There was a time in the past when operational efficiency was the sole concern of manufacturing enterprises. A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, those concerns have only exacerbated, with restricted consumer spending habits and unpredictable changes to supply and demand.

In addition, global supply chains are in disarray as nations scramble to contain infection rates. This has given rise to a new, pressing imperative – operational resilience. Manufacturers now face unprecedented logistical challenges which can’t easily be solved using traditional strategies and technologies.

Regardless of where your priorities lie, the road out of this crisis is paved by digital transformation. With the virus here for the foreseeable future, a return to normalcy anytime soon can’t be banked on. In 2021, manufacturers have no other option but to follow the lead taken by other sectors, like finance and retail, and fully embrace digital technologies across business operations.

Key Benefits of Digital Acceleration in the Manufacturing Industry

Digital transformation is a buzzword that has done rounds among business circles for nearly a decade now. Its meaning is largely self-explanatory – using digital technologies across an organisation to keep it relevant in the modern economy.

Digital acceleration is a related concept, often used interchangeably with digital transformation. But there are subtle differences – the emphasis for digital acceleration is effecting change at a much faster pace.

In many ways, 2020 was the year of digital acceleration, with companies scrambling to enhance their IT capabilities. The need to implement work from home was a prime motivating factor for many, but that is just one of the benefits of digital transformation. Let’s dive into 5 key benefits of digital acceleration in the manufacturing sector.

1. Access to Global Markets

Digital platforms can enhance your firm's ability to tap into new overseas markets. For a country like Australia, with an advanced economy but relatively small domestic markets, these opportunities present huge potential for growth and expansion even from a pre-pandemic perspective.

China and Japan alone account for nearly 40% of total Australian exports according to 2019 figures and this doesn’t just take large corporations into consideration - even medium-sized manufacturing enterprises can leverage digital solutions to connect with new buyers and scale in sync with global demand.

2. Improved Operational Efficiency

One of the biggest advantages of going digital is increased transparency into the inner workings of an organisation and its operations. This has already been demonstrated in numerous other industries. Perhaps more than others, manufacturers can derive more benefits from going digital using technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and edge computing.

With sensors and connected SaaS platforms across your product life cycle and supply chain, you gain access to previously untapped data. It can help create smarter, more efficient preventive maintenance strategies across production facilities. Advanced AI data analysis can predict potential bottlenecks in your supply chains and can also deliver new insights that help reduce waste and improve resource allocation across the organisation.

3. Resilience to External Shocks

The operational challenges raised by the ongoing pandemic are unprecedented and cannot be reliably forecasted. A sudden outbreak among staff can lead to a temporary shutdown of a manufacturing facility and vendors may face the same issue, leaving you with a sudden disruption or delay in production.

Resilience in this context requires an ability to react quickly – find alternate vendors, reroute supplies and production to other facilities, and so on. Such flexibility and adaptability can be achieved through the use of a suite of software solutions that give you real-time visibility across your entire organisation, as well as quick access to external partners.

4. Improved Decision Making

Even in the best of times, decisions made based on incomplete data can have disastrous consequences. In times of crisis, it can be fatal for an enterprise. Many of the benefits listed above rely on increased transparency and real-time visibility into the inner workings of an enterprise. The same can also drive you to make better decisions, based on business intelligence and data analysis. 

5. Transition to a Value Chain Model

Focusing entirely on production efficiency can lead to tunnel vision that obscures other key priorities and aspects of business operations. Value Chain Model presents a more holistic alternative, one that focuses on improving efficiency across the full spectrum of a product cycle – from concept to testing, development, manufacturing, marketing, customer service, and logistics.

Again, we revert to increased access to business data, in real-time, as a prerequisite for this type of transition. And at present, you need to connect all segments of your organisation to a single, unified digital platform to make this change possible.

Tips to Help You Get Started with Digital Transformation

Digital transformation will have a profound impact on all corners of your manufacturing firm. In business, change is seldom welcome but here are some basic tips on aspects that require your pressing attention during digital transformation.

1. Shift in Approach

Customer preferences and requirements have changed drastically in the last decade or so, thanks largely to e-commerce. This is evident even in B2B markets, where clients have started to prefer vendors that pay attention to the “big picture” – the overall buying experience.

Instead of focusing solely on the product, you need to consider a new customer-centric approach. Assess the viability of value-added services you can provide to your clients – personalisation, digital catalogues with enhanced customisation options, a streamlined ordering process, and so on.

Once you identify relevant features, explore the digital solutions that can help bring these features to your clients. This step is critical, as modern enterprise digital platforms offer a dizzying array of features and optional content – once you know exactly what you need, it becomes much easier to pick the right digital solution.

2. Invest in IT

Due to the often complex production processes involved, manufacturing firms are at a disadvantage here when compared to other service-based industries like finance. A good starting point would be an overhaul of your basic office IT infrastructure, including better hardware and a feature-rich cloud-based or hybrid software platform made to meet the needs of manufacturing enterprises. 

If you have the luxury of a bigger budget, you could consider investing in smart sensors and other modern industrial equipment to better connect your manufacturing and inventory facilities to a digital platform. While they do not come cheap, the benefits in terms of improved maintenance schedules and better planning are well worth the initial investment.

3. Invest in Workforce

When you bring in new software and hardware, you also need staff who are adept at using them. Retraining and upskilling existing employees can help bridge that digital divide, but you may also have to consider increased recruitment to fill any gaps. Any effective digital transformation strategy needs to focus on your employees to succeed.

Conclusion

Historically, manufacturing has lagged behind other sectors in terms of digital transformation due to the high costs involved. But in the ‘new normal’ created by the pandemic, one can no longer rely on legacy systems and processes. To deal with the novel challenges, a wholesale digital transformation is essential.  For more detailed insights into how manufacturers can take their business to the next level, check out this Liferay e-book: Better B2B: Taking E-Commerce to the Next Level.

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