Manufacturing CEOs: 5 signs it’s time to review software systems

Manufacturing CEOs: 5 signs it’s time to review software systems
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Does software only get attention when something goes wrong? If so, you’re not alone.

Manufacturing businesses can often view software solutions as a fix to a problem, rather than a business enabler. But having adaptable systems is key to enabling your business to scale in line with your ambitions and provide a platform for strategic innovation.

To follow on from Digital Manufacturing Week 2018, below are five signs that indicate it may be time to review your current software systems:

1. Employees create workarounds to the system

As a business grows and evolves, processes will likely change, which commonly leads to outgrowing existing systems. If your business has grown, or changed even slightly, your manufacturing processes may no longer fit into the previously defined systems. This can lead to employees creating workarounds, resulting in disjointed processes and increasing the risk of manual error, and major inefficiencies.

According to a survey conducted by IFS, 75% of respondents under 35, and over half of respondents aged 36 to 45, turn to Excel spreadsheets to get their work done when an enterprise solution is too difficult to use. ERP systems that are not functional, aligned with business processes or are no longer fit for purpose, result in significant loses in productivity.

Outside of productivity, businesses that stick with the same legacy systems often end up struggling to innovate, with 90% of decision-makers claiming that legacy systems are preventing them from harnessing the digital technologies they need to grow and become more efficient. In an era of innovations within Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and 3D printing, manufacturing organisations need to implement adaptable and scalable core systems that enable them to innovate and respond to market trends and prevent them losing out to competition.

2. Employees are constantly emailing spreadsheets

When software systems do not adequately support the management of information and data, businesses often opt to work collaboratively on spreadsheets, commonly managed through shared folders (e.g. Google Docs), or emailing files between employees.

The resulting inability to map workflows and manage the input and configuration of data inhibits organisational transparency needed to give sufficient visibility for operational efficiencies. In the long term, this could have a lasting impact on your growth ambitions and strategy.

This way of working also increases data duplication and the risk of manual error due to little or no version control. In addition, communication between functions become one-way, stifling collaboration. The impossibility of real-time updates preventing fast and accurate information provision, and the cumbersome process of manual data reconciliation presents a barrier to operational efficiencies and business growth.

And it comes with a high cost to your business. Research has found that up to 90% of all spreadsheets have errors that affect their results. With stories including:

  • Hiding cells – instead of deleting them – cost Barclay’s bank millions during the 2008 financial crisis.
  • A cut and paste error cost JP Morgan $6 billion when a Value at Risk model was miscalculated.
  • 10,000 tickets were oversold due to a spreadsheet keystroke mistake for the London Olympics.

Instead, automating processes that are managed within existing spreadsheets can provide significant improvements to efficiencies, as well as providing increased transparency, collaboration and control that is imperative to business scalability.

3. You get different answers from different systems at different times

If your business operates across disparate systems, your business is open to greater risk through manual error, data duplication, as well as the lack or real-time data transfer and reporting. If you’re carrying out the same task twice or more, integrating systems can be an easy solution with a significant return.

Integrated software systems improve efficiencies and consistency, mitigate risk and provide greater visibility. Eliminating duplication will give your business solid, clean data with which to make better, informed decisions. Connecting business-critical systems provides manufacturers with the data to achieve higher levels of quality and productivity. This is essential for effective smart factory initiatives.

GE Chairman and CEO, Jeff Immelt:

“Staying relevant in today’s interconnected world is not a function of hierarchy of geography, but immediacy. It’s not what you control vertically, but how you connect horizontally.”

With the development of new manufacturing technologies comes a growth in data and data sources. Moving forward, now more than ever, manufacturers need to consider integration as a core part of an agile and flexible strategy, that takes account of all of this data and where it comes from.

For example, integrating front end sales systems with CAD/CAM systems can streamline the process from quote to prototype in one simple step. When taking into consideration developments in 3D printing, manufacturers now have the ability to automate the whole process from sale, to prototype and manufacturing within digital applications.

4. Employees have limited access to information offsite

To work efficiently, manufacturing businesses need to be connected. From the head office, to field teams and the factory floor. Mobile working solutions enable greater real-time collaboration, time saving and risk mitigation. 80% of manufacturers are already planning to increase the use of mobile apps and other mobility solutions to increase productivity in manufacturing processes. If your manufacturing business lacks connectivity between employees, inefficiencies could arise which could hamper productivity and growth.

Having connected devices can streamline operations, giving employees immediate access to required information, whether it’s in a sales setting or engineering environment. As 73% of CEO’s place mobile technology as a technology priority, the benefits are clear in aspects such as rapid production, enhanced supply chain communication and collaboration, and real-time tracking and reporting. Mobile technologies create an agile and adaptable workforce that has continuous access to task critical data, making it seamless to access information, check status and track products, as well as connect suppliers, employees and customers.

Manufacturers can see significant returns by implementing mobile working functions for field service teams. As an example, maintenance and survey checks undertaken digitally enables faster and more accurate data management, with the ability to record installation, inspection and change management history of products and generate reports to compare key metrics such as 'Mean Time Between Failure' or 'Cost of Replacement'.

5. Your data isn't good enough to support decision making

Real-time business intelligence reporting is invaluable to manufacturing leaders when it comes to making business-critical decisions, with 69% of decision-makers believing analytics will be crucial for business success in 2020. If it takes you three days to get a report, this can become a significant barrier to the growth of your operations. If each system your business uses to manage the separate phases of manufacturing are siloed, you will struggle to access all of the data you need efficiently, impacting the decisions you make.

Business leaders need to have clear, rich and reliable performance data in order to make strategic, informed decisions, with 63% of manufacturing executives seeing more valuable manufacturing intelligence leading to well informed decisions in real-time as the main benefit of business intelligence.

image via Forbes

46% of manufacturers agree that implementing and using data analytics is no longer optional, as the benefits such as real-time decision making, avoiding unplanned downtime, improving supply chain performance and reducing wasted resources are essential for businesses to keep up with competition.

Whether you’re looking to review and replace your legacy systems or improve your existing ways of working with technology, get in touch. We have experience working across manufacturing, improving operational efficiencies through legacy system redevelopment, as well as introducing new technologies to improve workflows and outpace competitors.