Why Start Your Digital Transformation Now (Part Two)?

Nov. 1, 2019
In this second part of Epicor’s perspective on manufacturing’s digital transformation, we look at what today’s workers want and how you can keep them happy—and your business thriving—with the help of technology.

As a manufacturer, you have two employee groups to worry about if you don’t digitize: your current ones and those you’re trying to recruit. Digitizing your selling process, as discussed in part one of this series, isn’t about replacing people—though it’s true you may be able to do more with fewer employees. For current employees, it’s about boosting productivity and digitizing the work that can be automated so they can focus on higher value-added ways to serve your customer.

In most manufacturing companies, the most important assets walk out the door each evening, carrying with them the knowledge and best practices that help uniquely deliver what the customer needs and wants. These employees, while valuable, can create bottlenecks in order fulfillment, as they must always be personally consulted. Worse, these employees will, at some point in the near future, retire. When they walk out the door for the final time, you’ll want to be assured that the valuable institutional knowledge they acquired over decades is codified, digitized, and made available to every other employee.

By digitizing the process, companies will transfer valuable insights into the system—into the one single source of truth—where every other employee can easily access and use it.

Attracting the new workforce

As for replacing retirees, anyone following business news understands the struggle manufacturers face. The problem, decades in the making, is now upon them. Manufacturers aren’t looking to replace someone in the next decade or a few years from now; they need the new worker next year—or sooner. They can’t wait.

Trouble is, the millennial workforce demands more from their jobs than earlier generations. The best among them—the people you want to recruit—aren’t inclined to spend as much as a day working in a facility that runs on old technology. This generation grew up with a smart phone in their hands and an iPad at the ready. They shop, bank, socialize, watch movies, get their news, and do most other things you can think of using the latest technology—and they’re happy to switch to even newer technology at the drop of a hat. They aren’t going to accept less in their workplace.

It’s harsh, but true: Going to work in a factory running old technology to a millennial would be like turning their career onto a dead-end street. What will they learn to set them up for their next move? They expect, or rather demand, not only the latest, but the opportunity to be on the leading edge, so they can learn and grow in their careers.

Just how demanding are they? One study found that “Workers of all ages are accustomed to using smartphones, tablets, wearables, and apps to make their personal lives easier—and they want the same from the technology provided at work,” according to a report in CIO magazine. However, the report also noted: “The study found that, of all age groups, millennials were the most likely to quit a job over tech—42% stated they would leave a company due to ‘substandard technology.’ To compare, only 25% of those over age 35 agreed. Similarly, 82% of those under age 35 said that workplace tech would influence their choice when taking a new job, while only 67% of those over age 35 said the same.”

A 134-year-old modern manufacturer

Digitization isn’t something that only high-tech companies do. Indeed, in the Amazon economy, every manufacturer must be a high-tech company, no matter what they make and sell. Indeed, it could be argued that, for older manufacturers, making what many may consider to be low-tech products, a digitized production and sales process is even more critical for success.

Consider the case of Rainier Industries. Founded in 1896, the company manufactures-to-order premium quality display, shade, and shelter products, and delivers throughout the world from two locations in the U.S. With 300 employees, the company runs three online stores and has digitized retail, wholesale, and custom sales for its B2B and B2C customers.

For shade sales, 99% of orders are placed via one of six enterprise resource planning (ERP)-based product configurators—which means manual order entry, a significant potential point of failure, is eliminated. For the company’s cloud products, a B2B or B2C customer can configure the product online, by shape, size, and color, monitoring a dynamically updated price at each step before adding the selection to the cart.

A similar system offers customers the opportunity to configure tents, choosing from among 1,000+ stock keeping units (SKUs) with custom pricing for retail or wholesale purchases.

Automating the purchasing process empowers Rainier customers to place orders when they want for delivery or pickup. The orders flow automatically into the ERP system for seamless processing; they are picked, packed, and shipped with minimal supervision. For Rainier, the system allows for easy management of store assets across multiple storefronts, SKUs, product description, and custom pricing.

Rainier’s story speaks to how critical modern digital technologies can be to the success of old-line, mid-size manufacturers, which arguably represent those who are at the greatest risk as digital omni-commerce becomes the norm.

Time is of the essence

The key takeaway from this two-part series is that industry’s need to implement the latest technology to serve new customer and market expectations runs throughout the manufacturing business—from design and engineering, through production, and into delivery and field service.

For sales and marketing, the process for figuring out what an increasingly demanding customer wants or needs, and delivering faster than ever, is also being digitized. The speed at which manufacturers must identify a growing market then pivot to fill it is shrinking. Without digital technology, the opportunity will come and go before it can be capitalized upon. Any weak link in the digital value stream could be the cause.

The solution is to integrate every process, including every interaction with your customers, suppliers and dealers.

If you’re not transforming your business through digitalization, you’re not adapting to what is happening today across industry and not interacting with your buyers the way they prefer—which means you’re becoming out of synch with the market.

With a digital omni-commerce solution driven by a single point of truth, manufacturers can maximize their ability to stay apprised of and meet fast-changing market and customer demands. 

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