Digital process automation can create a platform for smarter supply-chain management. Organizations are turning to automation to reduce friction and costs, while balancing customer expectations and the needs of network stakeholders.
As global supply chains become more complex, manufacturers the world round are feeling pressure to digitally transform their processes across logistics, engineering, and other functions. In a recent Deloitte Industry 4.0 survey, 62 percent of organizations cited their supply chains as their highest priority for future digital investments.
There’s a range of technologies that organizations can integrate to streamline supply-chain management, providing such capabilities as process automation, software robotics, the internet of things, machine learning and big data analytics. Together these technologies have the potential to increase levels of connectivity, collaboration and visibility experienced throughout the supply chain — and create an environment that’s often called Supply Chain 4.0.
Data collection and analysis are critical to the success of the global supply chain. They can spearhead manufacturing and production-line productivity, dictate warehouse and shipping movements, and track logistics and inventory management. They can also help to inform smarter decision-making around these areas.
However, without the appropriate tools to manage sizable volumes of data, organizations battle to tap its potential. Additionally, traditional data or content-management systems have blind spots at the intersection of the various processes mentioned above, which erodes visibility.
One way to address these issues is to combine current content-management systems and services with a digital process automation (DPA) platform. This type of technology can provide a low-code environment for developing custom applications that meet specific process and data-management needs.
Combining data management with DPA can result in more centralized applications that enable organizations to create smarter, more productive ways of working. Manufacturers can harness the following benefits to meet the needs of their customers, and strengthen their contribution to the global supply chain.
Connected data networks. A DPA platform offers easy integration with resources such as SharePoint, Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox. This supports a more uniform approach to data management, which facilitates efficient information sharing across processes and departments. It also improves transparency across the supply chain, for seamless collaboration with suppliers and service providers. All stakeholder decisions are informed by the same data.
ZF Lenksysteme, a manufacturer of steering columns, gears and pumps for commercial vehicles, used a DPA solution to standardize multiple processes across 17 locations. The platform was integrated into the finance, operations management, and legal departments, increasing transparency and efficiency across the enterprise.
Custom solutions to suit specific business needs. Low-code DPA software provides manufacturers with the flexibility to build custom business process applications to suit a range of different departmental needs, from I.T. and finance to purchasing and inventory management. With this approach, unique business needs can be met. JKM Industrial Supplies, a global provider of manufacturing, building and plumbing solutions, used DPA to streamline its online sales and order-fulfillment processes. This helped to improve stock control and enhance the customer experience.
In the low-code environment, process solutions can be created quickly, without the protracted development cycles that are often associated with traditional application builds. Low-code applications are also easily updated, and can therefore adapt as users provide feedback, or new challenges arise to increase operational agility.
More intelligent data management. With DPA technology in place, organizations can collect, analyze and control data in any area. For example, information around employee shift and production line productivity, order delivery status and payment processing can be used for continual business optimization. The organization can easily view that data and identify areas where automation — through applications or digital process tools — could help to improve efficiency and worker safety. This also provides more predictability, structure, and usability around data, to make business processes run faster and smarter.
Magna Steyr has benefitted from this approach. The automobile manufacturer used a DPA solution to accelerate its order-processing speed by up to 90 percent. On this new platform, purchase order data is documented and traceable, providing Magna Steyr with the ability to analyze customers’ purchasing patterns to inform, automate and improve future sales and customer support interactions.
The focus on digital transformation across industries and the shift to smart manufacturing practices has organizations throughout the supply chain evaluating automation technologies. Data management through digital process automation allows them to create solutions that meet their needs instead of adapting to a one-size-fits-all model. It also provides easy access and control over data, which increases collaboration both internally and with partners, customers and other players in the supply chain.
In the future, manufacturers can easily integrate new, intelligent technologies into their DPA applications as their appetite for innovation grows. Ultimately, this allows them to make continual improvements in the areas of efficiency, service, cost control and agility — in order to remain profitable and competitive.
Holly Anderson is senior director of product marketing at K2.
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