The Internet — Manufacturing’s Best Friend

By Amy Radishofski, Staff Reporter, Manufacturing.netYou’ve used it for email and you probably have your own webpage, but it’s time to take the World Wide Web to the next level.

 
In the list of things that have made our lives easier, the Internet ranks pretty high up. It allows us to connect with friends and colleagues around the globe within seconds. It provides up-to-the-second news about the manufacturing sector or just about anything else. Sure, you know about search engines and email, but could you be doing more with the web?
 
Perhaps one of the biggest perks for any business is the ability to have a 24/7 sales force. You can create a company website with directories and online catalogs that allow customers to search your products whenever they want.
 
John Andrews, Director, Applications Marketing at Endeca, said that having a website allows you to highlight particular products that can add to an order — accessories that work with the original order. Moreover, putting information online makes it easier for the customer and cuts down on customer service calls.
 
“A call to a call center could cost a company $25,” Andrews said. “But the same information on a website could cost 25 cents.”
 
Jeff Smith, president of Wellington Industries borrowed the auction idea from eBay and created a website to sell excess inventory. Within three months, the site paid for itself.
 
In addition to allowing customers to search excess inventory, it directed the customers on placing custom orders if they couldn’t find what they wanted in the inventory.
 
But before you dive into that online catalog, take a look at your site. Is it a ‘Plain Jane’ site with just your address and mission statement? Is it cluttered with fancy add-ons that don’t create any actual value?
 
To have a successful website, not just a pretty place to visit, Andrews suggests it do one of three things: market, sell or serve.
 
“You can’t just drive them to a black hole,” added Linda Rigano, Director of Strategic Alliances for ThomasNet. “You have five to eight seconds to tell them you have what they need.”
 
When evaluating websites, ThomasNet uses its VSET approach — verify, search, evaluate, take action. You have a brief window to draw in a potential customer, verify that you have the type product they are looking for, allow them to search for a specific product, evaluate which one best suits their needs, and take action towards placing an order. It’s an extension of your sales force to some degree, but at that point, it is the site that is influencing the customer, not an actual salesperson.
 
But why stop there? Some additional benefits of the Internet:
  • Ability to monitor competition
  • Easily streamline operations
  • Improve communication and efficiency

In today’s marketplace, you may have customers from China, a sales team in London, or suppliers in Mexico. The Internet allows you to connect everyone, regardless of time or location.

Moreover, the Internet lets you combine data.

Whether it’s tracking inventory shipments or identifying problems along a production line, manufacturers have enormous amounts of data about the health of their operations. That data, however, is often stored in separate locations, making retrieval problematic and tedious.
 
Brian Nickerson, CEO of Sockeye Supply Chain, combines the Internet and software to link those separate systems together. Related data can be grouped together, turning it into useful, meaningful information whenever it is needed.
 
Nickerson adds that as companies become more complex and more involved in outsourcing, there is some loss of control. The additional visibility along the extended supply chain can give you an edge.
 
Neil Montgomery, CEO of Davis Controls, uses a similar system to synch front and back office operations. Communications are linked to an account, contact, project, etc., creating integrated, searchable info.
 
“It’s in context. You can see the whole picture, instead of small pieces,” Montgomery said. “It’s not just orphan bits of information.”
 
Although systems like these can increase productivity and efficiency, Montgomery concedes that there are those who are hesitant to welcome the change.
 
“There will always be those who prefer to work in isolation — those that say ‘Big Brother’ is watching you,” he said. “But those are the people who have something to hide. If you’re there to get the job done, it works.”
 
Handling global operations at high-speed will give you a boost over the competition. Whether you need to find a supplier or want to track a shipment to Guam, embrace the technology. You already have most of the tools and data; now you just need to put the Internet to work for you.
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