Connected devices and intelligent operations

Developments such as Industry 4.0, 3D printing and the internet of things are garnering vast amounts of consumer attention – and for good reason. Here’s how manufacturers can harness these new technologies to engage customers with amazing experiences, supported by intelligent operations

Sean Dudley
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley on 07 April 2015
Connected devices and intelligent operations

This article was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of OnWindows

Concepts such as Industry 4.0, 3D printing, the (industrial) internet of things (IoT) and connected devices are not new within the manufacturing industry. But increasing awareness of these developments with consumers presents a distinct opportunity for manufacturers – helping them to not only better serve their customers, but achieve improved margins through rapid prototyping and agile manufacturing, and engender loyalty along the way.

“Many manufacturers haven’t really focused on the customer journey until now,” says Colin Masson, global industry director for manufacturing at Microsoft Business Solutions. “But thinking beyond the engineering of a product and about how they can get more insight from product usage forms the basis of intelligent operations. It involves going outside the four walls of manufacturing; it’s about getting feedback from these products once they’re deployed at a customer or end consumer.”

By focusing on a number of ‘moments of truth’ along the customer journey and connecting to devices at the consumer end, manufacturers can gain valuable insights into how their products are being used. With this information, companies can create ‘customerised’ products that are designed and engineered to meet the specific needs of customers. For example, 3D printing is making it easier for manufacturers to rapidly prototype and then deliver products that are assembled to order, made to order or engineered to order, differentiating their products and services to a greater degree than ever before.

In order to achieve the required insights and use this information to deliver these compelling customer experiences, however, companies require connected marketing, sales and service capabilities. “Manufacturers can market smarter with new insights gained by listening to smart connected products and social sentiment, blended with data from customer touchpoints across the marketing, sales and service channels they want to use – whether digital or not,” says Masson.

The core customer relationship management tools of Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides users with sales tools, social engagement capabilities and a unified service desk. By pooling information from sources such as websites, phone conversations and social media, they can then develop a 360-degree view of the customer – and their devices.

Through Microsoft Azure Services for IoT, Dynamics CRM can also connect to customers’ smart connected products and provide insight into how they’re being used and how they’re functioning. This means staff can be proactive when it comes to interactions with their customer, giving them a competitive advantage.

While these ‘moments of truth’ are of vital importance, in order to deliver an enhanced customer experience, companies need to be responsive to the needs and demands of customers when it comes to the supply chain and manufacturing process too.

“You can connect marketing, sales and service agents to try and deliver great customer experiences, but satisfaction and loyalty still comes down to fulfilling the promises you’re making to each customer,” Masson explains.

Microsoft Dynamics AX can help manufacturers stay on top of their supply chain by tracking supply, work in progress and finished goods inventory, and providing accurate timeframes to customers, such as when a product will be ready for delivery.

Masson believes that the walls have to come down between manufacturing and supply chain operations, marketing, sales and service operations – and research and development operations.

“It’s a culture change that’s got to come on the manufacturing shop floor but to do that you need modern systems like Dynamics AX, which is an agile digital business platform for manufacturing and supply chain execution,” Masson says. “It’s about ensuring that things run smoothly. It might be a great customer experience, but if a product doesn’t arrive on time, nothing is forgiven at that point!”

Throughout the entire customer and product journey, one thing is key – staff must have insight into the same information as their customers, not only to ensure they serve them better, but also so they can stay up to date on the latest requirements and trends. This requires them to have access to and be armed with the same level of technological capabilities as their customers.

“Take mobile, for example,” says Masson. “Companies need to ensure that whether it’s in manufacturing or sales, their staff have the latest tools. This means access to the latest information, easy-to-use software and apps that are built to do their job wherever they are. You don’t just need to invest in plant automation, manufacturers need to reinvent productivity with a modern workplace. Microsoft can help here as well, with Office 365 available across all the major mobile platforms, and secure cloud services to aid their deployment and management.”

In an age of connected devices and a growing skills gap in manufacturing, systems of intelligence are required, according to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, speaking at Convergence 2015. “In a world of big data, small patterns matter,” he said.

“With IoT data from smart connected devices and manufacturers’ smart products, users can run Azure Machine Learning across that data and start looking for significant business events,” Masson explains. “This enables staff to be proactive about service, look for patterns in data, segment customers in more intelligent ways and continuously adapt marketing strategies.”

By analysing the vast amounts of data that is created by connected devices, sales teams can identify cross-sell and upsell opportunities, such as when a contract is about to expire, or if a machine is being run at several times its designed capacity.

“These opportunities to engage customers in new ways and servitise manufacturing doesn’t just happen by connecting devices; that happens by adding business context, insight and making it actionable,” Masson adds. “That’s really where connecting Azure Services for IoT with business applications such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM and AX enables manufacturers to transform their business with intelligent customer engagement and intelligent operations.

“Microsoft’s innovative partner ecosystem is already taking advantage of our investments in social, mobile, analytics, cloud and IoT, and we’ll be with many of them showcasing our journey to intelligent operations at Hannover Messe.”

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