For high-tech manufacturers, bringing the right products to market at the right time, while competing in a global economy, is a day-to-day challenge. The challenge is becoming more problematic as rapid changes in technology, both at the consumer end and across the manufacturing organization, affect how high-tech manufacturers approach their work environment.
According to Drew Gude, Technology Strategist for High-Tech Manufacturing at Microsoft, "the new world of work" involves organizations collaborating across boundaries to allow people to work together more effectively.
"These days everyone, even in our personal lives and especially in the business environment, is connected — by mobile devices, cell phones, internet access — and manufacturers need the tools and platforms to adapt to this environment in order to be more competitive," Gude said.
And for the high-tech manufacturer, collaboration — externally with consumers and their supply chain, and internally with employees — will be the solution that will drive growth. Global partnerships, specialization and getting products to market quicker are trends in the high-tech manufacturing industry that will benefit from a more collaborative environment.
As noted in a recent Microsoft white paper, Creating Business Value Through Better Collaboration, "Organizations need strong, secure networks that extend across their enterprise and beyond, while workers need to manage the constant demands on their time, master new skills and find new ways to be productive in a more deeply connected, transparent workplace."
"Manufacturers have actually been integrating business processes for years," commented Tyler Bryson, Microsoft U.S. High-Tech Industry Solutions Director. "What they are missing now is better collaboration with other companies, their customers and their supply chain."
The most important aspect of a successful collaborative effort is that it must be a "people-driven" process. "The business process must be enhanced by tools that can make the person-to-person process easier," said Bryson.
"People will drive change if you give them the proper tools to collaborate," Gude said. To accomplish this, software systems have been developed that allow high tech manufacturers to integrate more effectively with their customers and supply chain, and to provide a cohesive information resource for employees.
As examples, Microsoft's "Office Groove 2007" collaboration software program allows teams to effectively work together inside collaborative workspaces at anytime, anywhere and with anyone in the business environment; and their SharePoint products let users create, manage and build their own collaborative web sites and make them available throughout an organization.
According to Gude, the high-tech market has matured over the years and right now there is a "huge velocity" of innovation in the market. There is a big push to get the right products, at the right time, at the right cost into the market.
But how can a high-tech manufacturer meet these demands cost-effectively?
"Product cycles are so fast now and development costs are so high," Bryson said, "that no matter how efficient a manufacturer is they can still be losing in manufacturing costs, market share and other areas. Manufacturers must develop collaborative techniques to connect not only within their organizations, but outwardly with their supply chain and their customers."
In the past, the systems and tools available for collaborating and connecting with customers and suppliers lacked standards and were difficult to use. "You needed the IT department to set up the system," said Bryson, "and these systems used inefficient methods of integration such as the phone or faxing."
But the new systems, such as those by Microsoft and others, are easier to set up, require little or no technical support, and are secure. These advancements make it dramatically easier to use these tools and allow a manufacturer to extend their reach "beyond the four walls of the plant to partner with suppliers, customers and competitors," Bryson noted.
The increased global partnership in design and manufacturing is also changing the nature of high tech manufacturing. Manufacturers, and even competitors, are synchronizing design and product development and supply chain functions.
"Competitors are partnering to bring products to market faster and leverage industry knowledge among manufacturers," said Bryson. "The cost to get products to market is now so prohibitive, that the trend is for one company to specialize in what they do best."
In this era of global outsourcing, "sticking to what you're good at" really gives outsourcing a different definition, Bryson explained. With specialization, each company does what they do best and outsources or collaborates with one or more companies to make it more affordable to bring products to market and to adapt to market changes.
Bryson uses Microsoft as an example. In the manufacturing of Microsoft's Xbox 360, a gaming console, Microsoft partnered with IBM (a competitor) to make the CPUs.
In Microsoft's vision, collaboration is a strategic capability that requires a strategic approach. It's about providing an infrastructure of software and services that allow people to work together more effectively in the high tech industry.
"To be successful in today's global market, manufacturers must have the capability to collaborate effectively, not only within their plants, but with other companies," Gude commented. "Microsoft not only provides products for effective collaboration, but as a global and manufacturing partner themselves, also uses these products to support and grow their own business."
Bryson agreed and offered this suggestion: "For the high tech manufacturer, collaboration is about enabling people to work together. Things have changed so drastically and are so different from just seven years ago. It's really all about how people work together.”