Computer Technology and Operations Management
Modern technology has greatly changed operations management in the modern business world. Efficiency and effectiveness of operations, production, and functions has improved exponentially due to ever evolving computer technology. Across all industries within the business world, observable improvements are evident, and examples of enhancements to operations due to computer technology will be examined through this discussion.
The technology itself that is used in businesses to manage operations can be complex, and therefore systems have been developed and implemented that aid businesses in the management of their computer technology. An example of this is “sBusiness,” which includes services that aid businesses in gaining the most they can out of computerized technologies used for operations management (Bolka, 2002). The need for this type of service is motivated by business needs in four different areas. These areas include: 1) the need for retailers to use their investments in technology in the most efficient manner possible; 2) the need for businesses to balance the increasing developments and dynamics in the computer technology world with the developments within specific industries; 3) the ability to effectively manage environments complexly intertwined with computer technology; and 4) the reality that the majority of modern business operations heavily rely on computer technology to some extent (Bolka, 2002).
Services offered that assist business in the maintenance and execution of their computer technology systems include hardware installation, network design, provision and integration, and training and consulting (Bolka, 2002). All of these services are offered with the aim of ensuring that the computer technologies implemented by the business are utilized correctly and functioning effectively (Bolka, 2002). Furthermore, businesses can tailor the level of service they receive to their needs. Some businesses opt for complete facilities management, in which the administration of their system, network, and entire technological environment are managed externally, outside the business (Bolka, 2002).
There is no question that the role of computer technology has become integral to the management of operations within businesses. Computer modeling has been used in some industries as a tool in the development and execution of major projects (Vantuono, 2004). An example is provided by the freight railroad industry. Within this industry, computer modeling has assisted in the preparation for growth, in that computer modeling is utilized for the determination of schedule adequacy, choices of routes, design and capacity for the allowance of maintenance, and yield management (Vantuono, 2004). Furthermore, the use of computer modeling allows for impartial mediation with regards to cost/benefit analyses among the railroads (Vantuono, 2004).
Industries often require specific functions of computer technology in order to achieve certain results. For example, software vendors may be urged by businesses to incorporate specific features into computer modeling capabilities in order to acquire the particular tools needed (Vantuono, 2004). Businesses continually face challenges in planning and developing projects, and specific computer technologies can help elucidate what ideas and concepts would be most effective. Moreover, computer simulation and modeling can facilitate efficient cost optimization and resolution of conflicts (Vantuono, 2004).
The capabilities of computer technology within the business world have grown exponentially over the past several years, meanwhile decreasing in cost and space requirements. There has been a remarkable evolution in computer technology that has continually aimed at providing solutions for businesses while becoming more user-friendly. For instance, software programs have evolved so that features are becoming more standardized parallel to the gravitation of mainstream computing towards the Microsoft Windows operating system (Klemens & Reband, 2004). The applications used today in computer technology for businesses often appear and are executed in a similar manner, and the performance of similar functions is often the same across programs. This results in user-friendliness, which optimizes the efficiency of the technology being used. There have been several milestones achieved already with regards to the evolution of computer technology. These landmarks include: hardware miniaturization; increased processor speed; increased memory and storage capacity; efforts towards standardized operating systems; the growth of network and communications capabilities; and increased sophistication of software (Klemens & Reband, 2004). It is most likely that this constant evolution will now grow more in the direction of wireless data communication (Klemens & Reband, 2004).
An example of how an efficient and effective computerized system has facilitated operations is illustrated by the masonry industry. Computerized time-tracking systems have proven very useful to this industry (Klemens & Reband, 2004). Masonry contractors have increasingly been utilizing an time-tracking system called Jobclock, which allows workers to record job time through touching a key tab reader for checking in and checking out of shifts. Foremen are able to collect but not alter the information recorded by this system, and simple operations are utilized in the office to load information from the job clock into a computer database. The computer program used to store the information has the capability to produce several preconfigured and customizable reports, and furthermore enables exportation of the data to accounting software programs (Klemens & Reband, 2004).
Other integrated computerized approaches are also used in the masonry industry to facilitate operations management. HCSS (Heavy Construction Systems Specialists Inc.) software is used to prepare detailed cost estimates for projects that are easily converted into bids. Another program offered by HCSS is a type of field management software, that is used for the collection, dissemination, and dispatching of jobsite information on a daily basis. Programs offering free Internet-based historical bid pricing and tracking of materials is also available (Klemens & Reband, 2004). These easy to use computerized technologies have demonstrably increased the efficiency with which operations are managed within this industry.
Efforts are certainly being made continually by computer technology developers to create technologies that are easier to use in order to increase effectiveness and efficiency for businesses (Higgins, 2004). For instance, maintenance engineers are in charge of ensuring that equipment within production facilities is functioning correctly, often at a cost to the business. Therefore, computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) have been created (Higgins, 2004). These systems function to more effectively organize maintenance programs and produce financial data that revealed maintenance costs and returns. CMMS may also be considered as a tool for asset management as well as lifecycle management (Higgins, 2004).
The implementation of CMMS within a food manufacturing facility in Seattle resulted in a dramatic shift in regards to the way management perceived maintenance. Prior to the implementation of CMMS, maintenance was perceived as a cost center. After the initiation of CMMS, maintenance is now seen as a profit center, due to the increase in efficiency offered by maintenance engineers through proper operations of the equipment (Higgins, 2004).
In order to minimize the confusion and level of difficulty involved in the interpretation of data that result from computerized programs, some computer technology companies have developed means for remote monitoring. An example of this is remote monitoring offered by Rockwell Automation for its XM Series modules that are used for condition monitoring (Higgins, 2004). This program is used to collect monitoring data from devices, which effectively act to automate data collection through the creation of an I/O bus (Higgins, 2004). This program allows plant equipment to be protected and monitored in a way that is feasible and effective. Before, this plant equipment received little to no predictive maintenance due to cost restraints (Higgins, 2004). Devices used for this type of monitoring are continually becoming increasingly affordable, which furthermore increases usage of the systems, which in turn improve efficiency and effectiveness of the business.
Another area of business that has increasingly been using computer technologies is for training, as well as the management of training and tracking regulatory compliance (Martin, Quigley, and Rogers, 2005). The first computerized forms of operations training were developed by the U.S. armed forces at the end of the 1970s (Saifedtinov, 2004), and since then have evolved through several different incarnations. For example, Aventis Pharmaceuticals initiated global implementation of a learning management system in order to facilitate regulatory compliance through the advantage of having one system that can track, manage and train personnel globally (Martin et al., 2005). This is accomplished through the use of a common platform across all target organizations (Martin et al., 2005).
Computerized systems for learning management have become an integral part of learning environments for businesses across all industries. These learning management systems can provide a wide range of capabilities and features, including the facilitation of access to and delivery of training content to users. This promotes the ability to leverage various training media throughout several departments within a business, and furthermore acts to enhance the overall knowledge level of an organization (Martin et al., 2005). A learning management system provides a business with certain specific capabilities. These capabilities include: registration for instructor led training; assignment of instructional responsibilities; the setting up of courses and planning; of curriculum; the delivery of tests and assessments; the accurate tracking and reporting of the progress and performance of students; and the production of certification and regulatory compliance reports (Martin et al., 2005).
Learning management systems are especially useful for organizations that require ensured compliance with standards and requirements set forth by regulatory agencies (Martin et al., 2005). Even for businesses that are not regulated, learning management systems can be highly beneficial for the tracking and management of employees (Martin et al., 2005). There are several functions that learning management systems facilitate within businesses these include: the documentation of training requirements for all employees, including requirements that are motivated by local and global policies and standards; the reduction of repetitiveness in the methods used to track training; ensuring that training complies with standards of the business; that there is a consistent following of standards operating procedures across functions; the enablement of venues for online training in order to reach more learners and eliminate unnecessary travel costs; efficient management of rosters for instructor-led training; and the documentation of course completion (Martin et al., 2005).
Although the benefits of learning management systems are significant, there are several challenges to implementation of the system that businesses need to overcome. These challenges include: differing regional requirements in regards to data privacy and protection; a lack of a training department that is centralized; a lack of a single business owner within the organization; diverse training needs across the organization; and the possibility of resistance among employees with regards to the learning management system being the single, unified system for training in the organization (Martin et al., 2005). These types of challenges may stall the implementation of the learning management system within the organization, but these challenges may be overcome through the adaptation of change management principles (Martin et al., 2005). These principles include: stakeholder alignment; knowledge transfer; governance; alignment of individuals as well as teams; as well as the management of performance (Martin et al., 2005). All of these principles aim to motivate the organization towards a common goal of global change toward a single, unified learning management system (Martin et al., 2005).
Implementation of a learning management system in the Aventis corporation resulted in a sense of flexibility, which promoted agility within the organization to efficiently deliver and train employees on diverse processes and procedures (Martin et al., 2005). In any business, implementation of a learning management system helps to ensure regulatory compliance within the organization, and allows the organization to meet demands and maintain competitive advantage (Martin et al., 2005).
Computerized systems are required in businesses to deal with several components of operations management. One area in which computer technology often proves useful is in the production of labor management reports (Kazahaya, 2005). It is optimal that businesses create user-friendly labor cost management reports, and this can be effectively achieved through the use of specially tailored computer programs that factor in all the critical data that is necessary.
Computer technology has also proven very useful in the area of storage virtualization (Lewis, 2005). Programs designed for storage management purposes allow users to monitor their whole storage infrastructure, and to proactively manage its operations and usage (Lewis, 2005). A central goal to researchers working in this area is to develop technological means of eliminating costly downtime. In an attempt to achieve this goal, managers who have networked their storage are aiming to: a) move production data in a non-disruptive manner across the storage infrastructure without ever needing to take down applications; and b) centralize the allocation of capacity, provisioning and the movement of data capabilities in efforts to provide increased flexibility in multi-level storage environments (Lewis, 2005). Overall, there are central principles to which practical technological solutions must adhere to. These principles include: that the solution solves a specific problem; the solution does not create new problems for the organization; and that the solution embraces the existing environment (Lewis, 2005).
Once again, the main goal in the development and implementation of computerized technologies for operations management is to achieve improvements in efficiency and effectiveness. For instance, the Musco Family Olive Company was looking for means to improve inventory management and product traceability, so they implemented management software that boosted the accuracy of inventory to approximately 100% (Albright, 2004). The system implemented by the organization was HighJump Software’s Supply Chain Advantage system. This software functions by tracking all materials that enter and leave the facility, and then forwards the information to the enterprise system. This system coordinates and tracks material as it moves to other warehouses (Albright, 2004). The benefits experienced due to the implementation of this system include: nearly 100% inventory accuracy; timely replenishment of packaging materials; real-time inventory data; fewer mispicks; and greatly improved picking times (Albright, 2004).
Computerized technologies designed to provide solutions for operations management within businesses continue to change, evolve, and grow in a positive direction. Technologies are becoming faster, smaller, and more efficient in terms of cost and productivity. The current business climate sees businesses as more reluctant to spend a lot on computer technology (Frost, 2002). Therefore, technology developers must remain competitive in providing solutions to businesses at affordable prices. Overall, technology aids businesses in remaining attentive to close details, and good systems must be great tools for time-management, which allow managers to focus on concepts requiring creative thought rather than routine tasks (Frings, 2004). Furthermore, innovations in technology will inevitably direct operations management into the future.
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Vantuono, W.C. (2004). Computer modeling’s role expands: a Railway Age/SYSTRA conference illustrated how computer modeling has progressed from an experimental specialty to an important food for rail operations and capital planning. Railway Age, April.