Beyond the crisis: strengthening manufacturing's tech backbone


Monday, 10 August, 2020

Beyond the crisis: strengthening manufacturing's tech backbone

As manufacturers in Australia begin to recover from the initial shock of COVID-19 and the challenges of ensuring business continuity, management teams can start to think about how they will emerge from the pandemic in a stronger position.

This is especially true for those in the electronics industry that are facing great uncertainty in their business environment. Even before the pandemic, manufacturers were under pressure to deliver increasingly complex products at higher quality and lower cost.

But throughout the crisis, the engineering community has been pivotal in working to increase resilience. Innovation in antiviral surfaces that kill pathogenic microbes and modifications to heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are just two solutions that may become crucial in limiting the spread of the virus.

This cutting-edge innovation, combined with steps towards greater agility and digitalisation, are likely to be key factors in remaining competitive and profitable in the wake of the pandemic.

Yet to enable efficiency improvements and sustain innovation into the future, organisations need to be supported by a strong tech backbone. Investments in advanced data analytics capabilities, automation or the Industrial Internet of Things are unlikely to deliver expected results if a company’s basic tech foundations cannot support next-generation technologies.

So how can manufacturers strengthen their tech backbone? The answer lies in upgrading core systems and infrastructure, data management and the application programming interface (API) ecosystem to support future technology investments and process optimisation.

Strengthening the foundations

Whether the organisation has the budget to make wholesale changes or needs to adopt a more incremental approach, upgrades should be tied to clear use cases and prioritised based on the business value they are expected to create.

Leaders should start by examining the company’s core systems and infrastructure, which includes enterprise resource planning (ERP), product life cycle management and manufacturing execution systems. These systems that support front, mid and back-office functions are often decades old and lack the agility needed to innovate and scale. Next-generation technologies, however, are highly dependent on the underlying data and processes they enable.

Although conducted before the pandemic, research by Deloitte shows that 64% of CIOs are rolling out next-generation ERP systems or modernising legacy platforms to address the limitations of existing systems.

But in shaping the company’s core systems strategy, leaders should consider the wider needs and goals of the business. For example, by thinking about how core systems support or hinder users with their work across functions, processes and workloads, what processes could or should look like, and the company’s plans for organic growth.

Core systems are often costly and difficult to replace, requiring significant investment, so a complete overhaul may not be feasible. In this case, companies can still make significant progress in improving their existing tech foundation by transforming their data and API ecosystem.

Improving the management and storage of data is essential to enhance decision-making and support operations. Key data should be held in a data warehouse or data lake to enable the provision of relevant, high-quality data to underpin overall business operations, including reporting and analytics.

APIs meanwhile allow IT teams to easily implement new applications and enable them to be seamlessly integrated with existing systems. This can reduce implementation time to days rather than months and also permits systems in the backbone to be connected.

Companies can also make significant gains by adopting cloud infrastructure for critical business applications. McKinsey predicts that 40% of companies will use two or more infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers by 2021, and with good reason. Migrating to the cloud can deliver substantial cost savings, greater flexibility, increased scalability, and enhanced performance.

Securing quick wins

System upgrades and digital transformation initiatives that require large investments often take time to show results. As companies upgrade their tech foundation, building quick wins into the longer-term strategy empowers leaders to demonstrate value and gain momentum, securing support for further investment down the line.

An often overlooked but substantial opportunity to realise such a quick win can often be found in a company’s communications infrastructure.

For companies that still rely on traditional fax servers, migrating to a cloud faxing solution offers significant cost savings, plus the ability to optimise workflows, improve efficiency, and tighten up security and compliance.

An immediate benefit of cloud faxing is a substantial reduction in costs. Onsite fax hardware such as servers, fax machines and fax boards are no longer required, effectively reducing capital expenditure to zero. At the same time, all overhead costs associated with running an on-premises fax system, such as licensing, maintenance, supplies and other overheads are instantly eliminated.

Remote working is enabled through the use of a centralised online system — employees only need an email address and internet connection to send and receive faxes. This also means that QA processes can be streamlined, with marked-up documents able to be easily distributed to employees in any location.

Similarly, other critical processes can be reimagined to create a step-change in efficiency and productivity. Leading cloud fax providers offer flexible APIs for easy integration with existing ERP or CRM systems. This makes it possible to automate high-volume faxing from within these systems, with real-time delivery confirmation and robust audit trails that enable documents to be used for legal purposes.

Certain providers also support capabilities such as barcode reading on inbound documents, while cloud storage allows records and documents to be easily tagged, archived and retrieved from anywhere, for efficient document management.

Security is automatically strengthened as leading providers have enterprise-grade security with best-in-class protection using the most advanced technologies.

Leading providers protect faxes in transmission over the internet with TLS encryption, while ‘Heavy’ Tier III and IV secure data centres — the best of which maintain SOC 2 or SSAE 16 certifications — ensure that sensitive data is protected in storage within the cloud. Good providers also follow industry best practices on data security, such as ISO 27002 and ensure robust compliance with regulatory mandates like HIPAA, GLBA and SOX.

Essentially, traditional faxing is an uncontrollable risk. Documents containing sensitive information can be lost, viewed or picked up by employees unauthorised to read them, and there is often no mechanism to track transmissions. Cloud faxing instantly eliminates this risk as faxes are sent straight to users’ inboxes.

While changes to infrastructure can often be complex and time-consuming, sometimes taking months to complete, migrating to a cloud fax solution should be achievable in a matter of days.

As it is fully hosted offsite, it should be possible to deploy remotely. A good provider should handle everything, making sure the migration is quick and painless.

As manufacturers turn their attention to the longer-term recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, companies that successfully transform their tech foundations will be well-positioned for the future. By enhancing their core systems, infrastructure, data management and API ecosystem, businesses will not only be prepared to take advantage of emerging solutions but also respond to new opportunities with agility.

Image credit: ©

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