Every day, technologies are blending in new and exciting ways that profoundly change our personal and professional lives. Just last week, my car sent me an email alerting me that its tire pressure was low. Last month, I met the leader of an 11-person manufacturing company who replaced a stubbornly traditional supplier with a collaborative robot on her own shop floor because the robot delivered much faster. Perhaps you too are sitting side by side with an artificially intelligent device right now. (Hi, Alexa!)
However, few such convergences are as promising for today’s manufacturers as a more accessible Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), an increasing buyer preference to buy direct online, and the connected infrastructure to make it possible. These factors have brought us to an inflection point—where customers want more information about the manufactured products they buy and manufacturers can collect and understand more information about their products than ever before. The crux of it all is elegantly transforming that vast amount of raw data—not just into better business decisions—but into true customer value.
This is a trend already taking shape as manufacturers lead the way in the world of connected devices. According to a report by IDC in December 2017, the industries expected to spend the most on IoT solutions in 2018 are manufacturing ($189 billion), transportation ($85 billion) and utilities ($73 billion). By supporting manufacturing operations with more complete information collected in real time, organizations are producing higher-quality products at a more rapid and predictable pace with a more cost-effective use of resources.
What’s more, the IIoT provides a nearly untapped world of transparency into the supply chain. More and more connected devices switch on every day and share up-to-the minute information about all kinds of players in the supply chain—like how long a ship has been out to sea, conditions of machines on the factory floor, or exact compositions of metals. This type of data has the potential to unveil all sorts of information about a manufacturer’s end product that can influence a purchasing decision or years of brand loyalty. It’s the kind of authenticity that is not for the shy business leader, but it’s exactly what a growing majority of buyers want and for which they are even willing to pay a premium.
The 2017 Forrester Research report “A Brand New Day in B2B Commerce” revealed a staggering opportunity for brand manufacturers. More than 85 percent of B2B buyers will visit a brand’s site when they research online, 54 percent of B2B buyers trust a manufacturer site for best information, and 20 percent are even willing to pay slightly more to buy direct. Buyers are seeking authenticity and trust, and they (rightfully so) perceive that the most reliable source for accurate product information is the group of people who make those products. Whatever your online presence, buyers are visiting your website. It’s up to you to capture them before they jump away to Amazon or another competitor.
But e-commerce as an evolving technology comes with its own business challenges and rewards. B2C and B2B customers alike expect you to enable a pleasant customer experience. They expect to find 100 percent accurate and complete product information on your website, compare products side by side, see inventory levels, access discounts and personalized pricing, configure products to their liking, check out in a totally secure environment, and the list goes on and on. As a consumer that presumably buys online, too, I’m sure you can relate.
But, as a manufacturer, how do you enable IIoT and e-commerce in a meaningful way that creates new revenue opportunities and drives business growth? Advances in cloud applications have made it easier than ever for manufacturers to consume this type of innovation. “Manufacturers upload more data to the cloud on average than any other industry, and are second only to high tech in how many cloud services they use,” according to the 2016 Skyhigh Research, “Cloud Adoption and Risk Report.” No other software deployment model than the cloud offers the scalability or global presence to accommodate the incredible numbers of devices connecting into the IIoT every day. Cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems with integrated e-commerce solutions and fully responsive websites have the power to connect customers with the most accurate account and product information available, however and whenever they wish.