Christian Verstraete, Chief Technologist – Cloud at Hewlett-Packard Company, discusses the integration of IT and lean, and how the cloud can support the implementation of an improvement programme.

Roberto Priolo: Do you think IT solutions providers are currently responding to the needs of lean practitioners? If not, what is missing from their offering?

Christian Verstraete: Lean requires visibility, understanding of what happens so waste can be found. IT can be a formidable way to do so by gathering and presenting evidence on what is really happening. Particularly when you get beyond the factory or the office, when you try creating a lean “supply chain” in the widest sense of the term. Today, too little IT solutions are focused on delivering the visibility required, in particular the visibility of how business processes, many of which are held in IT systems, truly operate. Gaining business process insight is key for developing lean processes.

RP: How can the Cloud contribute to the achievement of operational excellence?

CV: When the business processes under review cross enterprise boundaries, having a central, trustworthy place where information is gathered, processed, analysed and presented is critical to ensure all parties trust the results. Cloud, and in particular a managed, community or public cloud, is an ideal place to do this.

RP: How has HP’s lean journey developed over time, what results were achieved and how did IT contribute to it?

CV: HP has been using lean and six sigma in many areas over the years. We actually started using TQC more than 30 years ago, originally in our Japanese subsidiary and then took it worldwide. IT has been central to deliver the information used as the baseline to start the analysis. This happened through the use of what became known as business intelligence data, lifted right out of our operational systems. We then integrated our suppliers to go beyond the boundaries of the company.

RP: Part of your background is in supply chain. We all know how important alignment of suppliers with our operations is, but this is often easier said than done (the Toyota recalls come to mind). What do you think the future of supply chains is?

CV: There are several aspects to this. First, trust needs to be built between customer and supplier; then a common agreement has to be reached as far as the information exchanged. The use of reference models such as SCOR can be helpful in this area. And then a neutral environment needs to be established where all can share the agreed upon information to provide supply chain visibility. This will serve as a basis for operational management, and tactical/strategic analysis. I see such integration slowly but surely being built in successful supply chains. This will lead to six sigma and lean analysis of these supply chains, making them more agile and responsible, while increasing their resilience at a lower cost. So, a lot of exciting work ahead.

RP: You are one of the speakers at the upcoming Operxcon 2013 in Prague. What can delegates expect to learn from your presentation?

I will be speaking about how to establish the visibility I talked about, create the environment to allow people to gain a better understanding of their key business processes. I’ll use the supply chain as an example of how this can be achieved.