How To Choose the Right Industry 4.0 Technology Partner

The right technology partner can help manufacturers employ solutions that will reach and retain today's demanding customers.

There was a time not that long ago when manufacturing seemed like a far less complex activity than it is today.

Before the advent of Industry 4.0, before computer-controlled machines and before digitization, manufacturers could focus on what they did best - making products for customers – without a great deal of concern for  changing demands or upsetting process manufacturing procedures for custom runs.

Customers could ask for small  product adjustments and generally accepted any delays caused by their modest requests.

A Supercharged Digital Landscape

Production line technology might have revolved around advances in tool and die design, for example, or industrial welding, metallurgy or just-in-time delivery of raw materials while management practices might have focused on lean principles of reducing waste and maximizing value through the practice of standard work.

To a great extent, those areas are still important today but have been supercharged in the new digital landscape.

Now, the production process consists of a factory line controlled by computers making rapid, independent decisions from a real-time stream of analyzed data in order to increase or decrease production based on order flows, inventory on hand or any number of other factors relating to production.

It’s on the factory floor where real-time data is needed to make real-time production decisions immediately.

Customers Demand Customization

At the same time, the entire production process must be interconnected with the shifting wishes and needs of customers.

One of the far-reaching manufacturing changes wrought by digital transformation is in the area of customization. Today’s customer might demand a production run that is significantly different from previous orders – both in type and scale of product – and is unwilling to tolerate prolonged delays in delivery.

So, a manufacturer must be nimble enough to alter a run to incorporate the necessary adjustments or risk losing that customer to a competitor.

The Need for a Full Customer Picture

If the customer was always the focus prior to Industry 4.0, that emphasis has reached even greater importance with digital transformation. Today’s customer is driving an on-demand economy and that means manufacturers must adapt to survive.

The secret to manufacturing success now lies in having a 360 degree view of the customer.

What does this mean? Quite simply, it means knowing the customer inside-out: their business needs, their competitive pressures, the health of their sector or industry and trends that might be lurking in the wings – all with the aim of meeting order requirements and satisfying the customer while staying one step ahead through predictive analytics.

Integrating ERP with CRM

AI and machine learning can help enormously on the operational side of the manufacturing business but it rests with a powerful customer relationship management (CRM) platform fully integrated with an existing ERP to feed critical customer-related data to the factory floor.

This is a straightforward concept to grasp for manufacturers but a much more complicated nut to crack, practically speaking. Is it simply a matter of purchasing a CRM, like Salesforce, or is there more to it?

The answer is yes, there is more to it – much more.

It is fundamentally incorrect to assume that buying SaaS (Software as a Service) and downloading it will instantly deliver new customer insights.

The Critical Role of a Technology Partner

That’s where the role of a technology partner is critical to the manufacturing goals.

The right technology partner is one who can thoroughly analyze the manufacturing process to fully understand it and what the manufacturer wants to achieve.

From there, the technology provider should lay out a digital roadmap for their client to establish the implementation schedule.

Recharging Legacy Applications

One of the great strengths and advantages of employing the Salesforce CRM, apart from its number one ranking, is the platform’s ability to integrate with existing software technology. This results in substantial cost savings for a manufacturing client who doesn’t have to jettison legacy applications in order to roll out a Salesforce CRM platform.

However, often, those legacy applications can be so old and failing that they create a drain on network resources.

Some applications may not even be network-ready, in which case the technology partner needs to be able to create custom interfaces that would allow the data from the legacy apps to be instantly accessible  on the manufacturer’s network.

Solutions Unique to the Client

Gerent LLC’s VP of Manufacturing Practice, Chaitanya Sonarikar, explains how it’s vital that the technology firm be capable of developing applications to port the legacy technology through specialty interfaces like APIs (Application Programmable Interfaces).

“Gerent employs a Salesforce platform called Lightning which contains a number of these APIs to assist in integration of the CRM with existing technologies in the manufacturing plant. Again, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ product, so Gerent customizes those Salesforce products to fit the specific and unique needs of a customer. Gerent is, in essence, an implementation partner and this kind of skillset is what a manufacturer needs to seek out when partnering with a technology firm.”

For more information on how Gerent can help your manufacturing operation perform at its optimum, please contact us and we’ll be happy to offer some ideas.