Source: Enterprise Times
Author: Frances Fawcett
More and more organisations are embracing the potential offered by solutions based in the cloud. The possibility is there to streamline most aspects of their business and integrate separate systems that should have been talking to each other years ago. Alongside this, they are also finding internal cultural changes are needed to bring even richer benefits.
If there was any doubt about the benefit of modern cloud-based systems that are easily accessible on different devices in multiple locations, that doubt is now gone. The global pandemic and lockdown was a crisis that very few organisations had planned for. It significantly tested their technology and systems. Some already had a good digital strategy underway running some, or all, of their business systems in the cloud. They had the technology to enable them to react. Others looked on in envy at their agility and responsiveness. Primark which has no eCommerce footprint saw sales plummet. In comparison, Boohoo increased sales year of year to April 2020. Though since then the fashion brand has found its business model under scrutiny.
The changes and investments they had made positioned them well. They and their people could respond to a global pandemic which, let’s face it, will hopefully not happen again in our lifetime. Perhaps more importantly, they can also respond to, and take advantage of, changing market environments.
Managing the change is as important as managing the update
Most significant technology updates in an organisation include a strong element of change management alongside the task of implementing the new technology. The most effective change takes place when there is a clear vision and incentives to work towards achieving that vision. An ability to quickly adapt to new market conditions and opportunities is one such vision. Another is empowering your employees to serve your customers better. In any project involving change, communication and collaboration are critical.
The roles that your teams play in this change is as important as the technology itself. They need to understand the way the new technology works and see the potential it brings. Their involvement is a significant part of the change management process required to realise the potential of new solutions. Teams adopt new systems more quickly and with a more positive view if they know what is coming and, better still, have collaborated in the plans.
Different ways of working
Heritage manufacturing organisations have grown up with teams dedicated to running processes. Their culture is about robust implementation rather than the dynamism found in, say, a small start-up. Employees do not generally ask why and may not challenge the norm. Teams are, however, brilliant at working with the norm. Staff are experts at running processes that have always run the same way. Frequently, they are also experts at working their way around systems that are not as streamlined as they should be. They spend time calling and emailing suppliers and customers to smooth out the kinks in complex processes.
Work will be required with these teams to take them from today’s process-oriented world to more dynamic and creative ways of working.
Imagine, for a moment, that your systems could predict from your order book when components would run low. Then, with appropriate controls in place, connect with your supply chain partners to replenish at the right time. Right there, you have eliminated the need for manual stock replenishment and manual stock monitoring – which is virtually impossible to achieve in real-time. This frees up employees to carry out tasks that add value to your customers.
Imagine also that your people don’t have to spend their time calling and emailing about mundane activities that could be automated. A fully integrated MRP system that automatically tells production about a new order can also keep the customer informed. If the customer receives updates on order status, it eliminates the “where’s my order” emails and calls.
Let technology and automation take care of the mundane. People are better at managing unpredictable questions and tasks, and that is where they add real value.
Today your teams might be answering mundane emails, and it’s simple and process-driven. Tomorrow they can truly add value in a way that a machine can’t. Employees generally respond well to being empowered. If you have a core value of high-quality customer service, your teams will often relish the opportunity to deliver that service. It is, therefore, vital that the change management process running alongside the technology update helps employees understand the future benefits. It will also need to provide the training they need so they understand the role they play and can perform it confidently.
You may also need new policies to empower your employees. For example, if, today, most of your customer services time is spent handling mundane “where’s my order” queries, many team members won’t need to know about wider policies. They simply look up the order status and reply to the query. They are conveying information rather than making decisions to resolve queries.
Tomorrow, when systems automatically convey order status information, customer services queries will be different. Your teams will be available to provide more nuanced answers to specific customer questions. Teams will need to understand the policies under which they operate. For example, if customer satisfaction is more important than a trivial refund, you need published policies to reflect this. That enables even the most junior people to grant refunds up to specified thresholds without referral to a supervisor. People are the best customer service tool that you have – empower them to deliver by using technology to handle the mundane, and giving them parameters in which to add the greatest value.
The potential at the end of this is happier and better-served customers, a smoother, more automated supply chain, and employees with more rewarding roles to play.
Data – real-time, anytime and anywhere
Inherent in cloud solutions is the ability to operate on any device. Workforces being redeployed to work from home has been the best illustration ever of how important it is to access your data from multiple – and sometimes unpredictable – locations. Within your facilities, there is a considerable convenience in bringing handheld devices to the production line or the despatch area.
The power of real-time data opens all sorts of possibilities. Manually creating work orders means they are immediately out of date when someone else processes an existing order and takes the stock that was assumed to be there for a later order. Even batch uploads of orders received in the eCommerce system to the separate MRP system leads to a time lag. Integrating multiple systems to operate in the cloud 24 hours a day eliminates these issues. Real-time views of stock, orders and customer trends also enable organisations to respond more quickly and jump on opportunities when they arise.
Another advantage is the ability to measure anything about which the data is collected. KPIs such as customer satisfaction, throughput and response times deliver insights that can suggest actions for further improvement.
What about the IT department?
Adopting Cloud technology is as much a change for IT departments as it is for the rest of the organisation. Cloud solutions take away a lot of the day-to-day work of keeping servers online.
It is an opportunity for IT teams to move their attention to business processes. How can technology help the business streamline its routes to market or its range of product offerings? Again, we see human skill and knowledge, adding value to the business. Take the mundane away from the people and let machines take care of that – which they do extremely efficiently at scale. Let people problem solve, use their initiative, and add true value to business growth and efficiency.
Good, better, best
Many manufacturing environments are a mix of different solutions. State-of-the-art when they first arrived they have evolved over time. Unfortunately, they are now legacy and might be taking value out of the business if they are stifling innovation and draining management time and resource.
It would be good to replace them with solutions that work more efficiently to do the same job. And it would be better to use this opportunity to not only do today’s processes but also streamline them and provide a better overall service. However, it would be best to use this as a chance to raise standards of service, automate processes inside and outside your organisation, and empower your people to add real new value to your customers, your suppliers and your organisation overall.
About the author:
Frances first took a job with a “computer company” in 1985 when personal computers were sold with dedicated word processing software! She later worked for resellers and hardware and software manufacturers including WordPerfect, Borland International and Microsoft. From technical routes many years ago, she moved into marketing and product management roles before branching out into corporate social responsibility and licensing programmes. Having recently spent almost a decade running a manufacturing company, she is now providing coaching and training for businesses in a variety of sectors in the UK and internationally. She is an accomplished public speaker and has been invited to judge industry awards.