May 6, 2019
By Mika Javanainen, VP of Product Marketing at M-Files, the intelligent information management company
Every industry is experiencing some degree of information chaos, and manufacturing is no exception. Information chaos manifests itself in several ways:
- Companies don’t know if specific information exists internally;
- If it does exist, they don’t know how to locate it;
- If they can locate it, they don’t know how to access the latest version of it.
This chaos creates information and process challenges, and, ultimately, organizational inefficiencies. But short of breaking down silos – which are the necessary divisions, departments or groups on which enterprises are built – what’s to be done? Silos come with a high cost in sharing information: they encourage communications upward, but not outward, or across silos. Silos are here to stay, but siloed islands of information can be conquered.
There has been a resurgence of manufacturing growth in the United States, and in order to keep up with the growth, manufacturers must modernize their siloed ways of managing information to streamline their business processes.
Consider back-office processes, such as finance, HR, contracts, sales, and marketing record-keeping. Workspaces are still plagued with manila folders, collated stacks of documents and endless rows of filing cabinets containing countless files of unknown information and origin. And, even more challenging is that functions – such as HR – are often duplicated across offices or business units within decentralized companies. Where functions are duplicated, information is certain to be duplicated.
M-Files’ 2019 Intelligent Information Management Benchmark Report surveyed 1,500 office workers across multiple global regions and found that 82 percent of workers report that poor information management is damaging productivity in the workplace. And 96 percent of employees faced difficulty when looking for the most recent version of a document or file, while 41 percent reported that information was frequently stored in the wrong folder or system.
When you then consider that most manufacturing businesses also rely on external stakeholders such as subcontractors and legal advisors, proper management of information across the data silos becomes even more critical for businesses.
Collaboration with Subcontractors
Global competition forces most manufacturers to seek cost-savings and other benefits through subcontracting. This poses quite a few big challenges for information management.
Firstly, customers and sellers often demand that the manufacturer has an ISO 9001-certified quality system. Compliance with this standard requires that the awareness and training on the quality system be extended to all actors in the process, including subcontractors. Efficiently managing document control for standard operating procedures and organizing and tracking training for those processes requires implementation of a quality management system (QMS).
Secondly, the cost of a mistake caused by flawed information flow can be significant. A typical challenge for a manufacturing business might be the need to ensure that subcontractors are always working on then-current specifications. Working on old specs may result not only in increased scrap but also delays in production and even risks to safety, physical quality, or reputation.
Collaboration with subcontractors can be significantly improved by implementing a modern (cloud-based) intelligent information management system that ensures that not only employees but also all subcontractors work within the same system and everyone has access to the latest versions of documented information. Modern systems also support the mobile workforce by letting remote employees access the latest updates and sign-offs on assignments when those employees are on the go and working from mobile devices.
If your staff is spending hours per day clarifying information or looking for documents that are buried under stacks of other, unrelated documents, automation can make a huge difference in your back office.
For example, metadata, or “data about data,” can automatically index and organize documents by type, such as a contract or invoice, as well as by customer, project, case, and essentially any other property or characteristic important to the organization. Using metadata as part of an automated process can establish context, making it easier to search for and find relevant information in other repositories and business systems. Metadata, by design, allows even the most obscure data to be found in seconds.
But what if the needed data does not exist internally? Proper metadata tagging will help reveal whether it does or not – faster and much more conclusively than by keyword searches.
With artificial intelligence and text analytics, metadata can also be automatically populated to identify and tag business-critical content. A common example of this would be using text analytics to find all contracts across all SharePoint sites and network folders. Once located, the found contracts can be automatically assigned to contract owners for renewal review.
Metadata tags are not just keywords found in the document. Modern intelligence services can also tag documents to the right subjects through indirect references: a document discussing ISO 14001 can be tagged with a keyword EHSQ, for example, even if that keyword was not directly found in the content.
Manufacturing is finding that Intelligent Information Management (IIM) is key to addressing critical business problems. Through ensuring compliance standards, enabling seamless collaboration with subcontractors and automating document management processes with metadata and AI, intelligent information management has proven to be the cornerstone of manufacturers’ digital transformation strategy.
Mika Javanainen is VP of Product Marketing at M-Files Corporation where he manages and develops M-Files’ product portfolio, roadmaps and global pricing. Prior to his executive roles, he worked as a systems specialist, where he integrated document management systems with ERP and CRM applications. A published author, Javanainen has an executive MBA in International Business and Marketing from Tallinn University of Technology.