Turning change into an asset

The pace of change is quickening. To be competitive manufacturers must become transparent from the field where orders and quotes are created, through to the factories where products are manufactured through to fulfilment. Transparency and speed now rule over mountains of metrics and analytics. During the next five years for any manufacturer to stay competitive, they will have to keep pace, even outrun changes in their customer base, in their processes, and most of all in the transparency between when an order is first placed, to its steps in fulfillment and finally in its delivery to the customer.

So how can manufacturers evolve from being inward-centric, to ensure that they dont miss the revolution their customers want? The answer is to aggressively develop and pursue a field-to-factory vision. This is beyond buzzwords and just theoretical knowledge. Its about turning speed and accuracy into a competitive advantage and turning change into an asset.

Speed is a competitive asset, and the visability from when a quote is first produced to when a final product is shipped is what matters most. Harvesting demand starts with this clear view through your companys value chain. To ignore it by being myopic or by leaving out a critical step is to leave money on the table. AMR Research has found a strong correlation between the field and its many interactions with customers on the one hand, and the ability to excel at production, manufacturing, fulfilment, and service at the other.

There are numerous reasons why field-to-factory is so critical now for the manufacturing industry, such as the fact that between 70 and 80 per cent of orders from manufacturers need further work and often re-entering, compared to 20 per cent average across all industries. The complexities of capturing orders in manufacturing make adopting a field-to-factory series strategies a must-have. Add in the complexities of managing global orders and the need for delivering a clear and consistent message to customers becomes clear.

Strategies for making a field-to-factory vision come alive are briefly outlined below:

- Intensify your focus on each customer interaction. Realise that in each and every interaction you have with a customer, their trust must be earned. You must intensify your focus on the fact that every critical moment of every day has to underscore the fact that your company in particular values and aligns internal systems to deliver exceptional service.

- Bring solutions not just technology to your clients. Create systems that allow your prospects to progress at their own pace. This strategy is true for product evaluations, trials, and purchases. Also, during the trial period, build clear visibility throughout the entire value chain of your company.

- Give your clients visibility into order history as well as each specific order's progress. Creating systems that benefit all clients by delivering the status of a customised order as it travels through manufacturing and fulfillment and also has the ability to quickly summarise order history by product, region, or business unit is what happens when a field-to-factory vision gets turned into reality.

- Integrate all customer-facing systems in the field to ensure accuracy, reliability, and transparency. The need for providing transparency across quoting, pricing, manufacturing, and fulfillment systems with a focus on how to best surpass customers' expectations at every interaction is critical. This is at the heart of field-to-factory strategies and where several manufacturers are finding a sustainable competitive advantage.

Cultivating channel partners, distributors, and resellers is where the most profitable returns are being generated from field-tofactory initiatives and strategies. Go after these strategies for quicker returns on channel investments so that your company will be able to harvest demand more efficiently and with greater accuracy than competitors.

- Look to the intersection of manufacturing, sales, and production to make field-to-factory strategies work. Manufacturers can reap rewards by looking to unify their sales and manufacturing responses to customers electronically and accurately using engineering's expertise. Look at the intersection of these departments, the databases and systems used, and examine ways to streamline or even replace manual processes.

- Spend heavily on channel education and product knowledge versus short-term incentives. Those companies winning against competitors are using field-to-factory strategies to bring superior knowledge into their channels. Knowledge puts lasting pressure on competitors while incentives become addictive for channel partners, and they often become conditioned to only sell what has an incentive attached to it.

- Aggressively manage leads and their escalation through your channels. Don't settle for just sending leads out and then waiting to see if sales happen. Work to re-engineer processes around leads to track them efficiently, then find what best practices work for your channel and organisation.

- Aggressively pursue best practices in quoting and order capture. This translates into making the most of integration between your quoting and order-capture systems with pricing, supply-chain, ERP, and services systems. Making your company as competitive as possible starts with a strong focus on unifying the channel-facing systems with internal systems. Winning business against your competitors starts with the ability to capture quotes without errors, and the skill to define a realistic expectation back to a client regarding when their build-to-order product will be shipped.

- The longest-lasting benefits from field-to-factory go to those companies that demonstrate the ability to:

       - Start with the goal of providing a clear workflow from the order to the production floor, alleviating all unnecessary manual steps in the process.

       - Consolidate redundant order-capture systems that may serve only a single channel or are a leftover from an acquisition or merger.

       - Integrate legacy systems while enabling order capture, quoting, and pricing systems to deliver the same data.

       - Process orders with greater speed from order to fulfillment; achieve greater accuracy due to engineering, sales, and manufacturing being in concert with each other; and produce greater flexibility in automating responses to custom orders.

The fact is that every company is a global competitor and each has to harness speed, accuracy, and agility as competitive weapons to survive in an increasingly competitive world. In manufacturing, speed and accuracy already beat out geographic preferences thousands of times a day. In order to survive in todays manufacturing industry the Field-to-Factory vision is critical. The ability to compete and win business, then fulfil orders accurately, reliably and profitably, distinguishes the manufacturers that grow from those that shrink or go out of business altogether.

The field-to-factory vision is defined in more detail in the white paper Field-to-Factory how manufacturers harvest demand by Cincom, which can be downloaded from this page - see link.

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