Technological forces are converging, empowering manufacturers to channel change as an opportunity.

manufacturing it technology supplychain

by Juan Vela, Global Head of Market Strategy, Cisco Meraki

Even the hardiest of IT leaders may have felt a little seasick over the past year: choppy waters of uncertainty, undercurrents of change and technology adoption, plus a tidal wave of supply chain issues that swamped the manufacturing industry (and many others).

Now, thankfully, the most recent storm is starting to pass, but there’s little time to enjoy the blue skies that typically follow a hurricane. Rather, you’re undoubtedly assessing damage and looking into the horizon to figure out what’s next for your department, company, and industry.

Given the critical role technology plays in the transformation manufacturing companies are undertaking, the decisions you make today can shape the way your business responds to the ups and downs of tomorrow.

The tide is nigh

Change is constant. Although nobody can alter that fact, you can make change a competitive advantage rather than an unknown foe.

“Disruption is the new economic driver,“ wrote AlixPartners. “Therefore, agility and the ability to change direction in real time become more important for all organizations.”

For example, it’s difficult, at best, to be agile and quickly change direction if you’re dependent on the centralized hub-and-spoke infrastructure designed for office-based, data center-reliant employees. Today’s decentralized, often remote, and traveling workforces are equipped with mobile devices they expect to immediately work wherever they are—and they don’t want bottlenecks or unreliable connectivity.

Add Internet of Things (IoT) and operational technologies (OT) to the mix and the congestion only worsens if the network’s status quo remains.

Manufacturers are transforming themselves into digital-first enterprises with their IT and network infrastructures. To thrive amid a world of seemingly constant change, they seek ways to maintain productivity and avoid complications. A simple, secure, and intelligent platform helps serve as a foundation to handle change with intuitive operations and provides out-of-the-box integration for new technologies. It also helps your business reduce costs, improve efficiencies, and pivot to change.

“Accelerating digital transformation programs and embedding AI and machine-learning tools in planning processes will also facilitate greater adaptability,” wrote AlixPartners. “A wait-and-see attitude in the face of such pervasive disruption is a recipe for disaster. Workplaces will change. Companies will be more decentralized and virtual. Step out in front … If you cannot transform now, you never will.”

Forecasting cloud

Cloud is a proven approach that many manufacturers have already adopted, with more deploying each year. Benefits include IT agility and flexibility, cost savings, cost allocation from capex to opex, access to more resources, and security.

This year, 30% of businesses will continue to speed up their spending on cloud, security and risk, networks, and mobility. CIOs slow to adapt will “get mired in short-term fixes that achieve only digital sameness through peer comparison strategies.”

Cloud-native platforms with rich ecosystems of partners that use APIs to create software or offer complementary services so manufacturers can quickly build new products or solutions are vital to success. Some organizations leverage managed service providers’ subscription-based offerings so internal IT teams can focus on their core businesses. Others leverage market-specific expertise in areas like asset tracking, IoT, and real-time location.

Buoyed by data and automation

Data empowers manufacturers to know what is happening across their touch points and garner more control of change.

With your network encompassing the business—including laptops, cameras, sensors, tablets, and many other connected devices attached—it’s now able to gather a slew of information that can be turned into a treasure trove of insight.

This analysis can improve efficiency, productivity, costs, agility, customer and employee experience, and innovation. Having experienced past heat-induced hardware failures in some IT equipment, Bossa Nova deployed cloud-managed temperature, humidity, and water-leak detection sensors on its network infrastructure. Within a few months, the sensors helped the advanced robotics manufacturer avoid heat-induced switch failure at least twice—which would have cost more than $30,000 in hardware alone. More importantly, switch failure would have forced the company to temporarily halt operations and lose days of productivity.

Automation optimizes equipment use across distributed sites, helping manufacturers address talent shortages and ensuring increased flexibility to update the network. A solution that uses a dashboard and automated updates eliminates that time-consuming, error-prone task, liberating IT professionals to focus on business-critical initiatives.

Force of nature

Nobody can fully foresee every reef hiding below the surface, but you can plot a journey that steers your company in a direction where change is tamed, does not throw you off course, and actually helps you win against the competition.

juan vela cisco meraki
Juan Vela

Juan Vela is Global Head of Market Strategy at Cisco Meraki, where he helps lead strategic market direction and short- and long-term vision to build and grow Meraki’s objectives and solution offerings.