Smoothing the path to digitalisation

Benoit Wambergue
17 October, 22

Benoit Wambergue, VP of cloud products strategy from manufacturing technology specialist Forterro, explains how an agile approach to implementation can deliver results quickly and minimise risk in a rapidly-changing world.

The supply chain disruption of the past two years has led more manufacturers to conclude that digitalisation is the only way to increase resilience and protect their margins. Being able to increase visibility over all aspects of their business and increase the reliability of production and data will undoubtedly spur more firms towards automation as they look for long-term solutions to the dire skills shortages.

One study has shown that 44 per cent of SME manufacturers in the North West of England want to improve their data and system integration, while two-thirds are thinking about industrial machinery, robotics and/or automation. Unsurprisingly, this is being driven by a desire to improve efficiency, productivity and output, and grow their revenue.

But the same study also found that over a third are unsure how to make the most of the opportunities that technology offers.

Implementing any new solution can be a daunting prospect, even if everyone agrees it’s much-needed. There are understandable concerns about the upheaval to daily operations as people adapt to the new system, and there’s no guarantee that it’ll deliver value.

This has certainly been true of ERP (enterprise resource planning) projects in the past. The oft-quoted figure that 55 to 75 per cent fail to deliver on their objectives won’t inspire a great deal of confidence, especially as major brands have experienced problems when migrating to a new ERP too.

Why agile?

While there’s no denying that projects of this kind are complex, an agile framework allows you to remove much of the risk and ensure the software delivers ROI from day one.

Unlike the ‘waterfall’ method sometimes used in software implementation, there’s no waiting for the big ‘go live’ day that only comes after extensive staff training and technical refinement.

Agile is an iterative approach – the software is immediately operational, workers are trained in short bursts and the technology’s effectiveness is measured on an ongoing basis. It follows the principle of continuous improvement, which will be familiar to many manufacturers.

No matter how good the demo is, seeing the software addressing the real-world challenges you face is the best way to determine whether it is delivering value. Right from the start, you’re generating data that allows you to work with your vendor to configure the software to meet your operational and strategic requirements, as well as highlighting areas for improvement.

Since all this happens on a small scale, the risk is low. Staff continue to build on their initial training and put it into practice regularly, streamlining daily tasks and providing further feedback on what’s working well and what isn’t. People can be resistant to wholesale change, so introducing new software in this way helps them to adapt more easily.

Cloud era

The move to cloud-based ERP systems has enabled the process of agile – that is to say, implementation can be broken down into ‘sprints’ of activity, with regular reviews to support continuous improvement.

Available straight from the box, the software can be operational in weeks not months and the subscription-based pricing model removes the high upfront costs associated with on-premise products.

Cloud-based ERP systems with modern UIs are intuitively easy to learn. Augmented by on-demand training that can be consumed any time, small manufacturers can spend their time wisely with their implementation consultants, focusing implementing process automation and configurations that will deliver the most value quickest. Achieving wins early and often, and communicating those achievements throughout the company, only enhances the system’s likelihood of being embraced by employees. A good vendor will demonstrate a deep understanding of specialized needs of your industry sector right from the start and work closely with your internal teams to ensure that the project aligns with your wider business goals.

An ERP is a single piece of software that arguably has the biggest impact on your business – streamlining everything from product development and materials management to finance. With an agile framework, you can unlock these benefits sooner without the risks once associated with software implementation.

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