Darrell Edwards, SVP and Chief Supply Chain Officer, La-Z-Boy
In our dynamically global marketplace, firms are in an insatiable quest to become more competitive, to drive more value. If you operate within the supply chain space, few disciplines can be more of an enabler, more of a business partner, than information technology team. In-fact IT and Supply Chain can, and should be, great partners. As you might suspect, there are many paths this partnership can take to leverage value for the firm. But for the purpose of this discussion, let’s focus specifically on the manufacturing sector of the supply chain. In the words popularized by Dan Goldin—better, faster cheaper could be the rally cry of many manufacturing firms. Actually, this is a business philosophy talked about frequently by manufactures, almost inextricability included in a cadence of solutions discussion. Commonly firms ask the question; can we make it better, faster, cheaper, while cheaper means at lower cost, not quality?
"At a firm’s fundamental core, better, faster, cheaper is where the real benefit exists"
At a firm’s fundamental core, better, faster, cheaper is where the real benefit exists. So, better you say, yes, how will what we are doing improve the quality of our products or our service, or perhaps even the quality of our information? Answering this question can lead to better information, which will lead to better decisions; and better outcomes from informed decisions is definitely good for business.
What about faster? We have all heard the phrase, time is money, and for good reason, it is. Few things create more organizational value than speed does. Within the global supply chain world, we have successfully improved moving materials, products, and information at faster and faster rates, so much so, that consumers have been conditioned to expect same day deliveries in a variety of products and services. Almost universally, across the globe, when firms begin their workday, they think fast, faster material deliveries, faster products being manufactured, and faster logistics. You get the idea, speed reigns supreme and it’s likely only to get more intense. Just remember, in almost all contests, speed wins.
Seldom will anything trump speed, but on occasion, albeit a rare occasion, cost does. Yes, a less costly product or service can be a compelling value proposition for any firm. If you manufacture products, cost is paramount. Few topics, either strategically or tactically, are discussed more with manufacturing teams than cost, or better said, money; and cash is still king.
Productivity and Systems Integration
At the pinnacle of manufacturing metrics sits productivity. Few metrics are revered any more by manufactures than productivity, the metric of all metrics. Additionally, when leaders create an environment, where the entire enterprise is as fixated on increasing productivity, just as much as our manufacturing teams, great things happen. So how do IT and manufacturing teammates collaborate better to create more value? It can be really very simple, look broadly across the enterprise for ways to integrate business knowledge into one system, or into as close to one system as practical. We’ve all heard the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, this is absolutely the case within the manufacturing space, and it applies to the information stream. System leverage reduces information complexity, and streamlining various disparate systems into a single system creates efficiency. When business, or in this case, manufacturing, has clean efficient information, sound impactful decisions are made, and subsequently, value and competitive advantage is created.
As mentioned, in an effort to remain relevant and be an industry leader, firms are always searching for ways to improve their quality, their speed, their cost basis. With that said, one-way to hit all of the big three in a manufacturing environment, is with automation. Automation in today’s manufacturing space can be relatively small in scale and scope, and still be very effective. In-fact simple automation is not only affordable today, so much so, that even small firms find it an attractive proposition; it’s a great mechanism to improve speed, quality, and cost. Today’s simple automation types are quiet commonplace and range from robotic arms, conveying and indexing machines, to simple automated mechanical devices that are trainable. Interestingly, simple automation can reduce quality errors, complexity; improve speed by standardizing repetitive tasks, while actually performing them with great precision and delivering on schedules with impeccable consistency.
In summary, there are many paths to creating firm value in the manufacturing space, and most paths fall into the better, faster, cheaper category. Simple automation clearly has the capability to improve quality by making products better. It can also assist in the manufacturing of products both faster and less costly. Simply put, simple automation creates value. Business integration also creates value, specifically systems and process integration. As firms leverage knowledge sharing in a seamless fashion, and in this case, within the manufacturing environment, fewer mistakes happen, better decisions are made and consequently, efficiency occurs. Most importantly, as businesses align along these strategic initiatives, better, faster, and cheaper—value is ultimately created.