Manufacturing Visibility: A Competitive Advantage, Part 1

Capturing and sharing manufacturing information requires a strategic approach that identifies what should be tracked, with whom to share information, and how to leverage this visibility.

By ANDY VABULAS, CEO & Owner, I.B.I.S. Inc.

ANDY VABULASInformation is critical to manufacturers — what products are selling, what materials are being bought, how and when goods are being produced, and the internal and external cost to accomplish. Timely sharing of information across a company and its supply chain enables an organization to:

  1. Manage and improve its operations.
  2. Synchronize processes with suppliers.
  3. Offer better customer service.

Capturing and sharing manufacturing information requires a strategic approach that identifies what should be tracked, with whom to share information, and how to leverage this manufacturing visibility into improved operations and business performance.

Lack of Visibility

Business success today involves far more than manufacturers simply delivering quality products on time. It requires integrated solutions that include service, support, and timely and accurate information, whenever and wherever customers want it. It demands that manufacturers regularly assess and improve the performance of operations that deliver those solutions.

To deliver optimum customer satisfaction and operations performance — and business success — manufacturers must be able to provide products and efficiently capture, access and share operations data in the right way with the right entities. Manufacturers — along with their customers and suppliers — need manufacturing visibility.

Why a Visibility Void?

First, countless information technology applications are available to capture almost any kind of data and feed to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. But knowing which few numbers really need to be captured — those performance measurements that directly support business strategy by helping to sustain, control and improve operations — and how to establish processes that enable employees to react to appropriate information in ways that improve productivity and profits, has been the challenge.

Second, many legacy ERP solutions were focused on transactions and data entry, and not on the people and usability. There was inadequate attention to varying work styles, role-based perspectives on information and tasks, and the need to extract information in the context of business processes.

According to a study from AMR Research, only 15 percent of employees are licensed to use their company’s ERP system and that 46 percent of licensed ERP seats go unused. And when people don‘t use the system, business productivity declines, growth slows and even business critical processes can be compromised.

Fortunately, the shift in ERP solution design is addressing these challenges. Many solutions are raising usability to a higher standard by focusing on specific roles within organizations, allowing greater business intelligence capabilities.

Importance of Role Focus

Role centers present job-specific information and enhance personal productivity by helping people prioritize their work, and focus on the most relevant information and tasks.

Role centers are based on Microsoft SharePoint technology, which further enhances flexibility and control. You can easily personalize information and reconfigure your role center based on your work preference and needs.

Because you can see at a glance all of your work in progress; better visualize urgent needs and changing conditions; and extract contextual information, you can make faster decisions and exert greater influence over processes and change. By using one of the web parts as a work list in your role center, you can receive notifications and actions to be taken that are initiated by automated workflows, allowing you to be an active participant in your company‘s business processes.

Also, you have quick access to reports, key performance indicators (KPIs) and common tasks. KPIs relevant to your role helps improve decision-making. With this role-tailored information, you can better monitor your work and quickly respond to unexpected changes.

The user profile for a specific role, such as chief financial officer or customer service manager, determines the content displayed in that role center. Typical role centers are as follows:

  1. CEO: executive.
  2. Operations: operations manager.
  3. Logistics: warehouse manager, warehouse worker, shipping and receiving, purchasing manager, purchasing agent.
  4. Production: production manager, shop supervisor.
  5. Sales and marketing: marketing executive, sales manager, super sales representative, dedicated sales representative, account manager, order processor.
  6. Customer service: customer service manager.
  7. Human resources (HR): HR director/manager, training and development manager/specialist, recruiting and staffing manager/specialist.
  8. Finance: chief financial officer (CFO), accounting manager, controller, accounts payable coordinator, accounts receivable administrator, credit and collections manager, accountant.
  9. Professional services: project manager, project team member.

What makes the role center different from other home pages and portals is that it is role-tailored instead of process-oriented, meaning all the activities of that employee's role are organized in one place, enabling the user to work more efficiently.

Business Intelligence (BI) in Manufacturing

Creating individualized business intelligence cubes for self-service roles makes access and use of data available to everyone in the organization, and empowers employees with visibility across departments, real-time information and comprehensive reporting tools. All of this adds up to greater insight and better decision-making. BI cubes are sets of key data elements, attributes and dimensions that allow data to be sliced and diced in many ways.

Predefined data cubes should be created for all major solution areas:

  1. Sales.
  2. Purchase.
  3. Accounts payable.
  4. Accounts receivable.
  5. Customer relationship management.
  6. Expense management.
  7. General ledger.
  8. Human resource management.
  9. Production.
  10. Project accounting.

This makes it easier for employees to add key performance indicators and business data to their role center, or to insert data right into a Microsoft Word document or an Excel pivot table and graph with the use of the sales cube.

What’s your take? Please feel free to comment below! Please tune into the Chemical Equipment Daily for part two of this two-part piece. For more information, please visit