The Manufacturer talks diversification, reshoring, E-commerce and ‘creating more from what you already have’ with Brendan Flattery, Managing Director – ERP at Access Group.
What shifts or trends would you say defined enterprise IT in 2020?
Brendan Flattery: It’s clear that the past 12 months has brought major behavioural changes to the way businesses operate and work, remote working being the greatest shift.
That migration from office to external locations has forced businesses to scrutinise how they get disparate information to their employees, customers and suppliers. As a result of that scrutiny, more and more businesses are prioritising their IT infrastructure, cloud hosting and cybersecurity.
This emphasis on security is understandable when you consider that a small business in the UK is successfully hacked every 19 seconds*, and almost two-thirds of businesses (61%) have experienced some form of cyberattack in the past 12 months**
We’ve also seen manufacturers make radical changes to their operating model, including introducing new workstreams and sales channels and diversifying their core offering. Predominantly, that diversification is as a result of moving from a B2B to a B2C/D2C model, pivoting into new or additional markets, or both.
Pre-COVID, businesses may have been quite prescriptive about what it is they do. We make precision engineered parts for aerospace or we are an automotive supplier, for example. Being involved in national initiatives such as producing PPE or ventilator parts has caused a noticeable shift in mindset.
Having crossed the Rubicon and started producing completely different product sets, many businesses are now saying, “What other markets could we enter, what else could we diversify into, how else could we spread our risk?”
To a certain extent that initial foray may have been forced onto businesses, but it has unquestionably opened the door to future diversification, something which represents exciting growth opportunities.
Given the logistics issues many manufacturers have experienced in 2020, and in several cases still are experiencing, have you seen increased demand for your supply chain planning, scheduling and traceability solutions?
Demand has certainly increased for a wide variety of reasons, not solely because of COVID and Brexit. Concerns around global supply have being mounting and it does appear that manufacturing is undergoing a material shift towards domestic production, be that onshoring or reshoring, and revaluating the importance of supply chain security and operational resilience.
Where, historically, a mid-sized company may have found it difficult to compete and win work because they were up against large multinationals; suddenly, with the concern around supply chain security and that shift towards more local supply, they’ve got a much stronger business case to win some of those opportunities.
Alongside our production planning and scheduling tools, we’re also seeing an uptick in demand for our E-commerce, hosting and security offerings, the latter two as a result of remote working.
Today, management teams are questioning whether they are being as effective and as efficient as they can be. As a consequence of that, they are looking at how to make more of the technology they already have, as well as introducing new systems. A key area of focus is on insight, something that has always been important, but that importance has been dramatically heightened of late.
Online dashboards, for example, offer access to information which can be easily distributed across a group of people, regardless of where those people are based. This information flow ensures that, operationally, you can stay on top of lead times, work in progress, manufacturing flow and any potential production capacity issues.
A good example of that can be seen in pharmaceutical manufacturing. The remote access we can provide means production teams don’t even need to be on the same continent as the plant in order to have complete oversight of what’s happening. Ultimately, this is about enabling businesses to make more of what they already have and to make remote working as secure and efficient as possible.
How has the pandemic changed the conversations you’re having with manufacturers, such as an increase in urgency in what they’re looking to achieve?
Urgency is the perfect word. Businesspeople have had to adapt to the world of today, and that has meant acting swiftly, decisively and innovatively. Those three traits have always been important, but they have become essential factors to success. That’s why having real-time information that you can trust is so vital because it allows you to make smarter, faster, better decisions.
Allied to that urgency is how quickly manufacturers have been able to diversify and serve markets far-removed from their traditional customer base, such as producing PPE and medical components during the height of the pandemic.
Cashflow has also become absolutely critical and that has led countless manufacturers to embrace E-commerce, in many cases for the first time. Our technology is supporting customers in these journeys, whether it be changing sales channels, evaluating efficiencies, or making sure that production capability is as slick as it can be.
We are always looking to work with customers to identify where gaps exist in our product portfolio and then addressing any opportunity through a combination of organic product development and making strategic acquisitions.
Access Group made nine such acquisitions in 2020 which significantly strengthen our integrated approach to software, processes and data, enabling businesses to benefit from clarity and control of their inventory, from source to sale.
Two in particular have proven key to our manufacturing customers. The first was Mintsoft, a specialist in E-commerce and order fulfilment software, the second was Unleashed Software, which bolsters our inventory management software offering for the manufacturing, wholesale and distribution markets.
Despite everything that has happened, Access has continued to make significant strides forward in terms of organic and acquisitive growth projects, as well as geographic expansion, in order to bring new offerings and extend our proposition for customers.
What trends do you see hitting big in 2021?
All the positive development regarding vaccines is offering a light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still very much in that tunnel.
At least the first six months of 2021 are going to be a continuation of 2020, and the priorities I’ve already mentioned – greater efficiency, greater insight, information distribution, secure remote working, cashflow – will continue to be key focus areas in 2021.
Hopefully, the second half of the year will see the economy start to open back up and with that, a return of both consumer and business confidence.
Do you believe the new approaches to work and the increased adoption of digital technologies are here to stay?
Once businesses have experienced a more efficient, rewarding, open way of working, where’s the drive to leave that behind?
Access to an intuitive dashboard detailing all your KPIs and the data you need for them means a production manager, for example, doesn’t have to be onsite purely to know what is happening. This allows them to spend more of their time streamlining and improving processes, rather than fire-fighting or retrieving information.
Clearly, there will always be a need for machine operators and technicians to be in the factory, but equally those same dashboards can automatically provide them with their to-do list, timesheets and shop floor data capture. Once you’ve experienced that, why would you go back to paper-based systems, cardboard Gantt charts and whiteboards?
This change in mindset around the importance of diversifying, of supplier security, of remote working and digital adoption will stick. I think British industry has changed forever.
With the right software giving you the data you need for decision-making, even more manufacturing potential can be unlocked.
To learn more about software and how the Access manufacturing suite helps you lead your business visit, click here.
*/**According to international insurance group, Hiscox.
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