A Survey of Medium Sized Business in German-speaking Europe
Jakob Lewandowski, Matthias Buhl and Burkhard Kittl
Institute for Production Engineering, Vienna University of Technology, Karlsplatz 13, 1040 Vienna, Austria
Keywords: Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), IT survey, Manufacturing Execution System (MES), Medium-sized
business, Production Planning and Control.
Abstract: This paper addresses the use of IT-applications for production planning and control of medium-sized
businesses in German-speaking Europe. The article summarises challenges today and expectations for the
future. In particular, the kind of IT systems in use, experiences and satisfaction with IT support were key
questions of the study. Basis of the research was a telephone survey with 150 IT managers of representative
medium-sized enterprises in production, trade and service sectors.
Production and therewith combined planning and
controlling of resources are the core of every
company in the manufacturing industry. Although
most of the factories enforce development and
adaptation of the technological processes, the
capabilities of IT applications for organizing and
handling the production process are still
underestimated. Many troubles are arising out of
linguistic barriers between suppliers/consultants and
users. There is no obligatory nomenclature and the
latest endeavours for standardisation are rarely used
or even known by many users. This fact leads to
misconceived coherences and in the worst case to
prejudices regarding the qualities of IT systems.
Moreover, medium-sized enterprises don’t have
sufficient IT resources compared to bigger
companies. For this segment the cost-benefit ratio of
automating workflows in the production planning
and control level often is not in evidence.
Furthermore the mid-sized business is confronted
with an unclear diversity of software applications for
the production area.
The topic of IT applications in production
planning and control has kept many developers and
scientists busy for decades but it is more than ever
relevant, because there is still no satisfying solution
for bridging the divide between the shop floor and
management. Even the great efforts of leading
business-software companies in the last years have
only brought minor improvement. Getting a better
insight into the use of and the opinions about IT
solutions in the industry was the impulse to start a
survey to collect useful information for further
research projects.
The study consists of face-to-face and telephone
The subject of production planning and control is
quite complex, so intensive preparation for the face-
to-face interviews was indispensable. Almost half of
the project time was spend on literature studies as
well as developing and evaluating the questionnaire.
In the qualitative face-to-face interviews with
twenty-two representative enterprises, the authors
wanted to explore how comfortable the interview
partners feel concerning terms and definitions in this
topic. In order to get a proper data base additional
telephone interviews with 150 IT managers were
carried out. The point of interest was defined as
systems in “Business Planning and Logistics” (layer
4) and the “Manufacturing Operations and Control”
(layer 3) according to the ANSI/ISA-95 standard
(Instrument Society of America, 2000).
Lewandowski J., Buhl M. and Kittl B. (2008).
IT APPLICATIONS IN PRODUCTION PLANNING AND CONTROL - A Survey of Medium Sized Business in Ger man-speaking Europe.
In Proceedings of the International Conference on e-Business, pages 285-291
DOI: 10.5220/0001905702850291
2.1 Objectives
The basic objectives of the survey carried out in
German-speaking regions were:
Finding out the problems enterprises have in
the area of production planning and control.
Identifying and locating the use of IT
Pin-pointing the prejudices and expectations
concerning IT systems
Assessing the experiences and best practices
with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and
manufacturing execution systems (MES).
2.2 Target Group
While the European German-speaking market is
dominated by small to medium sized enterprises, the
businesses size chosen for the survey ranged from
50 to 500 employees. The majority of the companies
belonged to the continuous or discrete producing
industry, but the trade and service sector was
allowed also.
2.3 Survey Model
As a basis for the survey a theoretical framework
was used. It combined the tasks and functions of the
“Aachener model for production and control”
(Schuh, 2006) with the structure of the ANSI-ISA95
standard (Instrument Society of America, 2000). In
addition, a cross-check with further American and
European literature like MESA (MESA, 1997) or the
VDI-report (VDI, 2006) combined the particular
advantages of each model. The functional hierarchy
of the ANSI/ISA-95 standard is exposed in Figure 1.
The survey model consisted of three main parts.
The first one gave a hierarchical structured overview
of the functions in the production and control of the
manufacturing industry. In the second part the
functions of order processing were drawn in a task
related flow-chart. The third part is a checklist
referencing functions and processes for the face-to-
face interviews in order to allow free conversation
and obtain structured and comparable information at
the same time.
The analysis of the collected data occurred on the
basis of several key questions. First of all, what kind
IT systems do medium-sized enterprises use at the
moment? Furthermore how satisfied are the
companies with their applications? Positive and
negative experiences and expectations essentially
depend on the idea the enterprises have of concepts
like enterprise resource planning or manufacturing
execution systems. For this reason it was important
to find out how conclusive these concepts are for
companies. Another critical issue was to ascertain
the challenges entrepreneurs are facing in the
production area. Above all, how far should processes
be automated respectively is it really desirable to
have every process supported by an IT system in
order to stay on a competitive basis?
Figure 1: Functional hierarchy (Instrument Society of
America, 2000).
3.1 Business Planning and Logistics
The first part of the results is primarily addressing
Layer 4 of the ANSI/ISA-95 standard (“Business
Planning and Logistics”). This is usually the domain
of enterprise resource planning systems. To get a
general idea of what kind of applications are in use,
Table 1 reveals the size of enterprises as well as the
type of ERP-system. The categories are standard
software offered by global vendors, as well as
standard software sold by regional vendors and
individual software. The most remarkable point is
that more than 50% of companies still have
individual ERP-software in use, either as a stand-
alone system or as an additional solution.
Concerning the age of the IT systems an
important finding was that more than 20% of the
analysed ERP-systems were older than 10 years.
Due to this fact and the fact that the average age of
the ERP-systems in use is approximately eight years
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Figure 2: Companies where business processes run parallel to ERP-System (n=150, telephonic interviews).
the issue of individual software becomes more
Table 1: ERP-systems in use (n=150, telephone
<100 101-250 251-500 Total
Standard software global vendors
In use 60,5% 61,8% 87,5% 68,0%
Rollout 2,6% 2,9% 0,0% 2,0%
Planned 1,4% 0,0% 0,0% 0,7%
Nonexistent 35,5% 35,3% 12,5% 29,3%
Standard software regional vendors
In use 30,3% 35,3% 20,0% 28,6%
Nonexistent 69,7% 64,7% 80,0% 71,3%
Individual software
In use 63,2% 52,9% 42,5% 55,3%
Rollout 5,3 5,9% 0,0% 4,0%
Nonexistent 31,5 41,2% 57,5% 40,7%
A moderate enhancement was determined relating to
the rollout time of ERP-systems. Compared with
studies in the last decade, the time period decreased.
Concerning the fields of application like material
management or production planning, there was no
significant difference between standard and
individual software. Material management,
procurement, sales as well as controlling and
accounting were implemented by most of the
companies. Rare domains were production planning
and quality management. The reason for this is the
diversity of the manufacturing processes, even
within an industry sector.
A conspicuous connection was detected between
the type of ERP-system and the management of
business processes. There were considerably less IT
supported business processes running parallel to the
ERP-system in companies using software by global
vendors. It seems obvious that ERP-systems of
leading vendors are employed more efficiently.
Table 2 contains a summary of the criterions
leading to the decision for a certain ERP-system.
The gist is that companies belonging to a concern or
group usually have no bearing on decisions because
most of these are predetermined. The second and
third most relevant motives were flexibility and
sectoral advantages. The fact that both consultancy
and license fees are rated below three percent
indicates that these costs are ranked as a non-
determining factor regarding the total cost of
The information relating to how comfortable the
medium-sized enterprises are with their IT systems
can be regarded as inconspicuous, but even so
significant. The data content of Table 3 gives an
overview of the three groups of ERP-systems.
There was no difference in the degree of
functional coverage as well as satisfaction between
German-speaking Europe
companies with standard or individual software in
use. The user driven margin that individual systems
naturally should have is not recognizable.
Table 2: Criterions for selecting an ERP-System (n=150,
telephone interviews).
<100 101-
23,7% 32,4% 37,5% 29,3%
to specific
6,6% 0,0% 7,5% 5,3%
4,0% 5,98% 2,5% 4,0%
2,6% 0,0% 2,5% 2,0%
Size of
0,00% 5,9% 12,5% 4,7%
of the
specific ERP
10,5% 5,9% 7,5% 8,7%
5,3% 5,9% 17,5% 8,7%
1,3% 2,9% 0,00% 1,3%
License fees 2,6% 0,0% 2,5% 2,0%
19,7% 32,3% 12,5% 20,7%
Flexibility 13,1% 8,8% 20,0% 14,0%
N/a 18,4% 11,8% 0,0% 12,0%
Changing attitudes to IT support and the
adaptation of business processes were detected. In
the medium-sized businesses more than 27% of the
companies using software by global vendors are
outsourcing their IT support. Worthy of mention is
that the smaller the amount of employees of a
company is the more likely IT support is outsourced.
Asked for satisfaction with external IT support in
general the average evaluation number was 1,82
(1=excellent, 5=insufficient).
The way medium-sized enterprises saw
expectations and requirements in the near future
often depended on the management. In general,
companies agreed to the statement: “The more
business’ processes are automated the bigger the
benefit for the company”. Furthermore, companies
are poised to align business processes to save costs
for customizing the IT system. These two findings
were emanating from the telephone interviews as
well as from the face-to-face-interviews. The
awareness of corporate responsibility for a
successful IT implementation is obvious, the
capability and benefits of ERP-systems are
established. Basically there was a high degree of
trust in ERP-systems.
Table 3: Functional coverage of and satisfaction with
ERP-systems (n=150, telephone interviews).
software /
software /
Degree of functional coverage
/ Material
91,3% 90,9% 91,0%
91,3% 90,4% 88,5%
90,3% 92,0% 92,0%
Controlling 93,5% 90,9% 91,8%
91,6% 91,6% 87,0%
92,7% 85,1% 90,4%
Satisfaction (1=very satisfying, 5=unsatisfied)
/ Material
1,8 1,5 1,8
1,8 1,6 1,9
1,7 1,8 1,9
Controlling 17 1,7 1,7
1,8 1,7 1,9
1,8 1,7 1,8
This confidence was reflected in the fact that
calculating the return on investment very often is no
issue to companies. They attach great importance to
the factors, which are impossible to measure (e.g.
transparency, communication, etc).
The expectations in the ERP-system itself rise
after an adaptation phase, so long-term support is
very important for the companies as well as the
vendors. In most cases the area of material
management indicates improvement very quickly.
Users are noticing the limits of the ERP-systems in
the area of manufacturing. Reported reasons are the
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Figure 3: Requirements for IT software in the production area (n=22, face-to-face interviews).
inflexible structure of the ERP-systems, the
unsatisfying reporting capabilities and unsolved
problems with machine and control interfaces. In the
face-to-face interviews it was found out that IT
trainings often are not mandatory in order to reduce
costs during the implementing phase. At least some
of the companies came to the conclusion that these
retrenchments have negative effects on the system
Finally the most important, because most often
mentioned demands on IT software from the survey
are summarised in Figure . The first four positions in
the bar chart are demands for one integrated system,
simple usability, central data management and
flexible interfaces. Additional needs were assured
vendor support, as well as monitoring and displaying
the production process.
In many companies management demands more
key performance indicators, this naturally militates
in favour of integrated IT system. As a closing
insight, companies know that there is still potential
within the ERP-sector, thus it is not remarkable that
the IT budgets stay equal or will increase within the
next 5 years.
3.2 Manufacturing Operations and
Compared to the layer of business planning and
logistics, the IT systems used for the shop floor
show a lower level of integration respectively are
not existent. Whereas almost each business (97%)
uses ERP-software and the majority even works with
an integrated standard software tool (more than
80%), the situation of MES-software presents itself
absolutely different.
The number of enterprises, which have a totally
integrated IT System is limited to approximately
10%. Most of the questioned companies apply IT
systems just for certain activities in their shop floor.
They use a combination of standard software tools
like quality- or scheduling-software (approx. 40%),
individually developed software (30%) and MS
Office products (30%). About 20% of the enterprises
run the production area even without any IT system.
Remarkable is the fact that IT systems in use are
quite old. More than half of the companies quote to
work with software which is older than ten years.
Moreover there has not been any rollout of an IT
system at the questioned companies in layer 3 since
2005, and the satisfaction with the existing IT
applications is quite positive (with an average of 1,4
using 1 as very satisfying and 5 as unsatisfying). The
companies polled in the face-to-face interviews
German-speaking Europe
didn’t think it’s necessary to exchange their current
IT systems in the shop floor. Some of them had
already started IT projects in the shop floor, which
were cancelled later due to the confusing situation of
available IT solutions and vendors on the market or
not evident cost-benefit ratio.
A few enterprises try to fill the gap between the
layer of business planning and logistics and the
manufacturing operations and control by extending
their existing ERP-system. But the majority thinks
that the ERP-system is not flexible enough to cope
with their requirements in the shop floor, which are:
Clustering and analysing existent data.
Decentralising know-how
The need for traceability.
The reduction of partial solutions and
Increased transparency.
The general requirements for IT software in the
production area are shown in Figure . The main
points deal with system integration and data
A lot of enterprises were not sure about the cost-
benefit of an integrated MES solution, because there
are only a few running reference systems. This could
be the reason, why the integration of standard MES
software is a low priority subject in many
The possibility of expanding the ERP-software
was more often considered by companies which are
not so familiar with MES yet. Furthermore the
number of employees is an indicator whether an
enterprise is thinking about this alternative. The
smaller a business is, the more it tries to avoid a
second integrated system next to ERP. Usually the
manpower of mid-sized businesses for
implementation and service of a second IT system is
insufficient. On the other hand there were a
significant number of companies, who didn’t believe
that an extension of an integrated ERP system into
the shop floor is possible. They pointed out that an
ERP system is not able to cope with the
requirements of the shop floor. In particular
flexibility and planning intervals were mentioned.
Gathering and clustering data from the shop floor
is a main topic in almost every enterprise. Most of
the data is transferred in the direction from layer
three to four. The opposite direction regarding order
data is often realized by manual instructions or
documents. Only few companies, who have already
dealt intensely with the subject of MES, demand a
bidirectional information flow.
Although most of the enterprises don’t have an
IT system for detailed scheduling, it is seen as a
critical business process for the ability to respond to
the market.
Another topic in the shop floor was traceability.
Many companies are confronted with this subject
due to legal obligations or product claims. In many
cases the functionalities of ERP-solutions in this
regard are not satisfying and systems without IT
support are in use.
A lot of enterprises use specialised IT systems
for particular functionalities in their production. The
interfaces between these systems are a main, but
unsolved problem. Attempts to solve this problem
with Manufacturing Execution Systems were
stopped, because the offered systems were not able
to integrate the existing IT applications or
programmable controllers satisfyingly.
Many enterprises were aware of the fact that the
implementation of new systems has to go together
with reengineering the processes.
Further chances of development were assigned to
maintenance. This MES function turned out to be an
exception, especially in the face-to-face interviews.
More than 50% of end-users claimed that
maintenance is a very important element but only a
percentage under 10% declared to use a standard-
software for planning and controlling the
maintenance processes at all.
Compared to a study of Trovarit (Trovarit, 2004)
the awareness level of MES has not changed
significantly. More than half of the companies have
not heard about MES yet. In particular enterprises
with less than 350 employees usually don’t know
this term. Furthermore there is a relation between the
date of rollout of the ERP system and the know-how
of MES. Only companies, who had applied their
ERP system more than 10 years ago, have dealt
intensely with the topic, or even used an MES
In general the potential for further development in
the field of production planning and -control is
estimated very high. Almost each of the questioned
companies quoted to struggle with one or more
functions of this area. Up to the rough planning the
enterprise resource planning systems got well
established within the last decade. It emerged that
when moving from planning to the control of the
production process that the bigger part of the
medium-sized enterprisers places emphasis on
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individual software or “no software” solutions.
Although there are many old systems in use the
companies are highly satisfied and prefer solutions
decoupled from the ERP-system. In particular the
segments quality assurance and staff work time
logging are concerned.
Based on the findings of this study, one may
generally conclude that for the majority of the
medium-sized companies in the production industry
the term MES is largely unknown. Even if some
enterprises are familiar with the definition of MES
they are not able to distinguish the functional
environments of a manufacturing execution system.
The most criticised items headed by this group are
the complexity of the MES-market, as well as the
unfeasible commitments from software vendors.
Also remarkable for the authors was that no
enterprise polled in the face-to-face interviews had
implemented a new software-system within the last
three years. The statement of uncertainty relating to
new software was considerable. Companies doubt
that implementation of new MES will bring more
benefits. The case that positive references are
missing has to be mentioned additionally at this
Production enterprises, having long lasting
experience with ERP-system are more willing to
evaluate functions in the area of MES. Their know-
how in implementing and maintaining this standard-
software system is instrumental in realising new IT
In general there is an unexplainable gap between
the demands and the willingness to invest in the
shop floor. In other words enterprises agreed to the
advantages of an automated workflow but almost
none of the polled companies has an automated
workflow established or is willing to provide the
required resources.
Users that exhaust the functional limits of ERP-
system in the production area are increasingly
claiming for more flexibility and more transparency,
attributes very often expected from MES software.
In the first instance the fixed framework and the not
available real-time data are criticised, a standardised
bi-directional interface between ERP and control
layer does not exist. A high potential is attributed to
this unsolved section.
Looking into the future there is an irrepealable
tendency to integrated systems. The majority of the
medium-sized businesses prefer one fully integrated
IT system as personal resources are regularly
undersized. This fact offers a chance for ERP-
systems. There is still an enormous potential for the
development of ERP-systems in particular
concerning interfaces. These systems have to
provide more and better connectivity in order to
allow easy integration of satellite systems. All in all,
companies are quite happy with their ERP-systems.
In the sector of MES the request for one fully
integrated IT system is more likely to meet the idea
of an integration framework. Moreover enterprises
are reluctant to substitute successful partial software
solutions by a totally integrated MES. Together with
the problem of low IT resources the step of
exchanging the whole software landscape in the
shop floor seems to be too risky for medium sized
companies. But the integration of capsuled MES
functions into a framework with the opportunity of
step by step extension is a worthwhile alternative.
Another benefit of an integration framework is that
MES functionalities like maintenance can easily use
existing functionality of the ERP system.
Information about the production process or
machine parameters are usually collected by several
systems in the shop floor and the ERP. The job of
the integrating framework is to allocate and analyse
the information in order to provide it to a planning
In a test facility different MES scenarios will be
simulated. In one scenario it is planned to cover the
functionalities of an MES by using an off-the-shelf
MES product. In another scenario we are going to
use an IT framework such as xMII for the
integration of dedicated software tools like
scheduler, shop floor data acquisition or tool
Instrument Society of America, 2000. ANSI/ISA–
95.00.01–2000, Enterprise-Control System
Integration, Part 1: Models and Terminology, North
MESA International, 1997. MESA White Paper #06: MES
Explained: A High Level Vision, Pittsburgh.
Schuh, G., 2006. Produktionsplanung und –steuerung,
Grundlagen, Gestaltung und Konzepte, Springer,
Berlin Heidelberg, 3rd Edition.
Trovarit AG, 2004. MES-Echtzeit in der Fertigung?!,
VDI Berichte 5600, 2006. Manufacturing Execution
Systems - Fertigungsmanagementsysteme, Blatt 1,
Beuth Verlag, Berlin, First draft.
German-speaking Europe