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Q&A: Critical Innovation Trends And Technology

Milind Lakkad, the Global Head of Manufacturing at Tata Consultancy Services, recently spoke with Manufacturing Business Technology about the impact of emerging technologies and the four big innovation trends β€” mobile, social, big data, and cloud computing on the manufacturing world and how companies can address the new and varied technological needs within the industry.

Milind Lakkad is the Global Head of Manufacturing at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a $10.17 billion global IT services organization. He recently spoke with Manufacturing Business Technology about the impact of emerging technologies and the four big innovation trends β€” mobile, social, big data, and cloud computing on the manufacturing world and how companies can address the new and varied technological needs within the industry.

Q: In what specific ways are manufacturers seeing real benefits from employing analytics technology and having access to on-demand information?

A: Traditional analytics technologies have long been deployed by manufacturers to analyze the performance after the fact. Focus is shifting to predictive applications which can identify and correct issues before they become widespread. Manufacturers are increasingly leveraging technologies developed in web search, social media and related consumer-oriented areas to drive benefits in manufacturing areas like quality and supply chain. For instance, β€œbig data” technologies can be leveraged to analyze and correlate structured and unstructured data within quality, warranty, procurement and customer contact center data to provide early warning on quality issues, understand customer sentiment and take early corrective action. Similarly complex event processing techniques can combine external data from sources like Twitter feeds and enterprise data like supplier master to identify supply chain risks due to conditions like natural disasters or factory fires.  Once identified, organizations can take proactive corrective actions.

Q:  A lot of advancements and strides have been made in the area of mobile technology, both in terms of hardware and software/applications. Are manufacturers taking advantage of these strides and leveraging mobile technology to the best of their abilities? Why or why not?

A: Mobility as a concept has existed in manufacturing sector for a long time in the form of ruggedized devices used in warehousing, manufacturing and logistics. However, what we are seeing now is an explosion of the device capabilities in terms of size, processing power, and additional sensors like cameras and accelerometers. This, coupled with ubiquitous and fast networks, has resulted in new use cases for mobile technology. Manufacturers are taking advantage of this in two ways. On the one hand, they are adding mobile capabilities to their own products and offerings to their customers in an attempt to differentiate themselves from their competition. Examples of these include in-vehicle infotainment capabilities in the automotive space and remote diagnostic and service enablement in industrial machinery.  On the other hand, mobility is being applied to enterprise processes in order to drive efficiency by enabling employees to have access to data and information at the right time and right place irrespective of the location of the person.  In general, the usage of mobility is seen to be taking off more in the first instance with the imperative to drive revenue and differentiation in the market place. The other aspect is slowly beginning to take off.

Q: What are some common challenges manufacturers across all segments are currently dealing with today? How are they working to overcome them?

A: Product proliferation, faster product life cycles, cost pressures and extended supply chains are some of the key challenges facing manufacturing organizations. Manufacturers have different strategies to address these, but each can introduce their own challenges. For example, cost pressures have typically been addressed by low-cost-country outsourcing. However, this does introduce challenges caused by the extended supply chains and increased supply chain risk. There are also multiple handoffs in these supply chains – tier 2 vendors, logistics providers, customs and related agencies, etcetera, reducing the visibility within supply chain. While technology has made it easier to integrate across these different stakeholders, it also requires intervention at the management level to align the objectives to enable these initiatives. 

On the product front, there is increasing adoption of platform strategies. For example, in the automotive industry, global platforms are being leveraged to achieve scale. At the same time, these are designed so that a certain level of localization can be easily achieved.

Q: When it comes to cloud computing, which applications should manufacturers consider moving to a cloud computing environment first?

A: There are a number of factors to consider when identifying applications to move into a cloud environment. The primary reasons for moving to cloud would be to take advantage of usage or consumption-based commercial models. So applications where the variation in consumption or usage is considerable could benefit from a move to a cloud environment. Similarly, applications which are required for a specific purpose – say an event or a seasonal requirement subsequent to which the application is withdrawn β€” would be good candidates for such a move. Also, applications which are standardized across the industry (examples would be taxation-related or payroll processing) are good candidates for either moving to a cloud environment or to a software as a service provider. Industry agnostic processes such as HR, finance and indirect procurement are also good candidates for cloud as they can significantly reduce the costs through process standardization and multi-tenancy at the hardware, software and application levels.

Another area where the cloud computing paradigm can be leveraged is for developing initial prototypes of applications built to test new concepts, technologies or business models. For these, the initial ramp up can be very fast and incur minimal expenditure, ensuring a faster time to market. As the concept is proven and matures, a decision can be made about permanent infrastructure.

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Interview by Manufacturing Business Technology

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