By 2026, business leaders expect 50% of revenues to come from products, services and businesses that don’t exist today. Sustainability and technology are the two main drivers of this innovation revolution.
Underpinning success are communications that ensure organisational resilience while empowering staff to connect and collaborate across any channel, any device, from anywhere.
A recent virtual roundtable hosted by The Manufacturer and 8×8, a Software as a Service provider of a global cloud communications platform, saw the manufacturing community come together to discuss further.
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Key insight from manufacturers:
“Communications mean different things to different people, but fundamentally, over the last two years, we’ve all been reminded about the importance of communications when it comes to organisational resilience.”
“Communications are essential, not only to myself, but to the business, and has been elevated to C-suite level. It is a real driving force, and I have an internal slogan that ‘we’re all comms’, so if I can get everyone being as effective at communications as possible, it makes the whole business operate much more seamlessly.”
“I’m currently working with the chief communications officer on our ESG rollout and particularly the use of lifecycle analysis to improve our Scope 3 emissions. The comms piece around getting internal buy in around that is very important.”
“I’m very interested in digital communications and what other industries are doing to communicate, not only with the office but also frontline workers. I feel like we could accidentally be leaving our frontline workers behind when it comes to access to news, diversity groups, HR systems, etc. So, it’s vital we improve communication to frontline workers.”
“My job is focused on digital transformation in industry, and how we democratise the technology is really important – communication is really key for that. We see communication playing a very significant part in our ability to create value through some of the technology programmes we’re rolling out.”
Is comms high on the manufacturing agenda?
“The rapid increase over the last two years of how we communicate across our organisation has been exponential. The need to keep everybody involved and aware of what was going on, when we had the majority of staff working from home, was vital.”
“Over the last two years people have really expedited the use of Microsoft Teams to facilitate remote working capabilities. And that has been used to address internal communications, messaging and collaboration needs of organisations.
“However, the challenges have come when those organisations have looked to make external PSTN calls to their ecosystem partners and customers to provide customer service. In general, the industry has seen continued use of legacy technology platforms and telephony solutions that have either been kept in place to support those needs (and they’ve had to be enabled to support remote working) or, organisations have looked to have direct routing capabilities, which is where direct PSTN connectivity is provided via the Microsoft Team’s application to facilitate that external communication. Additionally, companies have the ability to take Microsoft Teams from good to great by extending it to contact centres, switchboards and common areas to put the entire organisation on a single directory with presence to enable company-wide collaboration.”
“Internally it’s vitally important that the direction of comms is led by the business. What is the point of internal comms? For me, it’s about inclusion and finding out what drives people.”
What challenges exist around engaging the whole organisation?
“When we started off as a small group we used WhatsApp, then we quickly realised that wasn’t really sophisticated enough with regards to due diligence and governance. We then switched to Yammer, and then to SharePoint. Suddenly we realised that the whole company was fragmented, with too many options. We then had to get it back to being one shared common platform. So if you’re growing quickly it’s important to keep up.”
“Multiple platforms is a typical challenge in the manufacturing environment because of its complexity. And, this really plays into the value of single platform technology. When you look at what’s happening in the marketplace, we’ve currently got a great resignation. Gartner have just undertaken a survey which suggests that 51% of employees are considering leaving their roles because they don’t feel that the organisations they work for have invested in the right communications tooling and technology to support their roles effectively – certainly within a hybrid operating model. That challenge is further exacerbated by the various different personas that we have within the manufacturing environment.
“However, when you’re utilising a cloud technology that incorporates all of the different technologies, across all of the different communication media, everything is managed through one single application (whether you’re working on the shop floor or the top floor) and these technologies can all be connected back to a single cloud infrastructure, and that’s the real beauty of a fully integrated system.
“Worryingly more and more organisations have got a patchwork quilt effect of legacy and digital technologies, which have all been bolted on. But that doesn’t bring the employee community together to simplify communications across the business. And more importantly, it’s providing an even bigger disconnect from customers – whilst we’re talking about employee communications, most customer engagement within manufacturing is taking place through contact centre technology. That is typically either on separate cloud platforms or legacy technology.
“So, it’s critical that we look to try and join up these workflows and business processes, so we have greater harmony across our workforce community. Unfortunately, that’s currently not the way many organisations are heading today.”
“We use a low code platform that enables us to spin up comms platforms and link into others as quickly as possible. In terms of ROI, the first necessity in the middle of COVID was that we needed to communicate with 2,000 shopfloor workers that didn’t have their own email address. So, we needed an app pushed to them as quickly as possible to keep them informed on what the latest situation was, when they were going to come back, any shift pattern changes, etc.
“So, the first need was to communicate work patterns, but then evolving that platform to be more useful around business communications and then using that single platform to service other areas of the business.”
What will be the next step change in virtual meetings?
“From my personal perspective, 2022 is going to be the year for meeting face-to-face. We’ve been restricted for so long, and we’re all desperate to return to meeting colleagues, clients, family and friends. However, virtual meetings are certainly here to stay and they’re going to continue to connect us when we can’t be together because of pandemics, long-distance and expensive travel or inclement weather.
“Moving forward, virtual meeting technology will be more freely embedded along the customer journey. And through open APIs and communication platforms as a service functionality, that technology can be embedded within the customer journey to really optimise those critical points. I think we’re also going to see the augmenting of meeting technology with AR and VR, so that we get the ability to have subject matter experts, perhaps in different countries, providing remote eyes and hands, to a local on-site maintenance engineer – bridging that AR/VR environment with the meeting room and video technology.”
“As part of an employee survey, I spent an afternoon recently dissecting the views of 110 people in the area I work, and that was a challenge. Not only to understand, but to actually formulate appropriate actions. Some of the people in the audience may be very vocal, some may not be. So, it’s difficult to really understand the weighting.
“With a solution that can assimilate messaging under a common platform, you could conduct an employee survey numerous times a year and become far more effective at managing performance increases in your organisation. If you could take an employee opinion survey twice a year, then maybe you can attack problems twice as quickly, resolve them and get the benefit. And then who knows, with the power of technology, you might decide to do one a quarter, and really have a journey towards a high-performance organisation.”
“We had to do something quite dramatically different due to the pandemic, to connect the organisation for operational reasons. And very quickly that has grown into connecting the organisation with more purpose, creating a single message internally. A lot of those channels are now in place and we’ve started to use quite a lot of innovative ways of communicating. But I think applying a level of consistency over that is going to be our challenge.”
How do we equip leadership with the right skills for communication?
“That’s less about technology and more about company culture and ensuring that everyone is educated in respect of what the business expects, what the ethos is and the fact that everybody is valued as an employee, thus breeding the right behaviour. Absolutely that has to come from the top. But how do you ensure that you’ve got the right skills at the top of the business to facilitate that? Perhaps that’s a new dimension for recruitment policies moving forward.”
“The answer is gently. That’s how we’re approaching the C-suite with these types of issues. Success can be found with simple all-hands meetings or large group meetings in a video conference; it helps accelerate their credibility in this area. They’re adopting it, using it and getting more comfortable, with less resistance. However, it takes consistency over time to get there.”
How can security be increased in modern communications?
“When we think about security we have to consider data sovereignty and where it sits. And as we move data to the cloud, we actually have more flexibility, because of the locations of all of these data centres. What we’re finding is that we’re able to ensure that data remains in the UK, and doesn’t leave. So the cloud actually helps with that and it is cost effective that way.
“The other factor is when we look at different applications, a common platform gives us better security, because we don’t have the gaps in the apps. That enables us to manage the interaction across a single platform and reduce the number of opportunities for security intrusion.”
How do we engage front line workers?
“This is actually one of the hardest problems to solve in manufacturing. We of course have mobile apps, video conferencing and chat functions but we don’t have a solution as an industry to have the ability to take a deskless worker, who is disconnected from the daily communication capabilities, and ensure they adopt and buy into a communications environment. The industry hasn’t cracked this one.”
“They have a portfolio of tools to use, but that doesn’t reduce your complexity, it actually increases it, because it has to be managed. So manufacturers have the toughest problem to solve, which is the wide spectrum of employee personas that they are dealing with. And there is no silver bullet answer other than the best we can do today, which is give them all the channels that they use, and make that easy to manage. And we’ll learn from there.”
“The common theme running through this element of manufacturing is effective and joined up communication across the business is an important, strategic level topic. And, because of their complex environments, everyone is doing their own thing in respect of utilising off the shelf applications; or they’ve developed their own communication tools where they’re sharing and providing access to company information.
“That seems to be a real common theme. And that’s at the heart of some of the challenges that we’re seeing in the marketplace. There has to be a top down view around how that gets streamlined and simplified in this very complex landscape – bringing all of those communication tools into one integrated solution, underpinned by security and reliability capabilities, single point administration and management – while also providing the broad range of effective communication tools, channels and devices, that suit individual preferences.”
For more information visit 8×8.