In today’s digital world, businesses are finding that to stay relevant and thriving in the industry, they must embrace technology to automate and digitize their once manual processes.
To further explore the power of automation, we sat down with John Paul Williams, director of enterprise solutions and market development for the Americas at Polycom.
TraceGains: You once wrote that “the market’s message is clear: digitize – or else.” Why digitize? What is the value of the manufacturer? Is there a value for the customer/consumer as well?
Williams: The best way to think about digitizing operations 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.
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’re working on, they’ll have unique insights. This access 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 faster.
TraceGains: TraceGains allows for one version of the truth in a company’s data. So instead of having everything segmented, everyone can 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 critical. It adds to the richness of understanding because the way marketing interprets it might differ from how engineering understands the same data. So, when we collaborate with the information, the richness of the conversation is much more meaningful.
TraceGains: We see there’s value within the organization in favor of digitizing documents, but does that value extend to the consumer?
Williams: I see this happen more often, especially in CPG and food manufacturing. 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 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 evolving rapidly, so ensuring that companies can 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 respond quickly to rapid market changes can mean getting to market first rather than reacting to competition.
Technology also aids in modifying products for emerging markets with different tastes or needs. For example, a successful product in North America might not have the same success in Southeast Asia. Often, it’s just the package size that’s 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 crucial 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 technology’s capabilities. Often, service and maintenance are the best target areas. This technology has reduced downtime by 27%, and in continuous flow processes that typify 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 essential to look at work processes and see where the technology can accelerate or eliminate specific 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 for less is another compelling benefit.
When you’re trying to reach the customer, cloud-based technologies are potent. These technologies also help companies assimilate new versions of the technology because they don’t have to upgrade. It’s all handled by the cloud service provider.
TraceGains: You 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 segregation of data is a common issue, spanning many industries. What are some ways companies can break down those silos and achieve true integration across departments?
Williams: ERP systems are focused on transactions, primarily. In a sense, ERPs manage what’s already happened, or in more general terms, they control the past. There’s surprisingly little information unless you know how to mine the data and present it so that it’s a lens to the future. The management of past transactions that ERPs handle is necessary, but these systems aren’t one of the great tools for generating change.
Managing the future is much more complicated and requires a deep understanding of the past to establish a framework for analysis. Still, the breakthroughs come from collaboration with a vibrant network of colleagues inside the industry and out.
Understanding how other departments function earlier in the process and the downstream process, helps teams perform better and anticipate their colleagues’ needs. In a sense, this breaks down silos because, with collaboration, the team develops a deeper understanding of a more significant part of the business process, giving them opportunities to optimize and streamline.
About John Paul Williams:
John 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. Williams’ industry experience includes telecommunications, process controls, military avionics, consumer goods, and medical equipment design and manufacturing. He’s been a successful senior quality officer implementing Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma methods, including developing strategic sourcing partnerships that increase competitive advantage.