As manufacturers look to abandon traditional practices to be on the front line of innovation, they must stop, look, listen and plan their strategies for becoming the digital enterprises of the future.
The rapid changes in technology are ushering in a paradigm shift in the way manufacturers do business.
Market conditions, customer expectations and technological capabilities are transforming manufacturing processes at phenomenal speeds, with no slow-down visible in the near future.
This disruptive change is prompting smart manufacturers to take a 365-degree evaluation and modernisation of their plant operations – from core IT infrastructure to solution integration, personnel roles, operational best practices and deployment.
While the terms ‘digital enterprise’, ‘smart factory’ and ‘factory of the future’ are largely interchangeable, they all refer to the interconnected, advanced IT solutions that allow manufacturers to use data to be highly strategic, proactive, customer-centric and profitable. So how does one claim these titles?
Digital enterprise stepping stones
Becoming a digital enterprise by 2020 requires advanced planning.
It is no simple task; it is a process which often involves multiple phases, outside expertise, investments and top-level commitment.
To get you started, here are the common stepping stones on your path to reaching the status of 'digital enterprise' by 2020:
1. Prioritise goals and set your strategy
- Know what you want to achieve and why.
- Be specific with your objectives to measure progress.
- Set realistic goals. Don’t over-inflate benefits or ignore challenges.
- Keep customer satisfaction central to your strategy.
- Include in your strategy definitions of success and how you will measure progress.
- Prioritise goals that will help you achieve early wins and build support.
2. Create teams, exploit expertise
- Establish a cross-functional team with representatives from every department involved.
- Make sure you have one definitive leader with decision-making capabilities.
- Clearly define the roles and expectations of team members. This can’t be a low-priority project that gets intermittent commitment.
- Invest in team-building and empowering internal personnel to conduct research and become experts in specific subjects or tasks.
- Break roles into manageable segments, being careful to not overload one team member or department.
- Involve everyone in your team structure to include various perspectives and bring a balanced view to the project.
- Turn to industry experts, consultants and product vendors to assist with highly specialised areas. Ask for case studies and references.
3. Optimise market opportunities
- Develop an in-depth understanding of your target market, including buyer profiles, buying triggers and the buying decision process.
- Explore new markets, regions, demographics and vertical niches.
- While considering expanding, also consider contracting – or specialising in a vertical industry or niche market to focus your resources.
- As you choose priorities, select initiatives that support your efforts to reinforce current market positions as well as capture new opportunities.
- Be opportunistic, while keeping a strategic perspective and grasp of realistic expectations.
- Pursue opportunities where you can create product differentiation and offer unique value propositions.
4. Implement, while controlling risk
- Use a phased approach to deploy major initiatives to provide you with early wins and chances to refine your strategies over time.
- Start with foundational concepts, then build from there.
- Make sure you get the basics right before you move on to more advanced strategies.
- Start with technologies that will be used across multiple applications. For example, business intelligence is used in nearly every application of a digital enterprise.
- Consider strong analytics and reporting tools as the prerequisites for moving on to more applications of data.
- Monitor for quality and security issues. Involve experts to minimise risk.
5. Evaluate and refine
- Evaluate progress at predetermined milestones, making course corrections as needed.
- Keep your organisation informed on progress. Celebrate achievement and accept suggestions for improvements.
- As move closer to your goal of being a digital enterprise, you may want to set higher standards or goals for yourself. As your expertise grows, so should your expectations.
- Measure new revenue or gains versus investment to calculate your return. Remember your ROI can be less a tangible characteristic, such as customer loyalty, recognised leadership or positioning as the expert company in the field.
These five steps are merely highlights of a path to becoming a digital enterprise.
Each industry will undoubtedly have variations and specific must-do steps that will need to be introduced, such as any industry mandates, testing or compliance.
The most important thing is to get underway and use these guidelines as a starting point for discussion and planning. Good luck!
Helen Masters is the vice-president and managing director of Infor South Asia – Pacific and ASEAN.
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