The world of work has been utterly transformed over the past two years. It’s not only office workers who have been forced into remote work by the pandemic, manufacturing and distribution companies are facing a similar challenge – how to enable remote work on the shop floor and in the warehouse with ERP. A survey SYSPRO fielded during the early days of the pandemic showed that 47% of businesses were unable to function because operational staff completely relied on on-premises resources, and 37% were unable to provide the remote work capabilities they required. As a result, almost three-quarters (73%) said they would need to invest in additional capabilities to facilitate remote working.
The virtual shift with ERP
A year later we asked manufacturing CFOs how their strategies had evolved. 65% were diversifying their business. When it came to spending, investing in new equipment and new technology were the second and third most important areas of focus after expanding operations. Various surveys have indicated that many businesses would continue to let their employees work remotely, at least part of the time. If remote work is not allowed, the chances are that some staff will leave, opting for flexibility. However, in contrast to digital-first industries, the physical nature of manufacturing and distribution industries has made the transition from in-person to remote a challenge. The industry must adopt remote connectivity solutions to enable remote work while retaining and improving production efficiency.
It’s not hard to see how useful it could be for employees to be able to access critical systems no matter where they were located or what device they used. For manufacturers and distributors an ERP system allows remote staff to access and share information they need via an Internet connection and on any device improving collaboration and productivity.
Manage manufacturing remotely
Enabling remote work in the back office (e.g., finance, HR) has been relatively easy to implement. But in a manufacturing business, the same capability needs to be available for those who plan, schedule and monitor manufacturing. Until the pandemic, the standard view was that manufacturing needed people on the shop floor to do that work.
That needn’t be the case anymore. Manufacturing operations management software provides a 360-degree view of the production process, enabling managers and shop floor supervisors to plan, schedule, track, analyze and optimize manufacturing operations. With a web user interface, staff are not tethered to their offices and can oversee production wherever they happen to be, giving them the visibility they were used to when they were in the factory.
How does a warehouse manager store and track an inventory item if they can’t see it?
With RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and more recently IoT (Internet of Things), those items can be tagged so they can be monitored wherever the items are. Currently, scanners are used to track RFID, but increasingly local networks will track items with an IoT sensor. Both these technologies can be integrated with an ERP system so that their location can be monitored at any time, whether they have just been received and allocated to a bin, are components in an assembly process, are finished items, or are being moved between warehouses. If the warehouse staff use an ERP system that supports remote work, they can manage inventory from anywhere.
Robotic automation in factories and warehouses has been advanced as a way of making manufacturers and distributors less people-intensive. While it is early days yet for many companies, an ERP system that has integration tools to connect machines with the application will allow staff to remotely monitor and analyze machine operations so that they run efficiently.
If manufacturers and distributing staff are not walking around the shop floor or the warehouse eyeballing what is going on, how can they see what is happening and where improvements can be made? The answer is analytics.
Instead of using their senses, they can use data that is generated by the ERP system to make those observations and decisions. Whether it’s making decisions about the pace and cadence of activity on the shop floor, or optimizing inventory storage, the analytics capabilities in the ERP system can help staff make the decisions where previously they would have had to be there physically.
Customer and supplier service
Self-service portals for customers and suppliers had been trending before the pandemic but have accelerated in the last two years. These portals allow customers and suppliers to get information they need without having to phone an office. Customers can get statements and invoices, and place orders, as they would have done in the past by phone. Suppliers can access Request for Quotes or update delivery dates in the same way.
Using ERP software, remote customer service and sales employees can communicate with customers as effectively as they used to. With access to a CRM or Contact Management system, customer engagement and building relationships can still be carried out when personal contact is not possible.
Going remote with ERP
Entrepreneur and author Seth Godin has said “You don’t need a new plan for next year. You need a commitment.” Executives in manufacturing and distribution companies can commit to enabling remote work by investing in ERP software that doesn’t force employees, whether on the shop floor or in the back office, to be tied down to a workstation. In a world where hybrid work is becoming the norm, an ERP solution with remote work capability allows staff secure access from anywhere and provides them with the information they need to run operations and make important decisions.