Key businesses from the UK's manufacturing and distribution community gathered in Nottingham recently to get their first glimpse of Microsoft Dynamics AX7, the latest version of the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution, and the first Microsoft ERP offering for the Cloud, at an event which urged them to embrace digital technologies to create a competitive advantage.
This year's ColumbusLive event, hosted by international consultancy Columbus, demonstrated the new features of AX7, including an enhanced user interface, Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, and improved mobile functionality. And as manufacturing and distribution businesses prepare for the release of the solution next month, the message from Columbus is that the time to embrace digital technologies is now, as the manufacturing industry in particular, faces an uncertain future.
Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that factory output in the sector reduced throughout the last quarter of 2015, while industrial production also fell. However, the same report indicates that the sector could be in for a promising 2016 with domestic demand rising and a weakening pound offering an export boost for UK manufacturers.
The message from Columbus' Managing Director Mary Hunter, is that businesses need to start embracing digital technology now, and changing the way they think about their processes, if they are to continue to compete in an uncertain sector. She commented: "Competitors are coming from more channels than before and it is becoming more and more difficult to not only survive, but to thrive in business. The key is changing your mindset, stop doing what you have always done and start looking for new ways to gain efficiencies and deliver greater service to help make your customers more profitable, and technology can help you do this."
Businesses at the event were introduced to a range of people and organisations who are successfully embracing technology to evolve and improve their business models. Honorary Professor Des Evans from The Aston Centre for Servitization, Research and Practice, delivered an inspirational talk on MAN Trucks' servitization strategy. The business recently invented 'Trucknology,' a service-based business model which not only sells vehicles to businesses, but also delivers services to customers and measures their overall driving performance to help them realise cost savings from their vehicle investment.
This transition to a service-based business model – or servitization – is a trend that Columbus expects to increase throughout the next few years as the manufacturing and distribution community is forced to change and embrace digital technology in order to remain competitive.
ColumbusLive showed businesses Microsoft's roadmap for Dynamics AX7, which Columbus is supporting, following a cloud first, mobile first strategy. Columbus has a number of customers that are geared up to become early adopters of the technology, and many more which are utilising Columbus' own solutions to not just collect transactional data, but using this data to empower their people to make faster, bolder decisions and facilitate servitization strategies, streamline factory automation, and make plant interconnectivity a reality.
Thomas Honoré, CEO of Columbus Global summed up the future of manufacturing. He said: "In just a few years' time the valuation of a manufacturing or distribution business will be as much about their digital strategy as it is their other assets. As industry becomes more competitive those businesses with predictive services will be the most successful. There will be an increase in servitization adoption and everything will start to be connected. That is the long term plan for Columbus and for many of Columbus' customers."
The 2016 Annual Manufacturing Report, by Hennik Research was sponsored by Columbus, and also indicates a rise in servitization with 41% of manufacturing businesses polled already stating that they offer customer support agreements.