Smart, agile, connected: the supply chains of the future

Microsoft’s Indranil Sircar discusses how organisations are tapping into innovative solutions to reimagine manufacturing and build agile, resilient and sustainable supply chains

Jacqui Griffiths
By Jacqui Griffiths on 30 September 2022
Smart, agile, connected: the supply chains of the future

Manufacturers need speed and agility like never before as they navigate market changes, supply chain disruptions and rising costs.  

From the factory floor to the customer’s door, the interdependence of processes and organisations across the supply chain has never been clearer – and organisations are embracing cloud technologies to provide the end-to-end visibility they need. 

Microsoft’s recent IoT Signals: Manufacturing Spotlight report reveals manufacturers’ key priorities. “All six of the report’s key findings share a common theme: manufacturers across the globe are advancing their digital transformation efforts,” says Indranil Sircar, chief technology officer of manufacturing and supply chain at Microsoft. “By adopting transformative technologies like, internet of things (IoT) industrial devices, artificial intelligence (AI) and digital twins, manufacturing organisations can transform their workforce, build more agile factories, create more resilient supply chains, engage customers in new ways, drive innovation and deliver new services, decrease environmental impact and improve security.” 

It's not all plain sailing though. Many manufacturers have skills gaps that could place obstacles in their digital transformation path. “Half of the respondents said they face challenges in developing new software applications and eight out of ten say they’re dealing with skills gaps, particularly in data science, AI and cybersecurity,” says Sircar. 

Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing – currently available in preview – brings together leading-edge solutions and expertise from Microsoft and its partners, enabling manufacturers to bridge those skills gaps and take full advantage of their opportunities. With solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 and broad integration with platforms like Microsoft Teams, it enables manufacturers to reimagine their business by addressing what matters most.  

“Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing gives manufacturers the flexibility to adopt the solutions they need to address their most pressing business needs – be it building more agile factories, creating more resilient supply chains, empowering their workforce, engage customers in new ways, or delivering new services,” says Sircar. “It starts with a modular framework so manufacturers can innovate as they go, activating end-to-end services like supply chain visibility or standalone services like digital twins.” 

This capability to gain visibility and optimise productivity from the factory floor to the extended supply chain is crucial. Every element of the supply chain is being digitally transformed, from information technology/operational technology convergence in the smart factory to enabling always-on service and digital selling. As that happens, it’s become clear that each element plays a crucial role in a connected value chain that spans procurement, manufacturing, warehouse management and delivery processes, as well as reporting and after-sales. 

In recent years we’ve had constant reminders of just how quickly and easily supply chains can be disrupted. “Supply chains continue to see major disruptions due to ongoing pressures from geopolitical events, global economic slowdown in addition to a shortage of workers to meet new and existing customer demand,” says Sircar. “In addition, a typical business that operates globally has a complex IT and supply chain technology landscape. Over the years they have acquired multiple systems for engagement, execution, warehouse management and transportation management and demand planning and supply planning. The challenge is that, with data siloed within different functions, businesses are often stuck in reactive mode. Even if their systems are best of breed, siloed data means they’re not able to make proactive decisions to overcome disruptions. Added to this visibility challenge are signals from external trading partners and real-world events whose systems don’t talk to each other, resulting in even larger end-to-end gaps in visibility. 

“As a result, manufacturing leaders are looking to build agile and sustainable value chains by using intelligent supply chain solutions that can help alleviate some of these stresses.” 

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is helping manufacturers to connect the dots – as Swiss manufacturer Jansen illustrates. Situated outside the European Union, but doing significant business in that region, Jansen’s supply chain and cross-border supplier and customer relationships were complex. As a result, the company needed a sophisticated solution to map multiple, independent divisions into one legal entity. It implemented Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management to resolve complex reporting requirements. Additionally, the company digitised the production process with Microsoft Power Apps and Power Automate. This robust ERP solution helps Jansen to tackle today’s major business priorities and positions the company to be ready for tomorrow’s opportunities.   

Meanwhile in the USA, water and process treatment services provider ChemTreat needed to keep pace with its own growth and increasing technological maturity in the markets it serves. It too adopted Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management to improve its processes and transform its operations. With implementation support from partner Alithya and the FastTrack for Dynamics 365 team, ChemTreat enhanced data visibility and insights, improved its inventory, manufacturing and distribution processes, and enabled itself to provide better, more intentional and proactive customer service. 

Just like these companies, a top priority for many manufacturers is to bring more flexibility and agility into the supply chain so they can quickly respond to market conditions. “By using cloud-powered supply chain solutions, companies can expect to have better end-to-end visibility across their supply chain network, automation to help streamline and improve processes, reduced inventory shortage risk, and the ability to sustainably improve long-term business performance,” says Sircar. 

“Dynamics 365 helps enhance the visibility of the supply chain, logistics networks and inside the four walls of the factory, to proactively manage the shop floor with a real-time view of the production and inventory,” says Sircar. “It provides a single platform where internal and external stakeholders can visualise the constraints across the value chain, analyse the upstream or downstream impact and collaborate in near real time across the multi-enterprise network directly. This means that the enterprise can truly blur the lines between planning and execution, creating a continuous digital feedback loop across processes and layers to enable the supply chain to adapt to the dynamic changes in a rapid fashion.” 

As research such as the IoT Signals 2022 report shows, manufacturers are already harnessing powerful cloud-based solutions to optimise performance across individual processes, factories and the wider ecosystem. As they do so, they are positioning themselves as enablers for a wider ecosystem – a truly visible, agile and resilient supply chain that is ready to deliver what the business and its customers need, when they need it.  

A variety of Microsoft partners also contributed to this feature: Augury, Avanade, AVEVA, C5 Insight, Lanham Associates, PTC and RSM. Read about how they are helping manufacturing firms gain the visibility they need to thrive.  

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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