Practical solutions to business challenges in today’s digital age

Posted on 8 Dec 2018 by Nick Peters

Culture, Cloud and Customers were the focus of a dinner hosted by The Manufacturer and supported by SAP for some of Britain’s top manufacturing executives.

A range of front-of-mind issues were explored in a stimulating discussion, co-hosted alongside the representatives from one of the world’s largest enterprise software providers, SAP.

Executives from some of the biggest manufacturing companies gathered at the Liverpool’s Pullman Hotel during Digital Manufacturing Week 2018 to discuss solutions for improving manufacturing productivity and sales.

Guests were invited to bring their own insights and experience to discuss:

  • Customer Experience – how to maximise it by using digital technologies
  • Cloud Speed – how the Cloud enables rich data analysis and insights
  • Intelligent Technologies – how they enable UK manufacturers to generate exponential efficiency

Customer Experience

The discussions began with how manufacturers could increase customer value from utilising data. Customers are “looking for quality, cost and agility,” said SAP Industry Value Engineer Jeremy Phelps. “So, how are organisations moving to utilise digital technology to be agile in new market sectors, or to improve product reliability and durability?”

A director of an electrical equipment multinational noted that, “A lot of the customers that we deal with are data-rich and information-poor. And certainly, the customers that we deal with are very protective of their own data. They don’t know why, but they are.”

The diners also agreed that to achieve a better customer outcome, businesses need to encourage creativity among their employees, balanced with working with clear direction and instruction. “Most employees like being told what to do,” ventured one engineering director.

This was countered by another guest who said younger employees in particular are less likely to be strictly bound to procedures and can be a rich source of new ideas. This prompted a discussion of how technology could best harness this valuable creativity, rather than gradually pressurising employees to conform – therefore missing out on opportunities for internal, bottom-up innovation.

Guests agreed that achieving the right balance between automation and organisational creativity enables companies to design and produce better products that please their customers, while also protecting against competition and disruption.

This is third dinner The Manufacturer has co-hosted with SAP.

Click the links to read the key takeaways from the previous two: How are UK manufacturers dealing with disruption? | What are the main barriers to innovation manufacturers face? 


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Working at Cloud Speed

The guests widely agreed that moving to the Cloud can be of considerable benefit to manufacturers, and some mentioned how transformational faster in-memory processing has been for their businesses.

A nuclear industry president said that the Cloud enabled his firm to gather important data such as sea temperature and the ambient temperature to perform analytics that predict how it affects equipment performance and hence optimise design and maintenance operations.

“Now, you can put a platform together that can just grab that data and synthesise it together into a different way of looking at the problem,” he commented.

Cloud computing symbol being pressed by hand - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The Cloud provides myriad opportunities to increase manufacturing productivity – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

There was consensus that as in all strategic initiatives, executive sponsorship was seen to be a critical success factor. In addition, the integrity of system data was also considered critical in ensuring the Cloud was implemented and used productively.

And if leadership can drive the business to move towards Cloud, they can affect a wider culture change throughout their organisation to secure the recognition of the value of data integrity.

The problem is: “Exec minus 2, Exec minus 3,” said one operational excellence director. “It’s the guys who have a fear of learning – and unlearning – and a fear of letting go,” he said, adding that the ability to monetise what he called ‘actionable insights’ will otherwise suffer.

SAP’s Jeremy Phelps agreed that, “Changes in business culture have to be maintained even after solutions go-live so that valuable exploitation of data can be secured across the business. With transformational new technology, the whole business needs to adapt to find the benefit.”

Intelligent Technologies

The Cloud provides myriad opportunities to increase manufacturing productivity and, in turn, competitive advantage, guests agreed. Sharing data and information in this way is breaking down traditional company silos. Embracing diversity of thought and an environment that radically adopts modern technologies like AI, AR and VR, can fundamentally improve manufacturers’ business models and profitability.

Above all, they said the intelligence provided by predictive technology is an opportunity to significantly optimise business efficiency. A CEO whose business works in shipping demonstrated how the ability to solve problems from a remote location currently enables ships to operate with many fewer delays.

He described a vessel automation system, covering around 1,000 vessels worldwide, that uses sensors to report faults and operating conditions from remote global situations. A central control room is not only able to optimise vessel journey plans, but is also able to perform remote diagnostics, provide specialist support, and coordinate the logistics for delivery of spare parts to local teams for test and repair.

Digital Transformation - Efficiency - iStock_92709157_XXXLARGE-677x339
Technology can now be deployed that enables a business to work ‘smarter, not harder.’

Technology can now be deployed with the objective of making the business work ‘smarter, not harder.’ Connecting things (sensors) and events to process in this way means that process and industry boundaries can be broken down, representing greater value – “making the total greater than the sum of the parts.”

The discussion concluded by returning to the issue of corporate culture. Guests agreed that success depends entirely upon getting that right, which means that in addition to acquiring the best technology, companies must develop the best mindset.

“People are the biggest impact on the success or failure of an organisation,” said SAP’s Lee Welch. “The hearts and minds of the organisation must be in alignment if it is to grasp these new technologies successfully.”

Speaking after the dinner, Lee Welch added, “As more companies become Intelligent Enterprises, industries will be redefined, and business will be changed forever. Businesses will be enabled and empowered to do more with less, to automate processes, impress their customers, empower their employees and create revenue. And they will do it with ease and intelligence.

“Better run, more successful businesses will ultimately ‘Help the world run better & improve peoples’ lives’ which just so happens to be SAP’s higher purpose.”