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How manufacturers can break data silos through DOP-enabled technology roadmaps

Nov. 27, 2023
How small and midsize manufacturers are using technology to ease material sourcing bottlenecks, workforce shortages, and inflationary pressures.

The nation’s small and midsize industrial manufacturers—who continually face material sourcing bottlenecks, workforce shortages, and inflationary pressures—increasingly turn to technology and automation to ease the burden.

Technology is part of the solution, certainly. However, manufacturers often select and implement technology systems on an ad-hoc basis without surveying potential wider use across their organizations.

By choosing products and services that meet immediate or department-specific needs, they may unwittingly make it harder to address marketplace challenges over the long term.

See also: Promoting engagement, retention in changing IT/OT workforce

If manufacturers don’t lead their technology selections with strategy, the resulting set of disparate systems will result in multiple data silos, making it impossible to access real-time information about how the business is performing.

These silos—isolated collections of raw data obtained and maintained by one department but inaccessible by other systems across the company—create a severe lack of transparency and efficiency. They pose multiple risks across the business, including:

  • Recruiting, hiring and retention: Among other human resources challenges, data silos may slow down or hamper the hiring process by delaying or inaccurately conveying labor needs among recruiting personnel, hiring managers and department heads.
  • Duplicative systems: Without technology integration, manufacturers may implement redundant systems at the corporate or departmental level that unnecessarily create inefficiencies and escalate costs.
  • Cybersecurity: Departments or business units acting on their own may purchase and implement new software to suit specific needs. Because the IT team doesn’t have visibility into the purchase, it isn’t able to safeguard data entered into that system.
  • Regulatory noncompliance: Manufacturers must adhere to numerous regulatory requirements—a difficult-to-attain goal when ISO certification, accounting, worker safety and other relevant data must be manually integrated to achieve comprehensive reporting.

The formula for unlocking data silos is straightforward: Establish a business strategy or vision for where the company wants to go in the next decade, develop an IT strategy to drive digital transformation, and establish a technology roadmap based on a digital operations platform (DOP) approach to guide both short- and long-term implementation.

Strategy drives integrated technology adoption

Just as no two manufacturers are identical, corporate goals are unique from company to company. For some manufacturers, the owner may be nearing retirement and looking to sell the company.

See also: Livestream replay: Boosting Legacy Equipment with Condition Monitoring

Some may be in growth mode, expanding to new markets and positioning for private equity attention. Others want to strengthen the company to set up the next generation of family ownership for greater success.

Regardless of the desired outcome, a defined vision and strategy are imperative. The most successful manufacturers can clearly and succinctly articulate the desired state of their companies in five to 10 years or less.

For every corporate strategy, a corresponding distinct set of technology solutions can enable it. Once a business strategy is defined, a technology strategy should be developed to help achieve the vision.

This step includes evaluating the infrastructure, data, and security currently in place, identifying gaps and determining what will be needed from IT to enable the corporate vision.

By also seeking input from assembly line and shop floor workers as part of the process, manufacturing company leaders can both gain grassroots insights into what they wish technology to accomplish and secure buy-in from all who will use it. It’s also helpful at this stage to work with a technology adviser—a platform-neutral third party who can help identify the best tech solutions to reach desired outcomes.

Developing a technology roadmap

Once the technology strategy is defined, work can begin on developing a technology roadmap—a high-level plan and timeline that communicates a company’s overall IT strategy and sets a course for digital transformation. A tech roadmap is a link between strategy and action, which Deloitte’s analysis found to be the determining factor in a company’s ability to derive the greatest value from its transformation.

See also: Contracted tech workers paid less than regular IT staff

As varied as the individual goals of each manufacturer, technology roadmaps can range from concise documents to pages of detail and can chart steps over 12 months or multiple years.

Regardless of length and timeframe, the roadmap should be populated with people- and process-oriented technology initiatives—each backed by a business case—that the manufacturer plans to take to reach its future corporate vision.

It should include security and help keep the company on track toward a DOP approach. Coined by Forrester Research, a DOP provides data visibility across the manufacturing organization through the integration of best-of-breed, next-generation systems, such as Sage X3, Creatio Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Rippling Human Capital Management (HCM).

As a living document, a technology roadmap should be re-evaluated after each technology initiative is completed or on some other regular cadence. The consistent review process acknowledges progress, confirms where the manufacturing company should remain consistent with technology roadmap plans and identifies where the company may need to make adjustments.

With increasing connectivity and automation across the manufacturing industry, today’s manufacturers can be tempted to jump to disparate technology systems to solve individualized problems. But to avoid creating data silos—and to break those that exist already—a DOP-enabled technology roadmap that supports both corporate and IT strategies will lead to digital transformation that delivers desired business outcomes over the short and long term.

About the Author

Samantha Marshall

Samantha Marshall is manufacturing practice director, Sage X3, at technology adviser Net at Work. For over 20 years, Samantha has helped midsize manufacturers improve productivity, efficiency, and profitability.