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Reimagining Manufacturing: Putting Digital Technology At The Center Of A Post-Pandemic New Normal

Rapid digitalization, agile manufacturing, and supply chain resilience will be critical to address limitations and strengthen the industry’s growth across all development indicators.

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As we start a new decade, it is time to learn and unlearn to prepare for growth in the next normal. As organizations across industries ready themselves for the next phase, their focus will be on strengthening business resilience and agility, and at the heart of this will be the willingness to embrace new technology.   

The implications of Covid-19 on the manufacturing industry have been significant. The pandemic highlighted critical issues for the sector such as material shortage, drop in demand, disruption in supply chains worker scarcity, cash-flow, and planning concerns. While many businesses reconfigured their production, supply chains, and services, the shift toward digitally enabled manufacturing is only going to ramp up. Like other sectors, manufacturing will also see digital acceleration across all areas – whether it is keeping employees connected and productive; connecting dealer management systems; automated, robotics-driven factories; or ensuring health guidelines compliance in their facilities.

Intelligent and agile factories. Businesses that embrace agile manufacturing will achieve new levels of productivity by strengthening operational technology with IT innovations using IoT, cloud, AI, and mixed reality. Manufacturers will be able to monitor equipment and predict anomalies for pre-emptive upkeep which will enable them to significantly reduce downtime. AI and cloud will empower businesses to calculate overall equipment efficiency vs. capacity to optimize production which will save costs by reducing material waste & energy use. Open platform and common data framework could also be used to speed up industrial-scale digitalization and breaking down data silos on the factory floor, respectively.

Zeiss Group, an internationally leading technology enterprise in optics and optoelectronics, has embraced a cloud-first approach and deployed Microsoft Azure compute, AI, and IoT.  They are helping OEMs improve quality management, build more powerful, energy-efficient microchips, and deliver new digital healthcare solutions and device maintenance. Azure is helping manufacturers gain business insights from across domains, assets, and processes that have traditionally been managed in siloed systems. 

Resilient supply chains. Supply chain efficiency will increase by reducing complexity with AI and machine learning to deliver the right product to the right customer at right time and drive profitability. Technology will enable manufacturers to maintain optimal inventory levels, manage costs, avoid disruption, and increase agility & responsiveness. Data and analytics will play a critical role in analyzing and mitigating supply chain risk.  They will enable real-time visibility and deeper insights into identifying the best approach to allocate and re-allocate inventories. Manufacturers can streamline the supply chain with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management and Azure IoT Central by rapidly building and deploying solutions. 

Unlocking innovation and delivering new services; Companies can engineer new business value with sustainable products and digital services. All the data coming in from IoT sensors, field service, sales, factories, and the supply chain can be used to speed innovation, realize a faster speed-to-market, and improve the quality of products and services, or product-as-a-service. With connected product innovation solutions, you can get real-time insight into which products and features customers are using without waiting for customer survey results. 

Customer engagement redefined. It will be essential for businesses to engage customers in new ways to deliver relevant experiences across marketing, sales, and service channels.  The first step in moving toward product-as-a-service is proactively engaging with your customer throughout your product’s lifecycle. With connected field service solutions, you can remotely monitor the smart products sold to customers. One can thus get the insights you need to do predictive maintenance —and minimize the customer’s downtime. 

Delivering your product-as-a-service also means you need to take a new, collaborative approach to the sales process to help sellers navigate your increasingly complex portfolio of products and services and to build long-term relationships and ongoing customer loyalty Eureka Forbes has as a 6000+ strong door to door sales team – one of the largest direct sales forces in India.  Their sales model needed to be modernized for an era in which customer expectations are changing and behaviors are changing, such as checking products online. Moreover, there is new friction in the buying process, such as gated communities restricting access. Eureka Forbes has consolidated seven different CRM systems onto Dynamics 365 Salespeople can access customer info directly on their smartphones, including granular insights like water quality and the right product to sell in real-time.

Workforce transformation. While technology is radically changing how we innovate, make products, deliver services, and explore new business models, at the core of all of this will be people. Equipping the workforce with the skills and manufacturing technology they need to keep up, as the industry shifts gears, will be vital.  Advancing modern roles, re-skilling to accelerate a data-driven culture, and empowering the first-line worker will be as important as embracing technology to leapfrog into the next phase.   Larsen & Toubro is empowering its global workforce and making it future-ready by adopting Microsoft Teams. They have streamlined employee communications across geographies to make faster, data-driven decisions. They also moved their training and business apps to Teams to ensure seamless business continuity while working remotely.

The business impact of the new normal is here to stay but by strengthening digital transformation strategies and adopting new technologies manufacturers can build resilience, succeed, and achieve more. Microsoft is constantly engaging with partners, customers, and industry associations to empower new, innovative ideas and enable businesses to deal with what lies ahead in the coming year.  The pandemic has presented the manufacturing industry with an opportunity to pivot itself up the digital transformation curve. At Microsoft, we remain committed, as ever, to support the industry and work together to shape the future of manufacturing for the time to come.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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microsoft india microsoft azure digitisation COVID-19

Irina Ghose

The Author is the Director of Cloud Solutions at Microsoft India

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