Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Five questions to ask before selecting a digital transformation solution

May 28, 2020
By Jason Ray

Digital transformation is for everybody, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. To make an impactful investment, job shops should ask these five questions

Photo: metamorworks/Getty Images

The manufacturing industry has already heard the call of Industry 4.0, as customers and buyers increasingly expect the online and immediate experience provided by companies like Amazon.

Even in-house, manufacturers have been hitting the analog ceiling. To move as nimbly as they need to, job shops are realizing they must embrace connected information and remove the siloes hindering data-driven decision-making.

Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken these pressures and escalated them tenfold. With most business happening virtually, job shops are reconsidering their current infrastructure and processes – first and foremost, phasing out legacy analog systems. If employees can’t access the information they need, or customers don’t have the seamless, digital experiences they expect, job shops risk losing business.

The pandemic has highlighted that job shops should embrace digital transformation, but knowing where to begin can be daunting. Depending on current technologies, processes and people, job shops must select the right solutions to make impactful change, not introduce new complexity.


Digital transformation is for everybody, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. To make a cost-effective, and impactful, investment, job shops should ask these five questions.

1) Is this vendor a true partner?

If a job shop is adopting digital solutions for the first time, they will likely have several questions along the way. To get the support they need, shops should avoid teaming up with a vendor that will sell the product, facilitate on-boarding and then fall off the radar.

Shops should choose a vendor based on if they will be a true partner – do they provide excellent customer service and quick response times? A strong partnership between a vendor and a shop can make all the difference in a successful digital transformation.

2) What are my needs?

Again, digital transformation does not mean one thing. Job shops need to assess their current infrastructure and think critically about their specific needs.

While there are several industry-specific products on the market for manufacturers, some may provide a bundle of capabilities that go beyond a job shop’s unique challenges.

Shops should invest in solutions that streamline their current processes, not make them more complicated. Digital transformation may feel overwhelming, but it should ultimately bring more simplicity to the lives of job shop owners and employees.

3) Which solution will make the most impact?

While many job shops will invest in multiple solutions, they should not need to adopt a new tool for each individual problem. Just like many internal processes interrelate, so should a solution’s capabilities.

A quoting solution, for example, should not just improve quoting. It should also include capabilities such as built-in messaging. That way, employees don’t need to physically search the warehouse for engineers every time they need to ask a question or resolve an issued related to a quote.

To understand which solutions will make the most impact, job shops must first recognize the root of the problem. If scheduling issues are actually caused by slow order processing, that is the area shops should address first.

4) What can be automated?

Automation helps manufacturers and job shops to streamline laborious processes so skilled employees can focus elsewhere. To use the quoting example, automating just one internal process can greatly reduce the need for data entry, freeing up experienced employees for more strategic work.

It also enhances the consistency of quotes, supports just-in-time manufacturing and expedites both the customer experience and the order-processing time. This is one example of how automating a single process can ignite progress within an organization.

5) Does this solution support my customer’s cybersecurity requirements (ITAR/NIST/CMMC)?

Job shops are responsible for housing customers’ sensitive information, yet most shops are outdated when it comes to cybersecurity infrastructure, relying on on-premises systems, outdated versions of Microsoft Windows and Excel and large file servers.

In most cases, if a cybercriminal were to hack a shop’s server, they could gain access to any file or piece of sensitive information – including customers’ – on there. With this network access, hackers can deploy phishing emails throughout unprotected systems and spread malware to a shop’s email contacts.

If infiltrated, shops can compromise trust, reputation and certainly business. As the manufacturing industry shifts toward digitization, emphasizing cybersecurity will become absolutely critical to attracting, retaining and protecting customers.

To triumph over COVID-19 and to embrace Industry 4.0, job shops must pursue digitization, investing in the technologies and solutions that make it possible.

Digital transformation enables job shops to achieve a higher level of efficiency, reduce bottlenecks, increase production speed and trim costs – enhancements that will serve them in today’s climate as well as in the long-term.

Jason Ray is CEO of Paperless Parts, a secure manufacturing platform.

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