Manufacturers today face intense pressure to improve the way they manage product and engineering information from employees, customers, suppliers and collaborators within the industry.
To remain agile and current, engineering teams need to collaborate across geographies and silos, and partners and dealers need these new specifications before they can integrate a product into their delivery chain, or support customers.
The information that drives all of this activity is stored electronically — from product roadmaps and engineering specifications to marketing data sheets, product specs, and parts information.
This information typically lives in discrete systems with limited or restricted access. As a result, information can be difficult to find and cumbersome to digest.
Many organisations report that key roles (including engineers, pre-sales, and support) spend as much as 30% of their time searching for information.
This all detracts from the real business of innovation, revenue growth, and customer satisfaction.
>See also: The future of digital manufacturing
Digital transformation revolutionises the way manufacturers share and manage information and there are 4 main forces intensifying and catalysing manufacturers’ interest in new technologies.
Changing customer expectations
Customers expect products they interact with to be simple to use and information to be available when they need it. They expect every product to be as intuitive as a mobile phone and expect questions to be answered immediately.
As a result, these new digital expectations are changing their loyalty to traditional products and brands, as well as opening up new threats for manufacturers from competitors.
To meet these new expectations, manufacturers must innovate faster and create products that are software enabled and connected (e.g. cars and even tractors).
These next-generation products require diverse engineering teams, (who previously may have created unrelated products) to collaborate.
The changes in the product lifecycle must be supported with new forms of information that can be readily shared across the enterprise—and with partners and customers outside the firewall.
The rise of the new employee
Manufacturing organisations are under tremendous pressure to support connected, tech-savvy employees whose expectations have been shaped by consumer web services.
Today’s employees expect to find and easily share business and product-related information and want their company systems to support remote and collaborative working styles.
This workforce demands IT solutions that allow them to work independent of location, network, and device and the rise of mobile and social technologies has also helped to facilitate this new outlook. It is now estimated that 37% of the world’s workforce is mobile.
Value of the extended enterprise
Firms are extending their value chains and using external collaborators for everything from product design and development, to marketing, sales, and service.
Partner and supplier input is crucial for optimised sourcing strategies and getting products to market.
Manufacturers recognise this and are investing in technologies that will optimise processes, increase transparency, and facilitate collaboration throughout all levels of the value chain.
Big data and the Internet of Things
Every company is dealing with a deluge of data. IDC predicts a mind-boggling fifty-fold growth in digital content from 2010 to 2020.
90% of it will be unstructured information like e-mails, documents, and video. Big data adds to the content management challenge, making it larger and more complex.
Big data analysis anticipates trends in product direction and customer usage and expectations as part of product development. Furthermore, as these pressures converge with new Internet of Things capabilities, offline products are turned into ones always on tap with data.
The digitised manufacturer now has a slew of new sources of product information that must be managed, updated, analysed, and somehow combined with those produced from within.
As manufacturers shift into the digital age, many companies are moving business content to the cloud, storing content both on-premises and in the cloud, with seamless syncing between the two locations.
Hybrid enterprise content management meets IT’s need for control and compliance, while freeing business users and external collaborators to be more productive. While modern manufacturers blur the lines between inside and outside the firewall, the question of security cannot be ignored.
The pressure to secure IP and comply with ISO and quality processes and security ratings must be in place to ensure that the information that gets into the right hands.
The ability to quickly audit that trail of information is critical not just in regulated industries, but across all modernising manufacturers.
Despite greater threats to data security and IP protection, manufacturers must remain open to some extent, as too much of the business rests on the sharing and collaboration of data.
The new agile manufacturer knows this and tightens security of information and compliance without compromising collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Stefan Waldhauser, senior director industry GoToMarket at Alfresco