrial buildings. It was very similar to one of these puppies. The difference it made to shop productivity was immediate and took us into an entirely new league of steel frame construction.

These machines were not networked at that time - the technology didn't exist - but they were certainly sensor operated and powerfully efficient. Today, many of the machines used in the Rust Belt industries can and are being networked as a natural extension of what has gone before. IoT? Been there, doing that. Check what's going on in Ford's Dearborn F150 plant.

When I asked the president of Sanders if he was looking forward to the customer party, the matter of fact answer told me all I need to know about how business is seen in this part of the world: "I've got a family I need to see and then it's back to work."

As Mirchandani told me over early morning coffee: "You know, if that had been in the Silicon Valley, they would have been whooping it up. There's barely a third of the hype here." To which I replied: "Because it's not necessary."

In a round table where we were quizzing execs on product direction Mirchandani cautioned the team not to forget the plant floor as Plex fleshes out the Enterprise Edition and which leads on financials. Jerry Foster, VP R&D, quickly squished that idea: "When I wrote the first lines of code for Plex it was with the plant floor in mind - it's in our DNA. Do you think we're going to forget that anytime soon?"

It is this sticking to their roots and meeting the needs of the manufacturing industries it serves that makes Plex a company with a very bright future. Too many other software vendors have lost that spark and are paying the price as they seek to rediscover the pain points inside their vertical markets, even as their relevance declines. Plex has been careful to nurture and grow that expertise. Knowing that is comforting.

It just has to master the inconveniences of fast growth and market recognition.

Disclosure: Plex is a partner and covered most of my T&E.

Image credit: Featured image: © Ingo Bartussek - Page image: © Maroš Markovič -

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