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The consumer culture has long outpaced the business world when it comes to evolving technology.  We have hopped into an Uber, waited in line for the iPhoneX and indulged in affordable VR headsets as an easy wow-worthy Christmas present.

Yet, the business world, especially manufacturing, lags. PwC reports that only 1% of UK manufacturing companies are “digital champions” compared with 10% globally. More shockingly, only 3% of UK manufacturing organisations report that their operations are fully automated across internal and external plants, exchanging and acting on information in real time.

So, what does this mean to the manufacturer when automation has reported up to a 30% increase in production output for manufacturing operations.

Automation for us starts with automating the systems and processes in place throughout your organisation to create a seamless flow of information, input, and output throughout the business life-cycle. Creating this foundation allows for other, more physical automation processes to be adopted more readily and effectively. Your business should connect from end-to-end without manual interruption.

There are three areas most affected by automated processes, or the lack thereof. Connecting these will make your path to digital maturity smoother and ultimately more successful.

1. Data

Data management is one of the biggest time sinks in any organisation, but the most successful organisations recognise that data is a key asset. The accurate and automatic flow of data between systems is crucial to increasing efficiency and production.

This means having a seamless horizontal integration between operational systems and vertical integration through connected manufacturing systems; as well as end-to-end, holistic integration through the entire value chain.

Deloitte states that “shifting from linear, sequential supply chain operations to an interconnected, open system of supply operations - known as the digital supply network - could lay the foundation for how companies compete in the future.” This starts with ensuring your data flows seamlessly through the value chain.

The first stage of unlocking the data goldmine is to analyse the business processes that are causing you the most pain then analyse the data that flows through them, identifying areas of inaccuracy, duplication and incompleteness. From here you can begin to build a data strategy for your organisation that will reduce waste and optimise your data value stream.

2. Actionable Insights

The most effective way organisations can operate more efficiently, increase production or increase margin is to shift from a reactive operating model to a predictive, proactive one. To be predictive and proactive, an organisation needs to leverage their collective data and action it appropriately. 

IoT and AI can greatly improve automation across the supply chain, but not in isolation. Actionable insights from your IoT and AI outputs are the key to this automation and the integrity of your data that you rely on in a mandatory pre-requisite.

Such actionable insights can then provide a connected digital feedback loop which enables real-time operational optimisation, giving you the ability to proactively leverage this new-found knowledge across your value chain.

3. Customers

Your customers are more connected than ever before, so if you aren’t connected to THEM you are missing out. Customers are now using more channels than ever to connect with your brand and take action. If you are not set up to cater to this action, your connectivity and automation ends as your product leaves your warehouse doors. 

Are you set up to deliver to your customer based on their working business model rather than the other way around?

For instance, if your distributors work with their customers in a strictly online basis, do you make their experience seamless by providing them with an eCommerce portal to order product? Do you have the ability to capture and action insights and feedback from the customer? Does this feed into engineering and product development automatically? A connected supply chain is not truly effective if the connectivity ends with your product. 

The smart factory, or the factory of the future, promises automation and efficiency that will give your organisation a competitive edge and help you achieve a greater level of operational excellence and Customer satisfaction. To achieve that though, you need to focus on your organisation’s current digital capabilities and where you would like to be. 

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