Digitally made – Data driven manufacturers

Can the industrial web create more data-driven social manufacturers? TM's inhouse digital guru Hayden Richards discusses.

Hayden Richards
TM’s inhouse digital expert, Hayden Richards

Many Industry pundits in 2013, have succeeded in correctly identifying many of the main manufacturing trends that are still making waves this year. For example, re-shoring was identified as a trend in particular that would continue to build momentum in 2014. Then there’s that old chestnut, the skills gap challenge, which rightly continues to frustrate forward-thinking manufacturers whilst it also seemingly continues to baffle the politicians.

One of my personal favourites is the rise of the industrial internet. Manufacturing today accounts for a third of all the data generated. If you think about it, manufacturing supply chains, ERP (Enterprise resource planning) and MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) all contribute to that huge data flow, and we will start to see smart devices actually communicating with manufacturers providing feedback on a number of core business issues. GE tells us this new shift will make industries work far more efficiently, as we begin to see more machines and networks enabled with advanced sensors, integrated with more controls and software applications. In order to deal with the deluge of big data, smart manufacturers will attempt to sift through the noise by using various intelligent dashboards aligned to certain I.T systems such as ERP and MES.

In my opinion, many of these ‘dashboards’ are starting to look alike. At our recently concluded Energy and Flex event, manufacturing smart box system provider MESTEC, demoed a manufacturing dashboard, which looked like it would have equally been at home as part of a digital marketer’s toolkit. Manufacturers are clearly beginning to use new technological tools in new and innovative ways, and the industrial web and the industrial internet of things should begin to change habits of the traditional manufacturer, especially in the manner in which they communicate with their peers, customers and suppliers.

All companies are now digital companies, let that statement sink in for a moment… This also includes manufacturers regardless of size. Want proof? According to online digital consultancy, Econsultancy, approximately 91% of companies are distributing more marketing and social content in 2014 than they did in 2013. This fact brings with it, its boons as well as potential pitfalls, and manufacturers will have to start deploying a host of social engagement tools run by knowledgeable in-house experts. Why in house?

Sure there is the temptation to outsource this function to a marketing agency, but really, who would you prefer to represent your first line of communication with a potential customer.. A remote marketer or invested and dedicated staff? While you ponder that question, consider this fact, it is actually easier to justify the cost of in-house staff using dedicated social media platforms that can actively and ultimately track the cost of ROI over time.

Ahh, but where to start I hear you say. Well it all depends on your requirements. Do you need to access all of big data? Do you require the sophistication of big tools without the costs? Perhaps you simply need to interrogate the social data already at your fingertips. All of these questions will determine your choices, whether you decide to invest in platforms like Jugnoo or dabble with Radian6 or Hootsuite. Regardless of the choices you make, new patterns of behaviour will emerge as well as the potential rewards.

Paul Tate, in an article on the Manufacturing Leadership blog sums up the situation best:

“Large or small, manufacturing enterprises urgently need to learn how to identify, adopt, and leverage the right emerging technologies to enable rapid process transformation and the development of innovative new products and business services. They must also understand how these technologies may impact operational efficiency, responsiveness, predictive capability, resilience and the customer experience”

Serving up a first class customer experience to potential clients who are already “connected” is a huge task. If you can’t respond in real-time or quickly extinguish a PR nightmare, then forget it. Social tools are not just for customer services, start thinking about lead generation and market/competitor intelligence. The right tools can make navigating the B2B landscape so much easier.