Category: Operations Management

System Architecture, a new book by Bruce Cameron

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 16 days ago

System Architecture

A new book, System Architecture: Strategy and Product Development for Complex Systems, by Bruce Cameron, Director of the System Architecture Lab at MIT and a Lecturer in Engineering Systems, focuses on modern complex systems and the science behind them. It is the result of 20 years of research by Cameron and his fellow co-authors Edward F. Crawley, President of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow and Daniel Selva, a Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell.

At the highest level, Cameron explains how to look at system architecture as a series of decisions that can be actively sorted and managed. Readers are provided with examples of good architectures and the modes of thinking required to analyze system architectures. The case studies presented range from building farm equipment to the International Space Station.

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Why commonality sometimes fails

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 months and 13 days ago

Commonality, or the reuse and sharing of components, manufacturing processes, architectures, interfaces, and infrastructure across the members of a product family, is a strategy targeted at improving corporate profitability. Companies from Toyota to GE use product platform strategies to deliver more variety to their customers and compete more effectively. For example, Black and Decker uses shared motors and batteries across a range of power tools. Volkswagen models such as the Jett and TT share similar underbody components and other aspects.

Typical benefits of a commonality, or a product platform strategy, include:

  • Shared development costs
  • Common testing procedures
  • Production economies of scale
  • Amortized fixed costs
  • Reduced inventory

By definition, commonality seems like an obviously good thing. Why incur the cost of making different parts for different products if the parts do the same thing?  Because as it turns out, commonality is not always the right thing to do. And even when it is right, it can be difficult to achieve.

Dr. Bruce Cameron is a lecturer in MIT's Engineering Systems Division and a consultant on platform strategies. His research at MIT uses a healthy dose of systems thinking to tease out when commonality makes sense and how to get companies to pull it off. Cameron oversaw the MIT Commonality Study, which closely examined 30 firms over eight years. The study was the first work to uncover that many firms fail to achieve their desired commonality targets, showing weaker investment return on their platform investments. "That type of behavior and phenomenon is seen in studies that we did in automotive, consumer products, and transport," says Cameron.

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Better banking through IT innovation: A custom programs success story

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 5 months and 19 days ago

A decade ago, Commonwealth Bank of Australia--the largest retail bank on the continent--had been grappling with an IT operation that was costly, inefficient, and sometimes unreliable. Back then, the bank was determined to transform itself into an operation that was #1 in customer service with the lowest costs in class.

With that goal in mind, Michael Harte, a forward-thinking executive who joined CBA as CIO in 2006, connected with the MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). (CISR develops concepts and frameworks to help executives and their organizations address IT-related challenges.) Soon after, MIT Sloan faculty and program designers from the Executive Education office collaborated to create a custom program that would help transform CBA's IT leaders from functional managers to strategic thinkers.

"We designed a program around what the bank needed to achieve in three to five years. It had three components that today's banks must have to be successful–one was effectively managing digitization or IT; second was strategy options for the company; and the third was organizational change," says Peter Weill, Senior Research Scientist and Chair of CISR. 

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Are mobile payments today's VHS / Betamax battle?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 11 months and 3 days ago

People of a certain age likely remember the battle between VHS and Betamax. These were the first two affordable in-home video tape systems, and they were completely different formats, incompatible with each other. Sony’s Betamax hit the market in 1975, but the company had previewed the product to other manufacturers the previous year. The company hoped that the other manufacturers would back their Betamax format, thus enabling competitors to develop and market compatible products to the marketplace. 

Instead, JVC developed a competing format, VHS (Video Home System)—and the home video recorder format war began. The competing platforms battled on the retail cost of the systems and on recording time. JVC licensed the technology to other manufacturers, while Sony was the sole manufacturer of Betamax until the late 1980s. Sony went from owning 100% of the market share in 1975 to just 25% of the U.S. consumer home market.

What does that history have to do with the quickly evolving world of mobile payments? In “Mobile Pay Not Yet Ready for Prime Time,” Boston Globe’s Scott Kirsner writes, “We’ve got smartphone apps and accompanying devices [for mobile payments] that work at one retail chain or a bunch—but nothing yet that’s universal.” Given that, the market is poised for another potential platform battle.

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Managing the seasonality of products

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 4 days ago

The seasonality of products is an issue that manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and consumers are well aware of. We all know back-to-school advertising, products, and sales hit stores in July. Soon after, we see Halloween items. And before Halloween even arrives, we start to see Christmas advertisements and promotions. Getting ahead of the season has become standard operating procedure.

But when is it too early to issue a seasonal product? Many craft beer aficionados are beginning to argue that the practice of "seasonal creep" has gone too far. Simply put, seasonal creep is when a beer specific to a season appears on store shelves way before the season actually hits. The best example is the category of pumpkin beers.

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It’s time to rethink wages

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 4 months and 22 days ago

For the last year or so, there’s been a significant amount of news coverage around the wages paid to low-income earners, such as those working at fast food outlets and in retail stores. There have been public protests, calls for boycotts, and legislation to raise the minimum wage in some states.

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The need for supply chain flexibility

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 5 months and 25 days ago

According to David Simchi-Levi, Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT Sloan, “a growing number of U.S. executives are moving some production operations back from overseas.” While there are a great number of factors driving that trend, one is the need for supply chain flexibility. Today’s global supply chain presents a significant amount of risk, mostly due to the combination of geographically diverse supply chains and Just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing that results in low inventory levels. 

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Clients and their perceptions can prevent successful diversification

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 6 months and 8 days ago

Why is it that some organizations can successfully diversify, while others cannot? Some businesses can increase their complexity by expanding into new markets, creating new products or services for new audiences and succeed, while others seek to do so, and fail.

Ezra Zuckerman, Professor of Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management at MIT Sloan, claims that there are identity-based limits to diversification that have more to do with a client’s perception of the organization than the actual integrity of the services delivered by the organization. In other words, an organization can have superior talent, the best operations, and a delivery of new services or products that is top notch, but if somehow this new direction clashes with a client’s perception of the firm, they may lose the client. These factors should be closely examined prior to a company's diversification. 

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