Moving beyond one-off transactions to deliver seamless customer experiences not only strengthens existing customer relationships, it attracts new business and ultimately drives revenue.
The world of manufacturing is changing at a ferocious pace.
Regardless of what term you use to describe these changes (i.e. Industry 4.0, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Smart Manufacturing, etc.), that they are happening is undeniable.
Today’s digital technologies are multi-functional, scalable, secure, agile and affordable. They are putting powerful, advanced capabilities into the hands of all manufacturers, regardless of size, sector or geography, and often for the very first time.
For a glimpse into what the very near technology-enabled future may hold, manufacturers need look no further than the retail sector.
Ecommerce, the rise of the smartphone, the Internet of Things, a globalised marketplace, and seamless connectivity have radically altered how customers want to interact with retailers and how retailers get merchandise into customers’ hands.
According to the founder of MuleSoft, Ross Mason; “Retailers used to follow a prescriptive formula of planning inventory, buying merchandise, moving it to retail outlets, and selling it to consumers on a particular schedule at a particular price.”
“Now, however, retailers need to deliver seamless customer experiences across channels,” Mason adds. “Today’s shoppers expect more than a transactional relationship with retailers, they want a seamless and personalised journey that reflects the context of how they shop across devices and channels.
“The key to success lies in connecting in-store software with online systems so retailers can provide an uninterrupted experience wherever customers shop.”
Integration & connectivity
It’s a tantalising prospect, but offering a seamless, connected customer experience is often easier said than done – particularly for manufacturers. Large swathes of the industrial sector have arrived late to the ecommerce buffet, with many businesses only now starting to offer online shops and after-sales services.
Adding a further layer of complexity is the need for manufacturers to run a disparate mix of different software from ERP and MES, to SCM and CRM, as well as the standard back-office systems found in any organisation.
For these reasons, the key questions facing business owners and senior decision-makers keen to adopt a more connected value chain, are:
- How can my legacy systems interact with each other and with more modern cloud-based systems within the same ecosystem?
- How can my outdated (but still used) B2B communication standards be integrated into a modern system?
- How can we implement the necessary integration to make all the systems – on-premise and cloud-based – work in a standardised and sustainable way?
- How do we do all of this at an acceptable cost?
Getting away from the “donkey work”
Founded in 2006, MuleSoft is a San Francisco-based company which provides world-leading integration software to enable any business to connect applications, data and devices into an application network.
MuleSoft has risen from start-up to a global organisation serving blue chips such as Unilever, General Electric, Audi, and Anheuser Busch, and in May 2018 was acquired by global CRM leader, Salesforce.
According to MuleSoft’s Ross Mason; “Connecting systems has been one of the largest unsolved problems in IT, with companies spending upwards of US$400bn a year connecting systems. It’s a problem which is only getting worse as the number of applications, data and devices increases.
“Connecting applications with point-to-point code is not sustainable. It’s expensive and the changes are too numerous and frequent.”
MuleSoft provides a software platform that connects nearly every technology in a standardised way by unlocking data using APIs (application programming interfaces) and connecting them to external systems and applications, creating an application network.
This enables businesses to manage and secure the flow of data between all systems in their enterprise. An application network makes all of an organisation’s data and software pluggable, so they can easily and quickly change and innovate to provide an exceptional experience for customers, employees, as well as everyday consumers.
Case Study: Proactive not reactive
A large food manufacturing and CPG company employs more than 30,000 employees worldwide. The business manufactures in 18 different countries, sells its products in over 180 countries and has offices all over the world.
Due to fast-changing customer preferences, the company realised that its business depended on better customer experiences and modern, personalised customer engagement.
For example, its data told them that customers wanted more natural products, wanted to know where ingredients come from, how those are being produced and if products are environmentally friendly.
To better prepare for and meet their customer demands, the company wanted to leverage its valuable data for a more efficient planning process across its various brands and manufacturing.
This required the IT team to deliver better analytics. These goals proved difficult, however, as most projects in the past were done with point-to-point integration using old-fashioned EDI data.
The integration team wanted to implement a new strategy to improve the planning process and have better visibility into the needs of consumers. The team began shifting resources into innovation and brand building positions to move the company forward, including a focus on analytics.
With analytics, the company could better plan, innovate and build brand positions. Therefore, the team built a comprehensive analytics platform to allow the company to look at trends.
Gathering digital marketing, purchasing, and social media data will help plan the company’s next strategic moves. Analysing data is indeed a very powerful tool in the retailer’s planning arsenal, but it’s not as easy to do as one might think.
The CPG company quickly realised that without integrating systems together to consume the data, the company simply has a lot of unusable data sitting in various databases and systems.
For example, when a customer buys its products in a supermarket, how does that information make it back to the company? There needed to be a way to unlock the data assets in disparate backend systems.
It also wanted to move from batch-oriented data processing to a more a holistic way of viewing common data usages which were standardised by using APIs.
The company turned to MuleSoft to figure out how to expose those data services so that they can be used and consumed by multiple end-points in a consistent and reliable way.
MuleSoft gave the company an opportunity to build that standardised, holistic data integration framework. With an API-led connectivity approach to integration, the company has been able to expose data assets to help all parts of the business better use data to achieve their objectives.
It has given the CPG company the ability to open up common data usage, so that multiple stakeholders can consume the data according to their particular business needs. For example, the marketing team can receive data about customers that can be reused for sales forecasting, drastically improving the planning process.
This new approach to data integration has resulted in several positive business effects. Internally, MuleSoft is helping the company gain visibility into its disparate systems globally. There is now a single source of truth and the ability to provide data efficiently to consumers who need it on a global basis.
Another benefit of API-led connectivity for planning is its emphasis on reuse, rather than just building project after project after project. This allows the company to remain agile to new opportunities in the market.
By having one source of truth and being able to slice and dice the data in different ways, the CPG company can plan for the change that will occur.
The company is excited about the future. Its IT director explained, “This gives IT the ability to become a true partner for the business. Rather than just being an order taker as we have in the past, and having them come to us with the ideas, we can pursue innovative ideas ourselves, and use our existing technology to create transformative and efficient initiatives.”
That’s a definite shift in the way that the company used to plan. Rather than being reactive to the marketplace, the business can leverage data analytics to build connected relationships with customers, which becomes increasingly important as it plans for the future.
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