The best manufacturers I’ve visited this year all share a common attribute: they are obsessed with making themselves as easy as possible to work with from a supply chain, distribution and services standpoint. Many are evaluating cloud-based manufacturing applications including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and several have adopted cloud-based applications across their companies.
With so much interest, there is much confusion as well. I recently spoke with Cindy Jutras, founder and CEO of MintJutras. Her firm has recently completed a survey of SaaS adoption in manufacturing, distribution and other industries. She found the following:
- 49% of respondents in the manufacturing & distribution industries do not understand the difference between single- and multi-tenant SaaS architectures. Overall 66% of respondents to the survey did not know.
- SaaS-based applications are 22% of all manufacturing and distribution software installed today, and will grow to 45% within ten years according to MintJutras.
- The three most important characteristics of a SaaS solution in manufacturing and distribution include giving customers a measure of control over upgrades, consistent support for global operations and allowing for rapid and frequent upgrades.
Why Manufacturers Are Looking To Cloud Computing
Manufacturers are under constant pressure to increase accuracy, make process speed a competitive force, and capitalize on their internal intelligence and knowledge to make every supplier, distributor and service interaction count. The manufacturers spoken and visited with to gain the following insights are in the high tech, industrial and aerospace and defense industries, where rapid product lifecycles and short time-to-market schedules are commonplace.
Cloud-based strategies give these companies the chance to bring their own innate intelligence and knowledge into every sales situation. While on-premise systems could also do this, cloud-based systems were quicker to roll out, easier to customize and showed potential to increase adoption rates across resellers.
One manufacturing manager explained how during a new product launch the speed and volume of collaboration was so rapid on between suppliers and distributors that an allocation situation was averted. That he said, made senior management believers. These epiphanies are happening daily in manufacturing.
Based on my visits with manufacturers, here are the ten ways they are using cloud computing to revolutionize manufacturing:
- Capturing and applying company-wide intelligence and knowledge through the use of analytics, business intelligence (BI), and rules engines. For the many manufacturers who rely on build-to-order, configure-to-order and engineer-to-order strategies as a core part of their business models, using cloud-based platforms to capture knowledge and manage rules is accelerating. A key part of this area is mobility support for analytics, BI and rules engine reporting and analysis.
- Piloting and then moving quickly to full launch of supplier portals and collaboration platforms, complete with quality management dashboards and workflows. Among the manufacturers visited, those in high tech are the most advanced in this area, often implementing Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) and demand management applications that deliver real-time order status and forecasts.
- Designing in services is now becoming commonplace, making cloud integration expertise critical for manufacturers. From simplistic services integration on iPhones to the full implementation of voice-activated controls including emergency assistance in the latest luxury cars, adding in services integrated to the cloud is redefining the competitive landscape of industries today. Revising a product or launching an new product generation with embedded services can mitigate price wars, which is why many manufacturers are pursing this strategy today.
- Accelerating new product development and introduction (NPDI) strategies to attain time-to-market objectives. Using cloud-based platforms in high tech manufacturing is growing today as time-to-market constraints are requiring greater collaboration earlier in design cycles.
- Managing indirect and direct channel sales from a single cloud platform tracking sales results against quota at the individual, group and divisional level is now commonplace across all manufacturers visited. Dashboards report back the status by each rep and for sales managers, the profitability of each deal.
- Using cloud-based marketing automation applications to plan, execute and most important, track results of every campaign. Marketing is under a microscope in many manufacturers today, as marketing automation applications have promised to deliver exceptional results and many manufacturers are still struggling to align their internal content, strategies and ability to execute with the potential these systems promise.
- Automating customer service, support and common order status inquiries online, integrating these systems to distributed order management, pricing, and content management platforms. Manufacturing industries are at varying levels of adoption when it comes to automating self-service. The cost and time advantages in high tech are the highest levels of adoption I’ve seen in visiting manufacturers however.
- Increasing reliance on two-tier ERP strategies to gain greater efficiencies in material planning, supplier management and reduce logistics costs. Manufacturers are also using this strategy to gain greater independence from a single ERP vendor dominating their entire operations. Several manufacturers remarked that their large, monolithic ERP systems could not, without intensive programming and customization, scale down to the smaller operational needs in distributed geographic regions. Cloud-based ERP systems are getting the attention of manufacturers pursuing two-tier ERP strategies. Acumatica, Cincom, Microsoft, NetSuite and Plex Systems are leaders in this area of ERP systems.
- Reliance on cloud-based Human Resource Management (HRM) systems to unify all manufacturing locations globally. This often includes combining multisite talent management, recruiting, payroll and time tracking. Contract manufacturer Flextronics uses Workday to optimize workforce allocations across their global manufacturing centers for example.
Bottom Line: Using cloud-based systems to streamline key areas of their business, manufacturers are freeing up more time to invest in new products and selling more.