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New Post 1/21/2011 1:02 PM
User is offline Dac
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Controlling a production factory via excel 

Hello everyone, this is my first post on MA.

A little background, I graduated this year with a BSc in CS & Psy and have been wanting to get into the IT industry since. But with no IT experience this is going to be tough. I have wanted to be a systems analyst for many years now so I am growing more hungry by the month. 

I am currently an administrator, not the IT kind but for a factory production office. The actual factory I work in has quite a large turnover spending over 200k a year just to cool it's production department let alone the cost of raw meat, labour, packaging etc. What concerns me is that the entire planning department is ran using excel spreadsheets, one in particular of 10mb in size full of open formulas. Extremely slow, manual and tedious it's a very big bottlekneck is productivity for us. The production lines and despatch are controlled by FOPS by Hellenic V6, and the support staff use SAP for finance, purchase orders and HR. 

You would think we would emigrate to a decent ERP system but this is not the case. They have hired an excel power user who is creating a whole suite of excel spreadsheets to control everything from planning to finance to trasnport, capacities you name it. I am aware of shadow IT, and we have a lot of it, but is this a common solution that works? After all it is one man one vision on these damn things, with a complete disregard for any documentation other than user guides. 

I am hoping for comments on this from those in the know about my situation.



New Post 1/23/2011 8:25 PM
User is offline KJ
243 posts
6th Level Poster

Re: Controlling a production factory via excel 



I’m not in the know of your systems, but here is my take on it …


Part 1: Having disparate systems in businesses is the norm. When you take an inventory of systems at most places, you’ll find lots of applications – some that integrate and others that don’t. Some ERP packages (like SAP and others), although touted as enterprise software do not meet the needs of all business processes. In particular, your ERP may not be as strong in process manufacturing as your business requires, and someone has had the bright idea to use spreadsheets for production planning/scheduling. Although not preferred, but this disparate planning/scheduling function is done through spreadsheets at lots of places.(I used to consult in the manufacturing/production domain for KPMG). Eg. I once worked for a Paper Producer that implemented the latest SAP but used an old DBASEIII application (quite vogue in 1980s) on a XT/PC for production planning/scheduling for the mill. Well the short answer to your question whether its normal for companies to have disparate systems including spreadsheets is YES!


Part 2: One of the things to do at your business is to map the high-level business process. Eg. map processes like order-to-cash; hire-to-retire and others. Map these processes as simple bubbles/chevrons in a row on an A4 page (no more than 7 +- 2 bubbles/chevrons, remember the old psychology working memory thing). Underneath each of the bubbles/chevrons record the systems that support the process (including the spreadsheets). Not only will this allow you to fully understand the business process; you’ll also have an inventory of system/spreadsheets that support the business.


Part 3: armed with a list of application that support a process, evaluate how each of these applications add value to the business process. You could use a “Boston Matrix” (google it) and map Technology (Low-high) on one axis and Process (Low-high) on the other axis. Once you know which applications are good (top right hand quadrant, High Process-High Technology) get rid of or modify the others. If your Power EXCEL programmer is NOT working on Top Right hand quadrant stuff; s/he is wasting your businesses time and money. Eg. using this method, I once showed management in a government company that their succession planning software (Low process – high technology Quadrant) did not support their key succession planning process and that the $1.6 M spent on software was a waste. This news was not received well; but acted upon non-the-less.


The latter bit is all about “doing the right thing” that supports the business process.


Warm regards,



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