Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Improve customer experiences with your supply chain data

January 25, 2018
By Jennifer Rideout

Photo: metamorworks/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Jan. 25, 2018 – Delivering better, more personalized experiences — that’s what customers, all customers, expect. Whether products leave your factory ready for consumers or ready for the next step in production, your customers expect a high level of service. And that includes an experience that leaves them thinking favourably about your brand so they come back again and again.

It is here — the customer experience — where your supply chain plays an integral, and perhaps surprising, role. Your experiences as a customer are based on a combination of interactions with a company, for example, how long it took to order and receive a purchase, as well as experiences based on direct interactions. As customer expectations increase, a premium is placed on product customization, next-day delivery and quality. The ability for manufacturers to execute on these expectations relies on the integrity and accuracy of their data. In fact, the goal must now be to delight customers as they order, customize, receive and use your products — from beginning to end of your supply chain.

To quote KPMG’s 2017 Global Consumer Executive Top of Mind Survey: “Companies are making customer service and brand loyalty a priority but many of them aren’t recognizing the part that supply chains can play in that.”

Leveraging data to improve performance across the supply chain is not a new concept for professionals in the field. According to the SCM World Future of Supply Chain Survey 2016, 81 per cent of professionals listed Big Data analytics as disruptive and important to their company. What is less clear for factory professionals is how they can get there.

Start at the beginning
Harnessing the power of supply chain data begins with collecting data from every step of the manufacturing process. The manufacturing industry produces more data than any other in the U.S., so from planning to distribution, manufacturers have the ability to collect data through sensors, RFID tracking and software programs, and use that data to their advantage. To do this, manufacturers need to consolidate data from multiple software systems, suppliers and factories to get a full view of their supply chain. This data must then be analyzed so that meaningful actions can be taken to improve planning, production efficiency, and the customer experience.


Identify the opportunity
Before deploying a new technology, assess your current supply chain data. What does it tell you? What does it not tell you? What could you do better, faster and more accurately if you had additional insights? Consider also what data you are collecting from equipment on your factory floor, and whether you are consolidating and analyzing it to improve production efficiency. These answers will help identify a specific application within your supply chain for better data visibility and analysis, allowing you to gather insights to solve that challenge in a smarter, more efficient way.

For example, an assessment of data collected in your factory may reveal a gap in your visibility from when products leave the line until they arrive at their destination. While this may not seem like an immediate concern, having visibility into your products during this stage could ensure proper product handling, assist with fleet optimization, and enhance forecast and demand planning.

Use the right technology
Once an optimization project is identified, manufacturers must deploy the right solutions to get the data they require. If your challenge is to better manage inventory and demand purchasing, this might require an investment in additional Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software capabilities and wireless asset tracking to keep abreast of warehouse stock.

If your challenge is your factory’s efficiency score, the right technology could include edge computing and collaboration endpoints to speed up machine troubleshooting and decrease unplanned downtime.

Evaluate and refine
As new solutions are deployed and your supply chain visibility increases, it’s important to evaluate and review the success of each project. What new opportunities and challenges did it create? What feedback are you receiving from employees, suppliers and customers? Did the project achieve its objectives and goals? Or, to reference my example above, did adding visibility into your product warehousing and shipping status identify opportunities for faster, more accurate deliveries?

Remember that while it’s important for manufacturers to increase visibility into their supply chain, it should not come at the expense of other elements of your business; before moving onto a new project, always review the impact and outcomes delivered.

The manufacturing industry is in the middle of a transformation. As customers expect increased personalization, product quality and next-day delivery, the traditional supply chain is no longer enough. To deliver a better customer experience and increase profits, manufacturers need to improve visibility across their supply chain — from planning to purchasing, fabrication to delivery. Where will you start?

Jennifer Rideout is the manufacturing marketing manager for Cisco Canada. She is responsible for developing go-to-market strategies for the manufacturing sector in Canada, including channel alignment and content development. She can be contacted at

This column was originally published in the January/February 2018 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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