When three companies merged in 2010 to create the Scott Fetzer Electrical Group (SFEG), we had a vision of becoming the leader in intelligent power solutions by providing innovative technology, service, and excellence to our customers. We set out on a mission to combine our expertise in power supplies, motion controls, and drive systems to create a platform for new product development that would bring value to our customers and stakeholders. As we seek to take advantage of the huge advancements in manufacturing — automation technology, advanced manufacturing systems, data infrastructure projects and data science — our internal mentality must change to create room for these new opportunities.
If your organization is on a similar journey, my advice is, don’t just look to improve your products. We have great product ideas, but after integrating three disparate companies into one back-office system, we saw that our processes were our weak spot. We first had to get more strategic about our core business and evaluate the way we operated, our resources, and our capabilities before we could change up our product lines. Look at your processes and ask yourself, do we have visibility into the core business? Have we streamlined and automated our processes? And what would we have to change to get the agility we need in order to transform our business?
Do we have visibility?
You can’t drive a car without a view of the road, and you can’t drive your company unless you know exactly what’s going on inside the business and out there with your customers. At SFEG, we recognized that we lacked that visibility. For example, we didn’t have fully “online” workflows and approvals or real-time dashboards and reporting, so managers couldn’t see what had been sold in real-time, salespeople couldn’t tell customers what had been shipped without a few requests down the line, and neither knew what exactly was in stock that moment. Restrictions in the data hierarchy made it difficult to reflect real-world practices and changes in the ERP system, let alone other processes, so some data was simply not accurate. To conduct analysis, managers had to pull data offline into spreadsheets, so it grew stale quickly — though, frankly, it was already stale because the system was so difficult to use that people didn’t keep it current. We couldn’t measure the effectiveness of our marketing initiatives or do forecasting, because although we had a forecasting module in our manufacturing software, nobody knew how to use it. But that was the least of our worries. With all the other system problems, we already knew where we were going: nowhere.
How can we do things better?
SFEG management and staff identified the business processes that were most important to ensuring swift responsiveness to customers and timely delivery of products. Here are some of the most important ways in which we streamlined and automated processes to save time and boost productivity. They worked for us, so I recommend you demand technology solutions that pinpoint and address your biggest pain points:
- Eliminate the need for physical signatures and put all approval processes and workflows online.
- Make it easy for teams to collaborate. For example, attach conversations (like Salesforce Chatter) to sales orders and purchase orders, keeping all the related information together for easy reference.
- Give employees real-time visibility into the business, so they can be empowered to make better, faster decisions.
- Make it easy for people to use the new system. If the system helps them do their job, they’ll use it and they’ll follow your business rules — and you’ll always have the latest data distributed seamlessly across your organization.
- Use mobile devices so employees can have access to the latest data, wherever they are, from any device.
How can we do things differently?
Streamlining and automating is essential, but it only lets you be more efficient at what you were doing before. Think ahead — what would it take, operationally, to get a new product to market? What would have to change to support a new business model? Is there room for innovation with your current set of systems and technology?
We wanted to do something different: modernize operations to support increasing business automation and use of robotics — a Factory of the Future. In just four months we put together a system that leverages Salesforce, Kenandy Cloud ERP and Hubspot, and offers us greater efficiency plus unprecedented flexibility and freedom from the tight hierarchies of our previous system. We implemented it in November of 2014 in one bold, pull-off-the-bandaid swoop.
SFEG is a very different company than it was just six months ago. We’re much more automated, more efficient, and more innovative, with increasing use of automation and tools from the manufacturing floor to the finance office. And our pace of change is — if anything — increasing. We’ve got cloud-based flexibility that just wasn’t possible before, for agility, ease of customization, strong reporting, robust security, and the ability to leverage third-party apps with state-of-the-art functionality from the Salesforce AppExchange. Our modern cloud platform is easy to use, has built-in social and mobile capabilities, and is always current with the latest version of the software.
Instead of restricting us, this new system challenges us to think bigger because it keeps up-to-date with new functionality we might not even know we need yet. It enables us to quickly adopt best practices and business innovation, so we can grow and extend functionality and support new ideas, such as our plan to enable our products to be connected over the Internet. With our new systems, we’re at last in the business of manufacturing bold, intelligent products.
Rob Goldiez is General Manager at Scott Fetzer Electrical Group.