How Manufacturers can Prepare for the Upturn by Embracing Technological Innovation

In a new survey called the “Agents of Transformation” report 2020, 95% of respondents said that their organizations had changed their technology priorities during the pandemic. Additionally, 71% could point to digital transformation projects that were implemented within weeks rather than the months or years it would have taken before the pandemic. If the pandemic has taught business leaders one thing, it is that being agile and embracing digital transformation is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

Now more than ever, for manufacturers and distributors to remain relevant, and to thrive in the future, they need to roll up their sleeves and tackle the transformation challenge head-on so they can create real-world impact. The benefits of transforming digitally will be far-reaching. This includes the ability to innovate rapidly, the ability to offer a shorter time to market, and the capability to prevent wastage by storing less inventory. Long term results include more efficient supply chains and higher capital efficiency.

The good news is that you can use ERP to support your overall digital strategy. The key is to ensure that it is future-fit; that it has the capacity to act as the heart of your organization; and that it can provide you with the critical information you will need during the transformation process.

Where to begin your digital transformation journey

The best starting point is to gain a clear understanding of your current environment and to ask the fundamental question: ‘What do we want to achieve from digitalization?’ The answer will help to guide your decision-making and define the way forward.

Manufacturers should look at hiring an automation specialist to assess your business and current landscape. This specialist will start by auditing your equipment, technology, processes, and types of interactions with customers, suppliers and employees. This process will help identify gaps, bottlenecks, opportunities and missing pieces in your operations. Once you have a good understanding of your current situation you will be in a better position to define a clear strategy and implement a step-by-step plan of action that will support your organization’s transformation journey.

Building your digital toolkit

With a strategy in hand, the next step will be to select the technology to enable your digital journey.

This could include connected services, ML, AI or even chatbots:

  • How Connected Services can help your organization

Your ERP provider should be looking to the future and thinking about how to incorporate the ability to consume connected-service applications, without you needing to write a single line of code. A connected service allows you to subscribe to, and consume, services that have been provided by multiple vendors. They allow you to expand your supply chain outside of your business by integrating different platforms.

  • How machine learning and AI can help your organization

AI should be a first-class citizen of your ERP, not a third-party add-on. ML and AI tools in your ERP system can help identify trends, get predictions and identify anomalies. ML and AI can help the business to create efficiencies, and augment user capabilities.

AI can help your procurement teams be more efficient. Through more accurate age analysis for example, it can help your CFO and finance department to better predict your organization’s cash flow. AI can also assist with identifying data trends and anomaly detection, which can help you to detect user error; a customer who doesn’t understand which product is best for them; or fraud.

By ensuring that the ML and AI is a pre-existing, first-class citizen, and integral part of your ERP, you save time and money by not having to run two separate systems, with work-arounds or add-ons which become security risks.

  • How digital citizens can bring value to your business

Self-service agents or digital citizens (Bots) are available 24/7 and are always-on, answering questions and servicing requests. They provide your customers with immediate and consistent service as they don’t wake up grumpy in the morning, and they have the same consistent attitude towards work every single day.

Self-service agents/digital citizens should be embedded in your ERP’s machine learning infrastructure and be self-taught and self-learning. It needs to come with a solid understanding of industry-specific terms such as bill of goods, vendor, debtor, and service, etc. and should be engineered to speak in generic business language.

Finding value in transformation

By gaining a better understanding of what you currently have, and how you are using it, you’ll be in a better position to clarify what you want to achieve from your digital transformation, and whether the value derived will outweigh the cost of implementing it.  By investing the time and resources to this initial phase, you should be able to address potential challenges head-on, and ensure the long-term sustainability of your business for years to come.

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