For the last two years, the key word for the UK manufacturing industry has been ‘resilience’. Of course, there was huge sector destabilisation as the reality of the pandemic struck the country and business world, but the UK has shown itself to not only be resilient, but resourceful and has been preparing the ground for continued recovery.
Whilst ONS GDP data released in November showed the sector is 2.5% behind its February 2020 output, data from the CBI’s Industrial Trends Survey released in the same month reported that manufacturers’ monthly orders book balance has jumped to 26% this month, from nine percent the previous month.
In order for UK manufacturers to keep pushing forward, it must not only find and seize business opportunities, but look for ways to continue improving its competitiveness in the market. To this point, digitalisation remains a fundamental step that companies can no longer postpone or ignore.
The UK manufacturing sector is ready to embrace even more strongly the great cultural change necessary to face a delicate and fundamental passage towards digitalisation. According to the recent Salesforce Research ‘Manufacturing Trends Report 2021’, which surveyed 750 manufacturing professionals from different countries (including the UK), digital transformation is a top priority for many manufacturers – 86% in the UK (81% global average) reported as a critical or high priority in the next 24 months.
Among the technologies that interviewers perceive as enabling for digital transformation, the cloud is undoubtedly the most important. It has proved to be a crucial component in responding to the need for flexibility, scalability and agility that emerged even more strongly during the pandemic, particularly in terms of reducing time to market and seizing every possible business opportunity.
Looking at the UK, all the professionals who participated in the research underlined the great changes recorded in the production capacity of their companies and, according to 69% of the interviewees, these changes will be permanent. Regarding customer service, over 71% of UK professionals in the manufacturing sector stated that, in the last period, operations evolved so significantly that it will be impossible to return to the previous status quo.
The research also highlighted some interesting goals for UK manufacturers over the coming months. Undoubtedly among the priorities there are the development of new service offerings (90%), new product development (88%) and renegotiating partnerships (86%). The desire to improve the efficiency of processes so that products can get into consumers’ hands more quickly is also a trend that every manufacturer can relate to.
This is because the expectations of customers have changed, both in terms of products and when comparing manufacturers. This is also mirrored in the B2B arena, where customers’ expectations regarding the CX (Customer Experience) are increasingly similar to those of consumers. B2B professionals expect a smarter customer experience, the ability to access subscription services, all on demand and on the move.
The mere adoption of cutting-edge technological solutions is not enough if it doesn’t come with an evolved approach towards innovation on a cultural level within each manufacturer – this is the real challenge. The whole organisation must recognise the need to innovate and want to move together to overcome problems.
Taking this approach helps organisations overcome problems such as legacy systems and siloed operations, which currently stop them exploring the full potential of digitalisation. Appointing an individual to drive these programmes forward is all well and good, but they cannot do it alone. Even with the support of other departments, many still choose to use the vertical experience in their technology partners to accelerate their transformation and ensure it does not lose momentum.
The digital transformation journey
To ensure that UK manufacturing does not miss out on the global recovery and consolidates its growth in the years to come, digital transformation must be at the forefront, with each company setting its own transformation goals, aligned with their business aspirations.
Every manufacturer is different, but as with all businesses, solid growth comes from a great customer experience. You can throw all the bells and whistles you like at your production line, but get the customer experience wrong and you are dead in the water.
One great example of digital transformation excellence in the manufacturing sector is Biesse Group, an international company and leader in technologies for processing wood, glass, stone, plastic and composite materials. Atlantic Technologies worked with the company to help it transform its business, rethinking all internal and external processes as part of its journey.
From the management of the salesforce to customer assistance and field service, passing through communication and marketing, the company has brought together all its historical data, processes and commercial information across all regions into a single CRM solution. The solution has not only improved process efficiency, but today all data is updated in real-time from more than 1,000 users all over the world, meaning systems always reflect reality, informing better analysis and decision making.
Ultimately, digitalisation cannot be improvised. Once your goals are clear, it is important to understand the current state of your technology estate, and how well it can support those aspirations. Equally, do your technology partners have the technology and manufacturing knowledge to help you achieve those goals. The right partner will be able to help you plan the right path towards your goals that are focused on business needs. Being able to move quickly is important too, so it is critical to choose partners that will not keep you waiting five years for a ‘big reveal’. Choose one that can rapidly deliver a minimum viable product (MVP), from which you can start to get value right away, and can evolve to include other features in the future.
Depending on your existing systems, CRM can be a great place to start. If a good CRM system already exists, then the next step is to adopt an approach based on CXM (Customer Experience Management). Rather than just keeping track of a customer’s order history, credits and other static data, CXM brings together a series of tools that actively support business processes, keeping track of every customer interaction, process and production run related to that customer, as near to real time as possible.
Not only does an effective CXM system contain that data, but presents it across the business in a way that is relevant to every competency, from sales to finance and marketing. By understanding every touch point on a customer journey, the organisation can identify trends and opportunities to continually evolve the value chain, and that will bring growth.
The future of UK manufacturing is looking exciting, and a sector of the economy that sees the value in digital transformation. The fundamental element for successful digitalisation remains cultural change. Companies must get involved, be ready to change their approach to innovation and facilitate the adoption of technology by those people who will work with the new solutions. After all, the value of digitalisation lies in the right use of technology, not technology for technology’s sake.
Denis Pytel, Solution Architect at Atlantic Technologies