Coffee Talk with John Paul Williams: Power of Automation & Digitization

Posted by Jennifer Brusco on November 17, 2014 at 9:44 AM


In today's digital world, businesses are finding that in order to stay relevant and successful in the industry, they must embrace technology to automate and digitize their once manual processes. To further explore the power of automation and digitization, we sat down with John Paul Williams, Director, Enterprise Solutions and Market Development, Americas, at Polycom to discuss the value of automation and digitization, ways food manufacturers can leverage this technology to improve their business, tips for garnering management approval, and more. 

TraceGains: In an article you wrote for Food Manufacturing, you said “the market’s message is clear: digitize – or else. Why digitize? What is the value for the manufacturer? Is there a value for the customer/consumer as well?

Williams: A good way to think about digitizing operations and being able to extract intelligence from the data, is to think of it as a lens from the past into the future and where the market is going. It helps point the way to where new opportunities are hiding or sometimes more importantly, it allows the perceptive few to recognize opportunities that are yet to be fully realized.

The key is adapting.

One of the real values of digitizing data is that it makes knowledge in the organization unified and transparent, which facilitates collaboration among a much wider group. When many of your colleagues can access the same data you are working on they will have insights that are unique to them. This adds to the richness of understanding and can open up significant new opportunities. Letting suppliers participate as well can lead to breakthrough innovations.

As a result of this increased collaboration and unified knowledge, implementation is actually faster.

TraceGains: During our 2014 TraceGains Customer Conference and Training, manufacturing journalist, TR Cutler noted that a theme heard from customer attendees was that TraceGains allows for one version of truth in their data. So instead of having everything segmented, everyone is able to see the same data and leverage that data appropriately within their departments, adding consistency and accuracy across departments.

Williams: That’s right and it’s very important. It adds to the richness of understanding because the way marketing interprets the data may be different from how engineering interprets the same data. So when we get together and collaborate about the information, the richness of the conversation is much deeper.

TraceGains: We see that there is absolutely value within the organization in favor of digitizing documents, but does that value extend out to the customer/consumer?

Williams: I’m seeing this happen more and more, especially in consumer packaged goods (CPGs) and food manufacturing, where these rich media environments are used not only for collaboration internally, but also for virtual focus groups with customers, especially when entering new markets. Extending these collaboration tools externally, allows companies to access more customers and ask questions in virtual focus groups, resulting in reduced time-to-market.

TraceGains: What are some areas that food manufacturers can leverage technology and automation to improve their business?

Williams: The food industry is continually evolving at a rapid pace, so ensuring that companies are able to identify and quantify new opportunities is critical. What I see now is increased collaboration within the supply chain, which has become paramount for food manufacturers. Using technology to collaborate in real-time throughout the supply chain and quickly respond to rapid market changes can mean getting to market first rather than reacting to competition.

Technology also aids in modifying product for emerging markets with different tastes or needs. For example, a product that is successful in North America, may not have the same success in South East Asia. Often it’s just the package size that is the problem, so being able to react with new packaging and have suppliers adapt and help get the product there in time and at the right price is a key goal with this technology.

TraceGains: When considering the business side of technology and garnering management approval and budgetary allocation, what would you recommend as key metrics or influencers to drive change from manual processes to digital, automated processes? What are some ways that food industry professionals can “sell” the need for technology?

Williams: The best way to do it is to find a focused pilot that can demonstrate the technologies capabilities. Often service and maintenance are good target areas. This technology has reduced downtime by 27% and in continuous flow processes that typifies food manufacturing downtime avoidance can have fast paybacks. In food manufacturing, that’s critical because when you reduce downtime, the payback can be significant.

It’s important to look at current work processes and see where the technology can accelerate or even eliminate certain steps.

Some key metrics may be:

  • Reduce time to market by 22%
  • Reduce downtime by 27%
  • Travel savings of 20%
  • Hiring and training reductions of 25%

Training is a critical cost in a high-turnover industry, which can reduce margins. Being able to train more people at less cost is another powerful benefit.

When you’re trying to reach the customer, cloud-based technologies are extremely powerful. These technologies also help companies assimilate new versions of the technology because they don’t have to do any upgrades, it is all handled by the cloud service provider.

TraceGains: You recently mentioned that “Many manufacturers have poured untold sums into implementing ERP systems, stitching together operational systems, and integrating supply chains. But these efforts have occurred in silos.” This seems to be a common issue, spanning many industries. What are some ways that companies can break down those silos, and achieve true integration across departments?

Williams: ERP systems are focused on transactions, primarily. In a sense, ERPs are managing what has already happened or in more general terms they manage the past. There’s surprisingly little information unless you know how to mine the data and present it in a way that it’s actually a lens to the future. The management of past transactions handled by ERPs is absolutely necessary, but ERP systems are not one of the great tools for leading and generating change.

Managing the future is much more difficult and requires a deep understanding of the past to establish a framework for analysis, but the breakthroughs come from collaboration with a rich network of colleagues inside the industry and out.

Being able to understand how other departments function earlier in the process as well as downstream process helps teams become high performing teams that can anticipate their colleagues’ needs. In a sense silos are broken down because through collaboration, the team develops a deeper understand of a larger part of the business process, giving them opportunities to optimize and streamline where possible.

About John Paul Williams: 

JohnPaulWilliamsJohn Paul Williams is Director, Enterprise Solutions and Market Development, Americas for Polycom, where he utilizes years of experience as a global operations executive with P&L responsibility leading innovations in manufacturing, quality, and engineering. John Paul's industry experience includes telecommunications, process controls, military avionics, consumer goods, and medical equipment design and manufacturing. He has been a successful senior quality officer implementing Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma methods, including developing strategic sourcing partnerships that increase competitive advantage. 

Tags: "Coffee Talk", Document Management, Automation