Going mobile to solve the productivity puzzle

Posted on 14 Oct 2015 by The Manufacturer

Craig Such, managing director at Azzure IT, explains how manufacturers are going mobile to help solve the "productivity puzzle".

The productivity puzzle is becoming a growing issue for politicians and business leaders alike, hence the numerous reports, consultations and strategies announced in recent months.

By Craig Such – MD of Azzure IT
Craig Such, managing director, Azzure IT.

The consensus seems to be that understanding why the UK is lagging so far behind other G7 nations such as the US, France and Germany when it comes to productivity is critical to achieving the economic growth the UK needs.

George Osborne has described it as ‘the challenge of our times’ and stated that improving productivity is key to making Britain the ‘richest of all major economies.’

For the Government, the latest plan for increasing productivity focuses on vocational training, infrastructure investment and changes to the planning system.

While these may deliver results at a societal level, what about individual businesses? What can manufacturers do to increase their productivity? After all, while the Chancellor might be interested in increasing the Treasury’s coffers, increased productivity has the benefit of boosting company profits too. It’s something we all need to prioritise for one reason or another.

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As a company that works with manufacturers to improve their processes and gain efficiencies on a daily basis, there is one technological advancement that the manufacturing industry has been slow to embrace so far. And it is one that could quickly pay dividends when it comes to increased productivity and performance.

Mobile technology has the power to transform the way companies do business, particularly within the manufacturing sector.

As manufacturing processes become ever more complex to manage, mobile technology has an increasingly important role to play in capturing valuable real-time data and turning that into information that the business can use immediately to improve processes and results.

By its very nature, manufacturing processes often cover a large area, sometimes across multiple sites. Travelling back and forth between the shop floor and a computer to enter or retrieve information or a worker having to walk across a large site to discuss something with a manager is quite obviously an unproductive use of time.

Using smartphones, tablets and mobile apps can save companies huge amounts of time and money.

Embracing mobile technology means enabling people to get more done. Combined with effective ERP systems, mobile offers unparalleled opportunity for smarter working. So why aren’t more UK manufacturers leaping at the chance to exploit this technology?

It is certainly not through lack of interest. At Azzure IT, we regularly hear enthusiasm from manufacturers about the slick processes within other industries like retail distribution. Seeing high levels of automation and the benefits of mobile technology within these sectors has many manufacturers saying ‘our warehouse should be like that.’

AMR 2014-15
The full 2015 Annual Manufacturing Report can be downloaded here.

According to the 2015 Annual Manufacturing Report, 71% of manufacturers are planning to invest more in IT, with 60% saying their investment in new technology was led by a need for improvements in productivity. Manufacturers seem to understand the need to invest, but many still don’t.

Our experience is that the main challenge to overcome when introducing mobile technology, and therefore increasing productivity, is helping manufacturers to appreciate the scale of the initial investment in cash, time and effort required to make it successful. There is no doubt that implementing new systems can be time consuming and incur capital costs to start with, but the returns on that investment can be phenomenal.

The technology is improving all the time too, which is making the process much easier and more straightforward. Most people are now proficient with smartphones and tablets, so training is quicker.

The latest version of ERP system Microsoft Dynamics NAV, which Azzure IT specialises in, is built with mobile in mind – providing both a smartphone and tablet interface. ERP software providers understand the importance of mobile and are constantly reviewing their products to ensure they work efficiently across a range of devices.

From two-way radios to smartphones, laptops to landlines, tablets to rugged handhelds no one is beyond reach in today's smart factory - image courtesy of DFC.
The companies that are embracing mobile are, perhaps unsurprisingly, those that are very busy and under pressure.

The companies that are embracing mobile are, perhaps unsurprisingly, those that are very busy and under pressure. Companies often approach us to help streamline and improve processes when they’re almost at breaking point. Of course, this is one of the most stressful times to start implementing a brand new way of working.

Having the foresight to adopt mobile technology before it becomes a ‘must have’ enables companies to get one step ahead of their competition and provides a springboard for further growth. The key to finding out how mobile technology might be able to improve efficiency in any business is to start asking questions.

Talk to the staff on the shop floor. Find out if there are processes they think could be done more effectively. Ask how long they spend filling in paperwork and ask if there could be a better way of recording that information. Question how well the different departments are communicating, and if there could be improvements made. Then speak to a specialist IT company like Azzure IT to find out exactly how mobile technology could help.

The benefits of mobile technology are simply too great for us to ignore. As a nation, if we could match the productivity rate of the US, GDP would increase by 31% – the equivalent to £21,000 for every UK household.

Increasing productivity has to be a priority for all of us, and new technology could play a key part in solving the productivity puzzle that has politicians baffled.