At its core, the term manufacturing digital transformation implies that an organization must undertake fundamental changes to its business model and processes. With this, comes a sense of overwhelm to even get started with such a change.
Where does an organization start? Will the inevitable upheaval of decade-old business practices pay off? What if an organization doesn’t have the knowledge or skills to navigate such a change?
All these questions are valid and even more acute when examining the prospect of digital transformation within the manufacturing industry.
The innovation required is different from that which has served manufacturers through the first three industrial revolutions. The need to leverage external data and focus on customer experience are two hard shifts, especially for manufacturers that have often relied on controlled data and internal process improvements to foster innovation.
However, the systematic methods that fuelled manufacturing process innovation can also be applied to the customer and data-centric changes needed to foster a successful digital transformation.
Start small, but think big
The first step to any successful change is clearing a path to move forward, but not one that is so well laid out it takes years to take the first step.
Many manufacturing organizations have business systems (or lack thereof) that are clear candidates for replacement. Customer data, both hard (living in your enterprise resource planning system [ERP]) and soft (customer engagement data), is usually a good place to start.
If your customer data lives in systems such as email, spreadsheets or is trapped in an ERP, a customer relationship management (CRM) project is one that can be taken on quickly. These projects can be laser-focused, feeding customer data into the hands of your sales and marketing teams, instantly impacting customer engagement.
With this approach, it’s important to keep future needs in mind so decisions made in the short-term don’t prevent new innovation. Enlisting the assistance of an implementation partner at this stage can be extremely beneficial. Not only will it allow you to get up and running on Salesforce CRM quickly, but also build a system that makes sense to your unique needs.
Set clear business outcomes
It’s important your organization develops key business outcomes at the beginning of your digital transformation. Such outcomes could include:
- Enabling account management and customer support staff to have efficient access to customer data across different systems and customer touchpoints.
- Equipping channel partners with business tools, content, and data in order to more seamlessly sell to and support end customers.
- Provide manufacturing operations with a view into opportunities and sales agreements in order to better forecast production demand.
These outcomes will serve as a north star for decision making and help measure the overall progress and success of the change. Without establishing these outcomes, organizations often fail to effectively prioritize and invest in transformation efforts.
As your organization moves down the roadmap, desired business outcomes should shift from aspirational to quantitative and be frequently measured. Aspirational goals are useful for starting initiatives, but they are rarely good enough to sustain them. When it comes to budgeting and investment discussions, the more you can quantify planned results (and already achieved results), the more effective decisions will be.
Focus on the customer
When the term digital transformation is applied to the manufacturing industry, often the focus is on technologies and approaches that are transforming the actual manufacturing processes. From 3D printing to IoT, these innovations are forging the path to increase efficiency and better meet customer demand.
However, all too often, manufacturers settle for internal efficiencies and fail to extend a path toward transforming customer interaction and engagement.
Effective digital transformation deploys a concentrated focus on improving how your customer is able to engage with both your organization (including sales and service partners) as well as your products. By focusing on the customer first, you will be driven toward innovating in areas that don’t necessarily drive immediate cost reductions or investment returns but will maximize long-term efficiency for your entire manufacturing organization.
Don’t go it alone
Transformation projects shouldn’t be placed on the shoulders of a single person or business area. It’s critical that collective buy-in is forged across the business and executive leadership group. Without this type of organization-wide commitment, the transformation effort will likely not get far.
Furthermore, transformation initiatives should never be owned exclusively by the IT team. IT is a great partner to foster innovation, but they should rarely be the sole champion of change. Without the business leading the transformation, desired outcomes will likely get diluted among decisions around platform standards and project governance. The ideal scenario is that the business and IT team establish themselves as collaborative partners, so both groups may bring value and fuel to the initiative.
Finally, it’s important that you seek input from those who have been down the transformation path before. Traction on Demand has partnered with many manufacturing clients to chart and fuel their digital transformation journeys.
Our dedicated manufacturing team has extensive experience helping manufacturers successfully transition to a customer-first model and is continually developing best practices surrounding processes and technical solutions. Traction on Demand will partner with you to ensure you not only navigate the digital path but that you fully own the solutions to support your transformation.
Want to see a manufacturing digital transformation in action? Check out how North West Rubber leveraged the simplicity of the Salesforce CRM platform to transform into a customer-first model, resulting in a 600% increase in quotes entered into Salesforce in just 30 days.
Written by Greg Ewing-Lee, Practice Lead, Manufacturing at Traction on Demand