Turbulent times require a steady focus on the horizon
Last month, Trading Economics reported that South African manufacturing production had declined 0.8% year-on-year, following an upwardly revised 4.2% drop in April, which was the highest since July of 2014.
According to the report, "production of petroleum, chemical products, rubber and plastic products went down 8.4% and made the largest downward contribution. On a monthly basis, manufacturing output went down 0.3%. Industrial Production averaged 0.82% from 1974 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 18.50% in May of 1995 and a record low of -23.20% in April of 2009."
In these turbulent times, focusing on the horizon is essential to success. "Have you ever tried to steer a boat in a storm? The continuous pummelling of wind and waves can send a craft sailing in circles, drifting far off course, or even capsizing," says Jane Thomson, Managing Director at Softworx, an Infor partner. "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 and often coupled with high-risk."
To meet this challenge, manufacturers must use effective tools, technologies and strategies to 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.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and combining information and software counteracts uncertainty. "Information yields confident decision-making and the ability to stare-down adversaries," adds Thomson. "Armed with knowledge, including insight into historical instances and foresight into what is to come, manufacturers can rely on fact-based analyses which are both impartial and indisputable. Anecdotal instances or inflamed situations are less likely to cause knee-jerk reactions, meaning that small statistical deviations do not result in total strategy abandonment."
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, accurately assess risk and gauge appropriate reactions.
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 organisation on the same page, and focused on the same future. "This minimises the chance of reactionary detours and departures from the core strategy," states Thomson.
Modern software can also 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 outsourced agents. Similarly, real-time sharing of critical data keeps dialogues open and common goals in sight, even when complexity tends to pull those alliances apart.
Data science is a critical component in 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 allows a manufacturer to spot under-served markets, niche targets, product gaps and emerging pockets of growth potential, 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 organisation to tip over and the whole enterprise to capsize.
Volatility, whether in the political arena, global economy or customer demand, will likely cause some downward dips and 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," advises Thomson.
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 foster a truly global nature, while remaining responsive to changing demands.
"Although manufacturing may be facing some challenges, manufacturers can turn to software solutions 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," concludes Thomson.
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