The Manufacturing Sector: Finding Its Feet in the Connected World

July 30, 2015 By: Prabhu Jha

The manufacturing industry, despite being one of the oldest sectors, has been slower than some of the other verticals to automate. Unlike industries such as Banking, Finance and Insurance, IT-ITES and even the government, the manufacturing sector, particularly, the small and medium organizations, have been hesitant to embrace the state-of-the-art and harness the power of IT to achieve business benefits.

SMEs in the manufacturing sector have typically had the attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and slow in the automation of their processes and the shop floor.

As the world goes digital, however, and disruptive technologies such as the Internet-of-Things, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Social, Cloud, Mobile, Video, E-commerce and Analytics completely transform the landscape, manufacturing companies are being compelled to align with these trends in order to survive and provide unmatched experiences to their customers.

The challenges they are facing moreover, such as rapidly shortening product lifecycles, the need to lower manufacturing costs through sustained innovation and improving the effectiveness of their sales, marketing and customer-focused initiatives, are further spurring them to take the technology route. Automate or perish is expected to become the key driver for manufacturing organizations going forward.

For several organizations today, it is also about modernizing their existing software applications. Many manufacturing companies are using legacy software, such as platforms from Progress, which needs to be upgraded to the newer, more cutting-edge versions & smart manufacturing solutions.

Staying with old software is preventing manufacturing firms from growing rapidly and staying productive in an environment where new age web and mobile technologies rule. Legacy software, which is not optimized for the emerging tech landscape, impairs system performance, is costly to maintain, requires people skills, which are hard to find, is slow due to older architecture and prevents organizations to bring products to market quickly and efficiently.

These reasons are creating a compelling need for manufacturing companies to standardize, modernize and consolidate their application portfolios. They need to do this in order to future -proof their technology investments, improve their market competitiveness, staunch the loss of revenues resulting from these aging apps and deliver customer delight.

The future for manufacturing companies, in fact, is going to be all about raising the customer experience and differentiating their offerings in a ‘me-too’ marketplace using IT as the lever. In the years ahead, manufacturing companies will need to deviate from the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and ‘old is gold’ approach, and deploy cutting-edge technologies across the total manufacturing lifecycle, from product design, supply to manufacturing operations. The goal will be to improve their responsiveness to emerging trends and gain an edge in their respective domains.

As they take the technology path, emerging platforms such as the Cloud, for instance, are going to become critical. The rapidly proliferating delivery model is offering organizations in the manufacturing sector—including steel, cement, auto and paper industries—to cost-effectively automate their sourcing and procurement, manage the supply chain, IT enable their HR systems and handle employee lifecycle data, and improve their relationship with customers and partners as well as finances.

A growing number of manufacturing companies are now using Cloud-based solutions to handle their leads, events, sales, accounts as well as financial activities (auditing, managing budgets, assets, debtors, etc.) to become more efficient and productive.

All this through a hosted, pay-as-you-go solution that eliminates the need to invest in IT, or spend excessively on upgrading and maintaining existing technology infrastructure.

Virtually, every aspect and dimension of a manufacturing company’s business can now be Cloud-enabled, leading to significant cost cutting for firms.

Analytics is the other big tool that manufacturing companies, both large and small, are using to gain insights on their internal business operations, employees and customers.

Using Analytics and business intelligence software solutions, manufacturing firms are analysing their voluminous production and customer data—which is now coming to them through a growing number of channels including social media—to understand their requirements and in the future predict and proactively cater to their emerging needs.

Many are gaining a deeper understanding of their own operations, their strengths and weakness by analyzing their financials, including cash flow and profitability.

Social media is additionally helping manufacturing firms to better connect with their employees, partners and customers and create a human face for their organizations. Platforms such as FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. are being actively harnessed for hiring, eliciting customer feedback on products and services and reaching out to their markets with news about their offerings.

It is becoming apparent now that manufacturing companies will need to evolve in the connected world and move towards factory 2020. This will not only enhance their relevance in the emerging digital age, but it will also prevent their businesses from ‘breaking’ in a competitive environment.

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