Business and IT leaders are always looking for new ways to serve and delight customers. With the emergence of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and data – along with associated technologies such as cloud computing, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning – companies can achieve these goals through digitalization.
Organizations now have access to unparalleled amounts of data across all areas of the business and can converge operational and information technologies to make products and processes smarter.
But success in this endeavor requires three strategies:
- A customer-centric view that delivers a 360-degree customer experience throughout the engagement cycle
- A distributed manufacturing process that leverages technologies such as automation, robotics, and 3D printing to serve a segment of one
- A network economy of assets, manufacturing, logistics, partners, and people
360-degree customer experience
Customer expectations are driving a need for new business models. Companies can no longer simply sell products. They must take care of their customers throughout the entire engagement cycle.
My son and I recently saw a display of vinyl records. My son asked, “What are they?” I explained that records were popular before CDs. My son asked, “What are CDs?” He has grown up in an era of subscription-based streaming music and no longer has to bother with physical items.
In fact, there are more and more subscription-based, pay-as-you-go, and consumption-based models across industries. To support these models, companies need to design, deliver, track, and maintain products and services differently. Among other things, they need predictive maintenance to keep products up and running, or else they won’t satisfy customers and make money.
Likewise, understanding the customer environment can help predict what customers want. If you operate a retail store, for example, is it in a rural or urban neighborhood? Is it close to a school or an aging population? Are there local special events? What’s the weather forecast? Combining traditional point-of-sale (POS) data with information from IoT sensors and smart products can improve sales forecasts and make sure the right products are in the right place at the right time.
This all needs to be backed up with omnichannel logistics. My son recently went online to order sneakers. Within five minutes he had designed sneakers with his team colors and his number on the side. He clicked “place order,” then discovered that they would take six weeks to deliver. The company lost the sale. There’s no point in enabling ordering that takes minutes if you can’t deliver on the customer promise. Companies must now be able to deliver on the same day or even within the same hour, not only to the retail store but also to the customer’s door. They must be able to deliver both full truckloads to one location and single items to many locations.
Distributed manufacturing process
A desire to get closer to customers through individualized products and services, combined with pressures from new geopolitical realities, is driving companies to rethink their outsourced manufacturing strategies and consider local distributed manufacturing. Similarly, the need for agile manufacturing to produce a lot size of one is driving companies to move from continuous mass production to configurable production cells.
What’s more, to make manufacturing more efficient and economical, manufacturers are increasing their use of automation and robotics. They’re also using 3D printing to reduce inventory carrying costs and enable more rapid prototyping and customization.
As assets become smarter and more connected, companies can design smarter manufacturing processes and create smarter products. They can gain better visibility into equipment performance to improve usage and uptime. And they can better configure and automate manufacturing processes to improve business agility.
When it comes to digitalization, the notion that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” couldn’t be truer. From cross-department collaboration in functions like sales and operations planning (S&OP), to cross-company collaboration in design, sourcing, and manufacturing, to “collaboration” among smart products and assets, digitalized functions must work together.
Now, cross-industry business models are emerging to leverage data from smart assets to drive processes across sectors. For example, sensors on tractors can measure soil moisture to trigger an order to a chemical plant for an appropriate formulation of fertilizer. Sensors in trucks can likewise drive preventive maintenance, rerouting of shipments, insurance claims, and the redesign of vehicle parts.
The explosion of connected things and data enables the transformation of processes, products, and business models – and is driving the need for truly digitalized business. Embracing 360-degree customer experience, distributed manufacturing, and a network economy are three strategies that will get you there.
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This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.