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What manufacturers need to know before upgrading technology

Mar 16, 2021

Manufacturers faced unique challenges in 2020 — and it seems like nearly every one of those challenges highlighted the need for stronger technology.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturing leaders were faced with growing struggles to keep a pulse on business performance and gain the data needed to make strategic business decisions. They were challenged by a significant lag time in getting complete end-of-the-month financial numbers.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down supply chains, causing customer orders to change drastically and making accurate forecasting seem impossible. Manufacturers realized they needed data as soon as possible — not days from now but right now. They needed to make immediate decisions about critical inventory levels, staffing decisions and whether taking a PPP loan is the right move.

Once the pandemic’s impact became clear, manufacturers truly understood the weaknesses of their current data systems and realized just how substantial their need for modern technology was.

Software selection comes with its own set of challenges

Even as we move into 2021 with leading economic indicators pointing up, many individuals and businesses alike are still dealing with the impact of 2020. Manufactures are feeling intense pressure to get costs down, gain visibility into those costs, negotiate pricing with customers and grow top-line revenue. 

Selecting and implementing forward-looking, data-driven technology should be a priority right now. But with software selection comes a set of new challenges. What enterprise resource planning (ERP) and business intelligence (BI) systems are right for your business? Should your accounting and financial management system prioritize staff accessibility and usability over advanced processing capabilities? What if you invest all this time and money into new technology only for employees to struggle with adopting it?

The biggest thing manufacturers should know before choosing new technology is that they can follow a formal and proven process for selecting and implementing new software. 

The software selection process doesn’t have to be intimidating. You shouldn’t feel like you’re putting your entire business on the line. In fact, by the end of the software selection process, you should feel like the final decision you make is a validation of the research and work that went into the process, rather than a leap of faith.

So, what goes into the software selection process? 

First, there’s the need to understand what key business issues the software needs to solve.

Some manufacturers might prioritize machine health and productivity and will focus on industrial internet of things (IIoT) technology that flows data into an ERP so they can make proactive decisions that reduce downtime.

Other manufacturers might prioritize business intelligence — the ability not just to look backward at last month’s financials but also to look forward and forecast future demand and performance over six, 12 and 18-month periods. 

And others will need to streamline and automate processes, both on the shop floor and in the back office. Leveraging automated data entry, barcode scanning, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and industrial robotics can help you move employees out of repetitive work and into roles focusing on core priorities of your business.

These are just a few examples of key manufacturing challenges that software can help solve. Once you’ve narrowed in on the challenges you want to prioritize, then you can transition into the next step of the software selection process. What are they? We’ve put together our six-step software selection checklist for manufacturers to use, based on our proven selection methodology.

Wipfli can help you with software selection

Wipfli has helped many manufacturers through the software selection process, giving them the peace of mind that they’ve chosen the right system to meet their needs and grow with their business. 

We can take the project management burden off your shoulders. Experienced, skilled consultants lead requirements-gathering sessions so that all your critical processes and software needs are captured and prioritized. We break down vendor RFP responses into key pieces, giving your team concrete data to make decisions. 

Click here to learn more about how our team can create clear and efficient conversations around your software requirements.

Related content:

5 signs it's time to replace your ERP system
Manufacturing resilience in the face of crisis
It’s time to make your move on manufacturing technology


Brett Polglaze
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