“Future-proof” is an interesting concept. It doesn’t conjure up the same safety and security as “bullet-proof”, but from an IT perspective —(and according to online dictionaries—see sidebar) it means “unlikely to become obsolete.” In today’s world, using ERP and IT native platforms are the necessary foundation of future-proofing to maintain business agility and scale for lifetime value and profit.

Think back to the glory days of 2019 with a solid economy and manufacturing headed to new heights. You were probably challenged with standing up a workforce—like everyone else was (Deloitte 2018 Skills Gap Manufacturing Study). But were you worried about ensuring your entire staff would need to produce product while maintaining a 6-foot distance? Were you considering work from home? Did you have even an inkling you would not be able to fulfill customer orders because you could not get—or even find—raw materials?

Well, that is the new normal. What about the next normal? In this two-part post, we’ll explore why manufacturers must transform for tomorrow and how next-gen ERP is a critical component of tomorrow’s success.

New Normal > Next Normal for IT

Any IT leader not thinking about the future and how to weather the next unexpected storm might just become the next manufacturing casualty. The business is looking to you to make the right technology decisions to support the company’s future. But the technological infrastructure on which your business runs is at risk of becoming obsolete overnight by the next disruption or trend that no one can predict.

Now imagine a future where your chosen IT stack has the agility to transform as fast as the world around you, adding the bits required to respond to disruptions in weeks versus years. Imagine a future that ensures your company is ready for the next normal. To be fully prepared and truly future-proof, you need to make decisions today that ensure your success tomorrow. For manufacturers, that’s supported by next-gen manufacturing ERP. But, you need to begin with digital transformation which is especially critical in these uncertain times.

Digital Transformation: Today’s Decisions for Tomorrow’s Success

Digital transformation has been a buzzword for a decade or more. But, although manufacturers have been transforming digitally to next-gen manufacturing technologies since the 80s, the progress toward the promised improvements has been slow at best. Why? Well, it could be because manufacturers tend to be conservative and risk-averse so stick with the current proven technologies rather than jump into next-gen manufacturing technologies.

Unfortunately, those choices are exacerbated by technology that has accelerated faster than people and processes can absorb. Moreover, the sheer number and variety of available technology solutions has created a mind-numbing array of options that somehow need to be combined into a cohesive system that we analog humans are able to use. For manufacturers trying to crank out product, it’s easier and cheaper to just keep pushing forward with what you have, even if you know you’ll eventually fall behind.

If you were risk-averse before, you may be curling up into the fetal position these days. But for those who thrive on mitigating risk by managing for the future, now is your time to shine. Here are a few points to consider as you start making today’s technology decisions for tomorrow’s next-gen manufacturing success:

Focus on the Transformation

Digital transformation starts with digitization, where analog (e.g., paper) information is converted into digital (e.g., a database) format. Then, digitalization adds new technologies to leverage data to improve processes and enhance business outcomes. Finally, you reach digital transformation, where your business leverages next-gen ERP technologies and next-gen manufacturing processes to directly influence your business success.

Your job is to focus on the transformation, from tearing down silos to facilitating change management to thinking about tomorrow’s impact on your business, as well as the next-gen manufacturing technologies that drive it all. Virtually any software investment in your business gives you the opportunity to transform—especially enterprise-scale investments like ERP. But digital transformation should not be a wholesale upheaval of every process and system. Nor should it be an exercise to “just digitize your old processes”. This is literally yesterday’s thinking instead of future-proof thinking. You have an opportunity to improve processes while modernizing them, so do it.

Assume the Pace of Change Will Accelerate

If 2020 (and 2021, and 2022 so far) taught us anything, it is that the only thing we can count on is change. Cultural change, geopolitical change, regulatory change, and economic change. You name it, we’ve seen it in the past few years. Resist change at your peril. React to it when you must. But respond to it if you have the agility.

When making IT investment decisions for tomorrow, you need to focus more on the way you want to run your business tomorrow than how your run it today. What are your growth plans? Will you sell more through online channels? Are smart products in your development pipeline that might require telemetry infrastructure so they can “phone home” to signal that a service call is imminent?

You’ll need to work with Operations and Engineering to determine your future needs, obviously, but don’t forget every other department, too. Maybe Finance is planning a move to a “product as a service” subscription similar to how airlines pay engine manufacturers for “power by the hour”. Sales might want more insight into configurations and upsell options. You should be planning for these types of future change, even changes the business has yet to imagine. You’ll need to choose next-gen ERP technologies today to fit those future needs tomorrow.

But Not Everything Will Change

Change and digital transformation will encourage you to implement new, next-gen manufacturing technology solutions, but many elements of your IT stack are likely to remain as-is. So, when you acquire next-gen ERP technology, you’ll need to connect it and consolidate its data with your existing solutions.

Just integrating data across systems can be a daunting task. But what if—thinking for tomorrow—you could build your next-gen manufacturing IT stack on a platform that unifies all data in a common data model? Rather than continually requesting, retrieving, transforming, and consolidating data from many disparate systems, sometimes in a painfully manual process, a common data model stores and retrieves data in a single place. If the data is entered accurately—which is increasingly automated with error-proof digital devices like bar code scanners and NFC sensors—everyone can be confident in the veracity of the data. Everyone can also then trust the resulting reports and dashboards when making decisions.

Moving to a world with the proverbial “single source of truth” built on a common data model is one change that will transform your business more than anything else.

Explore how your transformation to a next-gen manufacturing powerhouse is best supported by building your unique “manufacturing operating system” based on a single, proven technology platform and a purpose-built, cloud-based, next-gen ERP solution. Read the blog Building Your Next-Gen Manufacturing Operating System (MOS).