Unbreaking the Chain

Broken IT processes are halting supply chain automation.

By Ryan Duguid

Without technology, our modern-day supply chains wouldn’t be able to produce at the quality and speed that’s expected today. In fact, manufacturers are producing at a rate of 1.5 times more than they were 20 years ago. In keeping pace with this growth, IDC predicts one-third of manufacturing supply chains will be automated by the end of 2020.

But, a firm’s ability to grow and adapt to new challenges corresponds to the strength of its IT team. Tech troubleshooting is the top broken process in offices nationwide, and two-thirds (62 percent) of employees think company IT processes are flawed, according to a recent report by Nintex. If IT teams are bogged down by cumbersome processes the entire team, including the manufacturer, also falls behind.

Bad IT = Bad Supply Chain

Poor IT processes aren’t only impacting the industry at large, they are hurting company security and efficiency.

Nearly 40 percent of employees say they’ve used unsanctioned apps or devices to get around their IT issue and keep working. For an industry that craves efficiency, the unsanctioned use of apps or devices may provide a short-term remedy to a technical problem but will cost companies greatly as individual employees create their own processes and deviate from the organizational standard.

Before we place blame, one thing is clear – we need to find a fix. If broken IT processes cannot be resolved, supply chains will face unhappy partners, businesses and end consumers if their expectations for quick turnaround times on orders can’t be met.

Fixing What’s Broken

Manufacturing, compared to other industries, places higher priority on business operations and operational efficiencies. For manufacturing firms, this means broken IT processes are a major headache. Here are three common IT-related inefficiencies manufacturers face and how to fix them.

• The broken printer: At a number of manufacturing plants, especially overseas, most workers are on contract. In these instances, the contractors’ workload is driven on an order basis. Hundreds of work order forms are created in the company’s ERP, are printed and then sent to each contractor. Once completed, the contractor marks by hand what was completed and then the information is keyed in the ERP system. But, this process puts all success in the hands of something as simple as a working printer.

To keep distribution efficient and paper free, companies can implement a mobile workflow platform. Contractors would receive orders via their cell phone and would have to enter information once the job is completed, often attaching photos of their work. This results in higher compliance rates, time saved from eliminating paper forms, and a system that is more accurate and updated in real time.

• Bounced emails: To keep records up-to-date, businesses often send out emails to their database of approved contractors. A utility company, for example, may send these emails to their network of suppliers one-by-one. Manual, blasted outreach like this can lead to inaccurate records. When a contractor request comes in, the utility company’s imperfect records could lead them to suggest a supplier who is out of business.

To shift focus away from email, organizations can automate their supplier information updates. Through an automated workflow, companies can schedule quarterly emails asking suppliers to confirm or update information and upload their insurance and other certificates. By automating the initial email and database upkeep, companies can spend more time investigating whether a bounced email means their contact changed or the company is no longer in business.

• The messy spreadsheet: For manufacturers with a diverse product line of products, product quality is always top of mind for their CPG clients. But, it takes time and constant work to respond to and resolve quality issues. Many opt to use spreadsheets to collect this information, such as customer contact, the plant the product was produced in, the number of defects in the lot, type and severity of the issue, and so forth.

Quality managers are then tasked with gathering this information, providing any necessary analysis and notifying key internal stakeholders. Those stakeholders then investigate the issue, notify the customer and close the issue. This approach relies on everyone’s complete understanding of the process and up-to-date/complete information across products and plants. By automating the quality management process, however, anyone can enter the issue into a standard form and then only the key stakeholders are notified.

While shorter timelines and increased customer demand may have manufacturers feeling the pressure, fixing broken IT processes offers them an additional strategy for success. When firms automate the troublesome processes that slow employees down and keep information siloed, they cut those inefficiencies, keep projects moving and stay competitive in an increasingly tricky market.

Ryan Duguid is chief evangelist at Nintex.