Production tools to make consumers happy

Software tools today can help manufacturers better identify and understand what customers want, and accelerate revenue growth, say industry players.

Today's consumer-driven manufacturers must drive innovation, accelerate growth, increase margins and meet regulatory requirements. Therefore, it is crucial they have visibility and insights on current market development to keep pace with the competition.

Diane Fanelli, senior vice president of industries and solutions at SAP Asia-Pacific and Japan, said manufacturers also need to know what is top on the mind of customers and to be nimble enough to immediately respond to changes.

Technology can provide this capability, in the form of enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), product lifecycle management (PLM), customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI) applications.

"These allow manufacturers to streamline and accelerate transparency across the entire value chain, from the producer to the retailer to the end-consumer," Fanelli told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

Jasbir Singh, Oracle Asean's general manager of manufacturing, retail and distribution division, explained that ERP--deployed as a foundation--automates a manufacturer's backoffice functions which include human resources and financials. This helps manufacturers to better manage and reduce their internal costs, Singh said in an e-mail interview.

With user demand changing constantly, manufacturers must collaborate with new suppliers, outsource production and organize an effective supply chain, he added.

Ahead of a purchase
Before making their purchasing decision, manufacturers must first consider a few issues.
They need to determine their budget and whether their business model requires immediate returns on investment--an area that is particularly crucial to smaller businesses, said Diane Fanelli, senior vice president of industries and solutions at SAP Asia-Pacific and Japan.
She added that companies must also analyze their IT infrastructure.
Debashis Tarafdar, senior research manager at IDC Asia-Pacific's Manufacturing Insights, advised manufacturers to match the skill levels of their internal business and IT project teams with the application to be implemented.
"In some cases, increased outsourcing has also reduced the need to implement best-of-breed applications in-house, particularly for supply chain management (SCM) and product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions," said Tarafdar.

    As such, Singh said, manufacturers need to consider strategic SCM applications that enable "information-driven value chains".

    "This is especially important in today's global environment where their core business relies on an extended ecosystem of partners and customers, and where many of their processes are outsourced," he added.

    Strategic SCM applications offer manufacturers new capabilities to effectively harness the enormous amount of data collected across their entire supply chain network.

    Singh said: "This is fundamental to their ability to make better decisions by identifying potential risks and opportunities in real-time."

    He said strategic SCM also enables companies to drive more predictable results, adapt quickly to change, and align planning and execution networks with their business goals.

    "To achieve this, manufacturers need to integrate and automate critical processes from supply chain planning to execution, manufacturing and collaboration with external parties."

    Lifecycle management reduces costs
    "A strategic SCM application would include a PLM component, enabling the manufacturer to manage its asset lifecycle, product lifecycle and centralize product information management," Singh said.

    "This helps to reduce time-to-market, an especially important factor for manufacturers catering to the fast-moving retail segment."

    BI is critical for manufacturers to gain up-to-the-minute insight into inventory, procurement and spend, sourcing and supplier performance, he added. These help manufacturing service providers to better manage customer commitments while optimizing inventory and supplier spending.

    Singh noted: "Having a real-time view of the entire supply chain will enable more informed business decisions across the organization."

    When complemented with a CRM application, he added, BI enables the manufacturers to consolidate customer information across the organization and transform the data into "actionable intelligence".

    "Together, these applications enable companies to optimize supply and distribution networks, mitigate risk, maximize shop floor throughput and dramatically reduce supply chain costs," explained Singh.