by Ken Robinson
Many Sheltered Workshops, which provide employment for the disabled, are under severe pressures at present. Many workshops gain orders by providing components to major customers, such as cable harnesses for the automotive or 'white goods' industries, and the like. The income is used not only to pay the workers but also to provide help for a spectrum of activities, outside the direct employment area. The gap in funding between income and expenditure is made up from government subsidies. Over the last few years, the financial situation for many Workshops has deteriorated markedly: customers are requiring ever more complex devices while also requiring prices to be kept constant or decreased; automation is now capable of tackling many jobs that were formerly done by Sheltered Workshops; the opening of Eastern Europe means that labour often one tenth as expensive as in the West is plentiful; and funds from national governments are generally falling.
This has meant that the Workshops are looking at new ways of running their businesses, and using new technologies to help them. One of these technologies is Business Process. A business process is a set of activities that an organisation undertakes to achieve some goal - typical examples include: making an insurance claim; getting a bank loan; ordering supplies; etc. Support for business process activities is now available from a recently-completed ESPRIT project, HICOS, which provides the full spectrum of support for business process activities, from process identification and analysis, through process re-design, through to process execution. This is done within the context of the organisation, so that existing software investment is not only preserved, but its life is extended, and a path to migrate such legacy software is provided, without impacting the running processes.
The WeDoIT project, an ESPRIT Business Best Practice Pilot, has been funded to enable two Sheltered Workshops, WAAK in Kortrijk (Belgium) and Lebenshilfe Werkstatt in Munich (Germany) to exploit this technology. Three of the technology partners from HICOS, empirica (Germany), Computer Lern Systeme (Germany), and RAL (UK), are helping the workshops use the HICOS system in two ways:
a) To enable the Workshops to examine their processes to make them more effective, both in terms of time to complete and process quality, and b) by setting up a Virtual Organisation, so that processes are shared between the two enterprises, providing a number of benefits, including:
The project is nearing the completion of its first year, and already a number of the WAAK and Lebenshilfe Werkstatt processes have been analysed, redesigned, and will shortly be in production. The planning for the Virtual Organisation is now well-advanced.
Ken Robinson - CLRC
Tel: +44 1 235 446491