Exclusive interview with Microsoft about the competitiveness of manufacturing companies, and how to prioritize when choosing technologies.
Melissa Cook is globally responsible for Microsoft Dynamics for manufacturing companies. Read her vision for Dynamics for manufacturing companies and her advice about how to prioritise when choosing technologies.
In manufacturing it’s all about productivity and profitability. As manufacturing companies pursue productivity in an increasingly globalised supply chain, they need information to design, plan, execute and measure operations across a much diversified environment, intra-organisationally as well as extra-organisationally, to optimise profitability of operations.
The small and mid-sized manufacturing operation is no longer a plant floor driven operation with a planning horizon of three months, but part of a global network of loosely coupled entities, that sometimes cooperate, sometimes compete, but always, always, need to deliver real time status information to customers, supply chain partners, organisation leaders and employees.
Consequently we see manufacturing companies striving to work closer with partners in the supply chain, increasingly automate manufacturing operations, plan mixed-mode production scheduling and focus attention on strategic optimisation themes like “demand planning”, “complexity reduction” and “Quick Response Manufacturing”, to name a few.
This means that new types of users, across a multi-lingual, multi-time zone enterprise, need to interact real time with information, to execute operations, report status or incidents and enrich decisions.
In addition to the usual suspects, the value chain has become populated by machine operators, truck drivers, warehouse clerks and customer service representatives - who all speak the languages that the global supply chain demand of them, in other words: All languages.
This means that new types of users, across a multi-lingual, multi-time zone enterprise, need to interact real time with information, to execute operations, report status or incidents and enrich decisions with local insights and expertise.
Bearing this context in mind, we had the chance to catch up with Melissa Cook, Microsoft Dynamics Global Manufacturing Industries Senior Director.
Melissa, first of all, how do you look at smaller and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises’ competitiveness in countries with high labour costs?
Melissa Cook: I think it’s clear to most manufacturers that their human resource strategy will play a more important role in their success over the coming years, especially in economies with high labour costs.
Of course, people have always been the most critical and valuable asset of any enterprise. That’s ultimately what defines a company, a group of people with a shared mission. It’s not by accident that one of the first things you do when you configure an ERP system is to define the structure of the organisation.
What’s new in manufacturing is the relentless competitive pressures of a global demand and supply environment and the rise in expectations for continual innovation and continual improvement in the productivity of people.
Keeping your competitive edge in this manufacturing environment is going to require innovative tools and information that engage and inspire your people to give their best. Ultimately, products don’t design and manufacture themselves, the success of an organisation always comes down to people.
What is Microsoft’s role to be in manufacturing?
When we speak with leaders in manufacturing companies, we consistently hear about the importance of “transparency in the supply chain” and “real time overview of operations” and “engaging the workforce in operational decision making”. How will technology and Microsoft overall play a role in these areas?
Melissa Cook: Microsoft has always had a passion for the personal side of technology. We’ve always been inspired to give people the tools and information that they need, whenever they need it, no matter where they are.
We broke the mould in the era of personal computing and we continue to break the mould in manufacturing systems. The original manufacturing ERP implementations were, quite frankly, just a re-tread for mainframe applications of the 60s. They were mostly about collecting and reporting on information and processes after they occurred. That’s not how Microsoft sees it. People and real time information are the centre of our vision for Dynamics in manufacturing.
We continually work on integrating information into the operational and production processes, giving people what they need to make real time decisions, giving the information in context to their role and giving people the choice on what they want or need to know, right now, wherever they are, and whoever they are from executives to shop floor workers.«
Surely, we can agree that technology integration is at a steep rise in manufacturing companies. From BI-dashboards to PLM/PDM, to automation integration, if it can prove to deliver on ROI, no one can afford not to invest in these technologies. At the same time we see small and medium sized companies taking their first steps, and financial risks, on the global scene. It seems like a high-risk game to me. What do you think is important to bear in mind, when a company is in this situation? How can Microsoft help?
Melissa Cook: I agree that there’s always risk in adopting new technologies, especially for small and medium sized manufacturers. And I think in today’s global manufacturing economy, speed and agility are the key risk mitigation strategies. It’s critical that new technologies enable a manufacturing organisation to be flexible.
That means that new technology investments need to be easy to procure, easy to implement, easy to use, easy to integrate with your existing systems and easy to change. Those haven’t been the hallmarks of most ERP implementations. We think we have an edge here and that’s the idea of the Dynamic manufacturer.
Lastly, looking at increasing technology adoption, developed and delivered by a wide array of specialists and generalists, sold to companies that often don’t have a specialized CIO to maintain focus on a coherent IT-strategy for the company… what should they do? Do you have a silver bullet on what to prioritise, where to start…or at least, what definitely NOT to do?
Melissa Cook: Well, I would prioritise investments that empower people to innovate, both in product design and operational process improvement. I’d also keep speed and agility high on my list of technology selection principles. If the technology is rigid and takes an army of consultants, I might think about that a bit!