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5 Key Manufacturing Challenges (and Why ECM is Key to Solving Them)

Yes, manufacturing is about the management, combination, and utilization of physical things. But modern manufacturing is so much more than that — in many ways, modern manufacturing is the original Internet of Things — bringing together both physical and digital things.

Of course, manufacturing organizations have all the same kinds of challenging document and process challenges facing any organization — challenges that Enterprise Content Management (ECM) might be able to help allay. Look at the back-office processes for just about any organization — finance, HR, contracts, sales, marketing, and record keeping are just a few — and you will likely find tons of paper or a hodge-podge of suboptimal and siloed ways of managing digital documents. Or most likely, both.

Intelligent Information Management (IIM) is key to addressing these general business problems. But manufacturers have an additional set of document-driven challenges that make it even more imperative that they adopt a strategic approach to managing information. Think for just a moment about the myriad types of documents that are specific to manufacturing:

  • Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs

  • Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA) documentation

  • Customer Contracts

  • Manufacturing Agreements

  • Order Forms

  • Shipping Documentation

  • Product Design Forms

  • QA Documentation

  • Inspection Reports

  • Engineering Change Orders

  • Invoices

  • Purchase Orders

  • Compliance Reports

  • Order acknowledgements

  • Internal production documents

  • Shipping documentation

  • Warranty requests

Now think about how this high degree of document complexity ties to the strategic business issues facing manufacturers (per the Weidert Group):

  1. Skilled labor shortage

  2. Technology advances

  3. Cybersecurity

  4. Global competition

  5. Changing regulations

How are each of these strategic business issues tied to Intelligent Information Management?

Skilled labor shortage: Nothing can make an organization less attractive to attracting and keeping the best new talent than: 1) recruitment and onboarding processes that are manual, slow, and mired in paper; and 2) information systems that feel to the new employee (especially recent college graduates) like they’ve walked into the middle of a computer museum.

Key IIM functionality needed: A modern digital workplace that allows work to be done anywhere, anytime, on any device.

Technology advances: One characteristic that makes information management in manufacturing particularly challenging is that many processes have historically been automated with stand-alone, process-specific applications (e.g., MRP/ERP Software, Product Lifecycle Management Software, Supply Chain Management Software, Manufacturing Execution Systems, and Production Scheduling and Control Systems). The result is a set of information silos that make true Digital Transformation across processes particularly challenging.

Key IIM functionality needed: A common framework for managing unstructured information that is easy to integrate into the stand-alone applications that drive manufacturing processes.

Global competition: Even the smallest manufacturer typically finds that they compete globally at a very early stage in their evolution. This means that every moment of lost productivity counts; the productivity loss from mismanaged and lost documents within most organizations is massive.

Key IIM functionality needed: The ability to simplify the task of finding the right piece of information at the right time is critical to recapturing lost productivity. In an environment in which the volume of information coming into an organization is scaling geometrically — and in which much of this information is scattered across process-specific silos — the ability to manage information based on metadata is key. The ability to manage information based on metadata and assigning metadata automatically where it doesn’t already exist — productivity growth across manufacturing processes.

Cybersecurity: Usually at the top of every CIO checklist, cybersecurity is particularly challenging when supply chains stretch across the globe and across multiple systems.

Key IIM functionality needed: Ability to use metadata to find and protect particularly sensitive documents, and AI capabilities that allow you to find and protect sensitive personal and business information within documents.

Changing Regulations: The document-related regulatory complexity for manufacturing organizations is higher than for most organizations. Manufacturers need to think globally from the start — that means a rising tide of regulations like GDPR that can no longer be solved with manual, paper-driven approaches. Manufacturers typically face a host of standards-based information and process management requirements (like ISO 9000) that are difficult to standardize, audit, and keep up to date when relying on paper. Specific sectors face their own particular sets of regulations and audit requirements. For example, food and pharmaceutical manufacturers must document compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).

Key IIM functionality needed: Effective compliance begins with having consistent and intuitive approaches to information categorization when a document is created, not after the fact. This means that it begins with individual knowledge workers and equipping them with tools that manage information based on what it is (e.g., a contract, an invoice, a resume, a purchase organization) rather than where it is stored.

Ensuring consistent quality and maintaining quick access to important information is crucial in a manufacturing organization. Reducing regulatory risk, effective project management, automated workflows, and engaged suppliers and employees are critical to the success of any lean manufacturing initiative. And the first step is a common and consistent Intelligent Information Management framework.

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