Right information puts manufacturers ahead

Producers of goods for consumers that are well-informed are better able to respond to the volatile markets and changing customer needs.

With the right information, manufacturers can take appropriate steps to manage their brand, attract more clients and address any customer need.

V. R. Srivatsan, South Asia vice president of Business Objects, said being well-informed ensures manufacturers can better cope with unexpected market instabilities and are well-equipped for a boom in business.

When producing for consumers, manufacturers able to harness and combine the insights from both their customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI) applications, can stay ahead of competitors and respond strategically to the volatile consumer market, said Srivatsan, in an e-mail interview.

Jasbir Singh, Oracle Asean's general manager for manufacturing, retail and distribution division, explained that the type of consumer product and the market for which the manufacturer is producing, underscores the significance of a BI application over CRM, and vice versa.

"If producing for the mass market, the need for BI would override that of CRM as it would be more important to get an overview of the region's consumer habits, and be able to analyze data across various applications," Singh said in an e-mail interview. This, he said, will allow these manufacturers to reduce time-to-market by making the supply chain more efficient.

He added that the converse is true if producing for a niche, specialized market where it is imperative to take advantage of CRM to discover individual customer preferences and manufacture more customized goods.

Business Objects' Srivatsan explained: "CRM focuses more on who the customer is, and what value they get from engaging with the organization. The information extracted is based more on operational interactions, essentially providing a base to better understand the customer."

BI, on the other hand, looks at the organization as a whole, he said.

"Business decisions should be made using data from all possible sources, not just from those kept in structured databases," Srivatsan said. "For example, feedback from a product launch is likely to be from various sources such as Web sites, blogs and questionnaires--all very valuable information, but often kept in an unstructured format."

"BI tools allow manufacturers to look at both types of information--structured and unstructured--in a single interface. This provides manufacturers with the required insights immediately and enables them to make timely decisions," he said.

According to Singh, an effective BI application offers real-time insights into where problems are so that manufacturers can rapidly fix them.

"There are millions of transactions daily in the manufacturing system, from enterprise resource planning (ERP) to CRM to logistics," he said. "BI presents all this data in a dashboard with real-time updates, enabling manufacturers to react to any change in market demand in a timely manner."

According to the 2008 Gartner Executive Programs Survey results released in March, BI applications were ranked the top IT priority among 1,500 CIOs polled.

Bhavish Sood, Gartner's senior research analyst, said in a press release: "BI remains critical for businesses as it turns information into an asset for insight and decision making, especially in high-growth markets in Asia."

Srivatsan added that while BI uses data from previous years to analyze business situations, it also harnesses information in the database to help manufacturers plan for different consumer trends.

"Especially in the manufacturing industry, information often extends beyond the boundaries of the organizations into their business network or ecosystem of suppliers and customers," he said. "Analyzing this information across their business network plays a key part in helping organizations to either predict future buying habits, or to weather an unexpected event such as a recession, with as little damage as possible."