Industrial organisations and manufacturers have faced some of the fastest technological evolution over the past few years, compared with other industries. While this has been underway for the past 30 years – in part due to the rise of globalisation – the recent pandemic has accelerated the development of manufacturing technology and innovation.
“Many of our partners have not historically prioritised investments in their infrastructure and were not prepared to respond to the supply and demand disruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Jason Alexander, manufacturing sector leader at RSM. “Going forward, these organisations need to be more proactive in adapting their operations to thrive in today's competitive landscape.”
RSM has identified seven key areas manufacturers should focus on to achieve this goal, while also enhancing their IT infrastructures and becoming data-driven organisations of the future. They include: enhancing IT architecture, enabling data-driven decision-making, continuing urgency of cybersecurity, reimagining global supply chains, realising the factory of the future, shifting workforce dynamics, and understanding the importance of environmental, sustainability, and governance issues (ESG).
“These trends are really a blend of challenges and opportunities that companies are dealing with today,” says David McLaughlin, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Industrials Leader at RSM. “But there’s also this concept of technology debt.”
McLaughlin says this debt varies depending on where organisations are on the technology maturity scale. “On the low end of that scale, you're likely to be carrying a technology debt. That makes it more difficult to react in crises like Covid-19. Companies that didn't make those investments in their infrastructure or their collaboration tools, or that didn’t equip their mobile workers were forced to deal with a lot more.
“Being in a position where you're not carrying that debt allows you to be nimbler when these major things occur, and it also positions you to capitalise on technology and be more competitive. If you're too far down on that technology debt spectrum, you're in jeopardy of being overwhelmed by others.”
RSM enables its customers to address these trends via a range of service offerings. “We've got the expertise to help a company assess their position, develop a road map, and then start executing it,” says McLaughlin.
The firm builds its services around many Microsoft products. For example, it can help companies to deploy Azure Data Lake or other data storage solutions, or help them consume and analyse data using Power BI.
“Addressing the trend of reimagining global supply chains, we have a solution called Trade Profiler built on an Azure database with Power BI that serves up data around global trade spend,” says McLaughlin. “We also build on Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain to reimagine a demand-driven approach to supply chains.”
RSM has also hosted webinars outlining how to use the new Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability to support a company's ESG journey.
While implementing the right technology plays an important role in driving manufacturing companies into the future, both Alexander and McLaughlin also highlight the value of reskilling and upskilling the workforce.
“I can’t stress enough the challenges facing organisations from a workforce perspective,” says Alexander. “To deliver on these trends, manufacturers need employees with skill sets that they have perhaps not had to recruit for in the past. These industrial organisations are now fighting with big IT firms for data scientists. As such, they must create a new environment to attract the people that will enable them to implement and execute these strategies in the future.
“If you don't shift how you're recruiting and training your staff, you're never going to be able to get the right people to implement these advanced technologies.”
RSM can also assist its customers here. “We can help them to understand the operational capabilities of their organisations and how to align human resources (HR) to support this,” says Alexander. “We can help them ensure that they have the right people, evaluate their HR structure and their business processes, and identify how they can implement the right technology.”
McLaughlin draws attention to the way that RSM supports its customers throughout their journeys with technology implementation and workforce support. “We help them understand how they can attract and retain talent to sustain the growth that they need in the short and medium term,” he says. “We also help them to evaluate their current workforce to see if they have the skills and the tools necessary to effectively improve manufacturing performance in the future.
“A lot of organisations don’t have the internal skillset or capacity to identify the most applicable technologies or the gaps in their workforces’ expertise. We can help them through that entire life cycle.”
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.