Kaizen and the Philosophy of Continual Improvement

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One of the mostly well-known and widely used philosophies of continual improvement originated in Japan. It is known by the name, kaizen, which translates approximately to “good change”. Kaizen has been employed in a wide range of industries – healthcare, banking, psychotherapy, government, and many others. In business, kaizen typically refers to activities that continually improve all business functions and involve all employees.

Kaizen is frequently used to optimize purchasing, logistics, and supply chain processes, and has been employed in lean manufacturing processes to help eliminate waste. Kaizen was first used by Japanese businesses following World War II, and has since spread throughout the world and been implemented in environments outside of business and productivity.

Kaizen places a strong emphasis on employee feedback, encouraging employees at every level to apply the scientific method in learning how to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. Kaizen can be applied in a very small, personalized way, or it can apply to larger processes that involve groups of employees. In a very general way, the Kaizen methodology can be understood as:

  1. Discovering opportunities for small adjustments based on process data and customer feedback
  2. Implementing these small changes incrementally
  3. Monitoring the results of each individual adjustment for a certain period of time
  4. Using the new data to make adjustments
  5. Defining the results of successful adjustments as standards, and using these standards as baselines for additional improvements
  6. Repeating this cycle indefinitely

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The kaizen philosophy aims to improve process efficiency, quality, and safety by making it easier for employees to do their jobs well and with confidence – rather than expecting them to work harder through incentives or fear of replacement.

Improvements made using the kaizen philosophy are typically on a much smaller scale than those found in the “command and control” improvement programs popularized in the mid-twentieth century.

This system of incrementally improving operations is also known the Shewhart Cycle, Deming Cycle, or PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act).

Similar ideas are investigated in the realms of Organizational Development (OD) or Business Process Improvement (BPI). The general intent of all of these philosophies is the same: to maximize the value of all available material, personal, and intellectual assets and to improve business processes by making use of resources that are already available.

Like the methods outlined above, other popular methods like Six Sigma, Lean, and Total Quality Management emphasize employee involvement and collaboration, standardizing processes, and reducing variations, defects and cycle times.

Excerpted from the whitepaper “Continual Improvement with Status”, downloaded at www.scada.com.

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4 Common Obstacles Between Your Enterprise and the IoT

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It should come as no surprise that most companies today have some sort of IoT initiative being discussed, planned, or developed – if not already implemented. And this phenomenon is global and completely horizontal. The early adopters of IoT are already seeing positive returns, and the march of progress is overwhelming if not inevitable.

Why Aren’t We All There Yet?

For those still planning their IoT initiatives and smoothing out the details, there are several barriers that can get in the way. Some of the most commonly cited in surveys include: security concerns, difficulty quantifying ROI to CEOs, concerns about compatibility with existing data systems, and concerns about the technical skills of the staff to implement such strategies.

Obstacle 1 – Increased Exposure of Data/Information Security

As could be expected, security is the almost always biggest concern in most organizations. With the World Wide Web as an example, people today are fully aware of the dangers inherent in transmitting data between nodes on a network. With many of these organizations working with key proprietary operational data that could prove advantageous to a competitor if exposed, the concern is very understandable.

Obstacle 2 – Proving ROI/Making the Business Case

This is a classic example of not knowing what you don’t know. Without an established example of how similar initiatives have impacted your organization in the past – or even how similarly sized and structured organizations have been impacted – it can be very difficult to demonstrate in a tangible way exactly how these efforts will impact the bottom line. Without being able to make the business case, it will be difficult for executives to sign off any new initiatives. This is likely why larger organizations ($5+ billion in annual revenue) are much more likely to have already implemented IoT initiatives, while smaller organizations are still in the planning phase.

Obstacle 3 – Interoperability with Current Infrastructure/Systems

Nobody likes to start over, and many of the executives surveyed are dealing with organizations who have made enormous investments in the technology they are currently using. The notion of a “rip and replace” type of implementation is not very appealing. The cost is not only related to the downtime incurred in these cases, but the wasted cost associated with the expensive equipment and software systems that are being cast aside. In most cases, to gain any traction at all a proposed IoT initiative will have to work with the systems that are already in place – not replace them.

Obstacle 4 – Finding the Right Staff/Skill Sets for IoT Strategy and Implementation

With the IoT still being a fairly young concept, many organizations are concerned that they lack the technical expertise needed to properly plan and implement an IoT initiative. There are many discussions taking place about how much can be handled by internal staff and how much may need to be out-sourced. Without confidence in their internal capabilities, it is also difficult to know whether they even have a valid strategy or understanding of the possibilities. Again, this is a case where larger organizations with larger pools of talent have an advantage.

There are some valid concerns, and not all of them lend themselves to simple solutions. In truth, many of the solutions will vary from one organization to the next. However, in many cases the solutions could be as simple as just choosing the right software platform. Finding a platform that eases your concerns about interoperability can also help ease your concerns about whether your staff can handle the change, as there will be no need to replace equipment. Likewise, a platform that can be integrated seamlessly into your current operations to help improve efficiency and implement optimization strategies will also make it much easier to demonstrate ROI.

Excerpted from the whitepaper “Choosing the Right IoT Platform”, downloaded at www.scada.com.