Success in modern manufacturing relies on real-time insight — from the supply chain to the shop floor, from shipping and logistics to the end customer.This article originally ran in the Charlotte Business Journal.
When you look at your company, customers, and products, chances are you're not interested in just seeing a small piece of the puzzle. In order to make the right decisions, it's vital to see the big picture. In a perfect world, when it comes to our business, we would be omnipresent... aware of each step in the process from resource procurement to production, from purchase to use. Ideally, we would even be able to predict – and mitigate – issues before they arise.
Omnipotence may not be possible. But having a 360-degree view of your business is.
It starts with understanding your data and making sure each department, from your back office to your outside sales team, has access to clear, concise, and accurate information.
But this is also where the trouble begins. If you’re like most manufacturers, your company is plagued by datasets that are disjointed, polluted, and underutilized. Between misaligned integrations, incomplete data entry, or a lack of clear upkeep policies, poor data quality and management can seem unsurmountable.
When our data (and our employees) exist in silos, it becomes that much more difficult to understand what’s happening in our supply chain, on our shop floor, and with our customers. Let alone gain insights into next week, next quarter, or even the next few years.
If you’re running your business with a mix of disparate datasets, Excel spreadsheets, or even paper forms, you’re not seeing the full picture. No company sets out to run multiple systems to track the same process. But duplications and growth tend to go hand-in-hand. If you’ve gone through the process of merging companies or taken steps to overhaul your technology, you know that systems are often merged for convenience rather than clarity. But, while this type of merger keeps the lights on and the shop floor running, it can come at the cost of long-term efficiency.
The first step in streamlining is taking a look at your systems of engagement — like email, social networking, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), customer service, or marketing automation systems. These are often the areas where data is coming into your organization. Where does it go from there? Are there unnecessary and duplicated channels?
For example, I’ve seen many companies using two or three email and calendaring systems across the company as a result of mergers. These redundancies tend to take a back seat when major changes are occurring in your organization, but eliminating them is a vital step in streamlining your processes.
Similarly, examine your core systems of record — the systems you rely on to run the business. Your Material Resource Planning (MRP), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Human Capital Management (HCM), and finance and accounting systems often come into play here. They’re the systems capturing all of the data being generated within your company.
Building stronger connections among these internal data sources and unifying them with your systems of engagement are crucial to gaining a holistic view of your business. If they don’t work together, your data and processes will remain disjointed.
This multi-level collaboration can appear easier said than done.
The best-case scenario would be to have one platform for all aspects of your business — from idea conception until the final product is in the customer’s hands.
But currently, there isn’t one system that encompasses all these moving parts. So you need an integration strategy to make sure the right data is going to the right place at the right time. This starts with taking inventory of what’s currently in place, mapping your business processes, and aligning both your data and processes with your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
From initial contact to Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) to Sales Qualified Lead to quoting to new customer, your CRM and ERP systems are equipped to track each of these transitions in conjunction.
When your employees (within their respective departments) are all on the same page, they’ll feel more connected. And your customers will reap the benefits. When updates about the status of a project or shipment are available in real-time, that information can be conveyed to your customers and will increase productivity and customer satisfaction.
Taking inventory of your current state and assessing the maturity of your systems and data is the crucial first step. Then you can identify how your processes generate and capture data and how those data can be used to track your KPIs. From there, you’re well on your way to building a roadmap and architecture to unify your systems of engagement and systems of record. These efforts may seem tedious and complex, but they’ll ultimately create a foundation for gaining greater insight into your supply chain, your operations, and customers. That 360-degree will help you make better decisions, faster — giving you a competitive advantage over the competition.