Manufacturing with digital connectivity

Nov. 11, 2016

With the power to integrate siloed data systems, manufacturers can develop a digital assembly line that seamlessly delivers information.

The digital revolution has forever changed the way organizations connect with customers,
employees and partners. The rise of the mobile workforce and vast digitization of products and services have altered every facet of business operations and transformed buyer expectations. These changes are affecting the manufacturing industry, which has relied on manual and siloed processes. But it also creates big opportunities for the companies that successfully transform themselves into digital businesses.

Increasing digitization has opened the door to tremendous business potential for manufacturers, but also put tremendous pressure on them to disrupt current business models. To survive in this environment, enterprises must focus on connectivity to ensure that new systems can be deployed quickly and work seamlessly with the company’s existing assets. Jorge Lopez, vice president at  Gartner, recently noted that “digital business is the creation of new business designs by blurring the digital and physical worlds. It promises to usher in an unprecedented convergence of people, business and things that disrupts existing business models—even those born of the Internet and e-business eras.”

Digital business connects entire systems, not just things

Many people confuse digital business with the Internet of Things (IoT), while the reality is digital business is more than just IoT. As Lopez explained, “blurring the physical and digital world…is about the interaction and negotiations between business and things.” Manufacturers who had the foresight to recognize this digital shift are winning in this new economy; however, it is not too late for those who recognize the need to digitize their business. Companies that plan to embrace digital transformation from the inside-out have the ability to gain enhanced benefits, including added agility and efficiency, increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as new revenue streams.

With the power to integrate siloed data systems, manufacturers can develop a digital assembly line that seamlessly delivers information from all partners to the factory floor to customers. For example, manufacturers of aircraft equipment can include sensors in jet engines that warn maintenance staff of issues before they happen. This is only possible through the integration of disparate systems that collect data from connected devices and those that guide the manufacturers’ procurement and production processes. 

Manufacturers create efficiencies through connected systems

Traditionally, manufacturers have used separate systems for tracking inventory and sales, such as Salesforce and SAP. Reconciling the records of these two systems is a manually executed process that may occur just once every few days. Therefore, when sales reps secure an order from a customer, there is substantial lag for manually verifying whether the products are in stock, and how long it will take to fulfill the order. Having various manual requests among these departments, not to mention any changes to orders along the way, could add days or weeks to the production timeline.

By connecting front- and back-office solutions, sales reps get real-time visibility into inventory and can enhance customer service by quickly communicating accurate timing of their order. Not only are orders simplified, but also getting a product design through approvals becomes a software-driven process rather than a string of follow-up emails and file attachments.

In fact, Autodesk, a leader in design and engineering software, recently rolled out a major upgrade to its product lifecycle management (PLM) solution that puts everything from product introduction to quality control and cost management on a connected platform with a single, integrated interface. Integration not only cuts down the time of orchestrating these tasks, but also eliminates the need to manage these events manually, and substantially decreases human error made by manual entry.

Connecting siloed data to power real-time insight and analytics

In order to transform business processes, manufacturing companies need to also take into consideration the integration of various systems that guide different aspects of the business. By doing so, manufacturers enable departments to share information seamlessly for immediate insight. For example, GE leveraged analytics to “provide real-time information to improve efficiency, increase productivity and schedule more effective preventive maintenance” while also “adapting its economic models and pricing formulas to capture some of the new value it creates for its customers.” By connecting front- and back-office solutions, the entire organization is able to receive real-time visibility into key areas of the business and can execute on the information as necessary.

The future of digital transformation is one in which applications and digital assets communicate seamlessly, in real time, unlocking new competitive advantages for manufacturers that are evolving into true digital businesses. This is a significant change, and will require integration, orchestration and well planned digital strategy for a company to reap these benefits.

However, the promise of greater efficiency, speed and ability to meet evolving customer needs and preferences requires manufacturers to make the first step toward the digital future.

George Gallegos is CEO of Jitterbit.

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