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Turbulent Times Require A Steady Focus On The Horizon

Software solutions help manufacturers stay on course despite rapid change, market volatility and political uncertainty.

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Mark Humphlett, Senior Director of Industry and Product Marketing, InforMark Humphlett, Senior Director of Industry and Product Marketing, Infor

Have you ever tried to steer a boat in a storm? The continuous pummeling of wind and waves can send a craft sailing in circles, drifting far off course, or even capsizing. Managing a manufacturing plant today can feel much the same. Rapid rate of change, disruptive technologies, global tensions, and the political debate about the promise of jobs all converge to create one wild whirlwind. Staying focused on strategic priorities is a challenge, often with high-risk.

What Can Manufacturers do?
Manufacturers today have many options available to them: tools, technologies and strategies which can help them navigate past common pain points and stay the course. Advanced, modern software solutions provide some of the most effective tactics. Not only can manufacturers stay focused on priorities, like products and customers, but they can also turn this volatility into a growth opportunity. Let’s look closer at how software counteracts uncertainty.

Information is Power
It’s an old notion, but one that hasn’t lost its validity. Information yields confident decision-making and the ability to stare-down adversaries — no matter the form. Armed with knowledge, including insight into historical instances and foresight into what is to come, manufacturers can rely on fact-based analysis, impartial, and indisputable. Anecdotal instances or inflamed situations — the ones people always tend to remember — are less likely to cause knee-jerk reactions. Those isolated extreme cases can be seen for just what they are — small statistical deviations that should not cause a complete strategy to be abandoned.

Data helps manufacturers weigh the true weight of a problem. For example, one very vocal, unhappy customer can make a minor issue seem monumental. Analytics, the ability to drill down into incidences and data points can help the manager determine the true bottom-line impact and accurately access risk and appropriate reactions. The issue may be one that points to a bigger underlying problem and additional customers that may be impacted. Or, it can be one random anomaly unlikely to ever happen again.

Role based workbenches and dashboards, available with some modern ERP solutions, give personnel throughout the plant access to relevant data. This helps keep the entire organization on the same page, and focused on the same future. It minimizes the chance of reactionary detours and departures from the core strategy.

Extend the Vision Beyond the Four Walls
In turbulent times, manufacturers tend to form partnerships and alliances to help them share burdens, alleviate stress points, and reinforce common causes. This unity often works. But, as the terrain becomes bumpy, it is easy for the various players to bounce in different directions, stumble and jostle toward different approaches to the issues. This resulting tug-of-war seldom spells success.

Modern software can prevent schisms from forming and breaking apart strategic partnerships. Supply chain visibility, online portals, integrated systems, IoT-connected machines, and social collaboration tools all help reinforce bonds with colleagues, contractors, channel partners and out-sourced agents.

Real-time sharing of critical data keeps dialogues open and common goals in sight, even when complexity tends to pull those alliances apart. The extended team can work together, collaborating on innovation and problem-solving, rather than settling disputes or placing blame.

Predictive Insights Provide a Head Start
Not only is strong data science helpful in understanding the true impact of problems and monitoring relationship with partners, but it can also be applied to predicting the future. This is where manufacturers can begin to turn these wild tides of change into profit-rich fishing. A glimpse into the future is a powerful tool. It allows a manufacturer to spot under-served markets, niche targets, product gaps and emerging pockets of growth potential — and do it ahead of the competition.

Predictive analytics help manufacturers anticipate dives and spikes in data so that the impact is less shocking and less likely to cause the well-balanced organization to tip over and the whole enterprise to capsize. Foresight into market demands, shifts in pricing and reaction to political policies give a manufacturer time to prepare. Additional resources can be stockpiled, crews expanded or contracted and forecasts adjusted to ensure adequate cash flow.

Respond With Agility to New Opportunities
Volatility, whether in the political arena, global economy or customer demand, will likely cause some downward dips. But, it also will cause upswings. The challenge is to spot those positive opportunities early and move quickly. Cloud deployment is the secret weapon on this front. When deploying an ERP solution in the cloud, implementation takes weeks, not years. The manufacturer doesn’t have to worry about buying and setting up hardware, extensive on-site IT teams and security.

New branches, satellite locations closer to a customer or supplier can be established, new divisions or spin-off companies can be set up when and where they are needed, for as long as needed. This flexibility allows manufacturers to truly be global in nature and responsive to changing demands.

Manage Mergers and Acquisitions With Ease
Market consolidation is frequently a byproduct of volatility. While this is a threat to at-risk enterprises, this also offers tremendous opportunities for the manufacturer poised for growth. Ailing competitors may be snatched up at bargain prices, complementary organizations or suppliers may be interested in strategic mergers and acquisitions can help extend a product line or generate new revenue streams.

These are places where, once again, cloud deployment provides the smart path. The flexibility and speed of implementation allow manufacturers to put new business models in place quickly — yielding a return on investment (ROI) without lengthy delays. This also gives new partners and new relationships a positive reinforcement — early in the relationship, when it is most critical.

Concluding Thoughts
Although manufacturing may be facing some challenges, including uncertainty about global markets, consumer demand and political incentives and sanctions, manufacturers can turn to software solution to help them keep an even keel. Modern ERP solutions and cloud deployment will help manufacturers keep their eye on the horizon, and even take advantage of new opportunities that arise.

Mark Humphlett is Director of Industry and Strategy Solution at Infor.

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