Hailing from the fast-paced and technology-powered IT industry, Rob is an experienced business leader passionate about relationship building and enhancing the ability of New Zealand companies to compete on the world stage.
You come from an IT background and you have worked with a diverse cross-section of companies in different industries. What can manufacturers learn from looking at how other industries utilise technology?
Other industries are more open to adopt. They embrace and expect change. In contrast to the manufacturing industry, the perceived risk associated with change is lower. Take Industry 4.0, for example. It is now widely accepted in industry as a real force for change. However, the adoption of the new technologies on offer remains relatively low. To thrive, manufacturers would benefit by adopting multiple, lower risk projects to achieve significant long-term gains over time – but they need to get started.
I believe it will become a matter of survival for manufacturers. The consequences of not acting are certain – inefficient operations, inflexibility to meet market demands, and difficulty competing against offshore competitors. This is what we are currently facing. Rather than focusing on the risks associated with change, take a future-focused approach by understanding the power of incremental improvements to unlock the potential of your factory.
To do this, think big, start small and scale fast.
What causes you and your team the greatest challenge? Is it the uncertainty attached to a lack of operational data insights, unplanned machinery breakdowns, or maybe labour shortages?
Partner with a manufacturing expert equipped and prepared to roll up their sleeves to guide you through the pilot process.
Then, scale your pilot project learnings through the business. This is where working with a manufacturing expert pays dividends. It is key that learnings from the pilot phase are successfully applied at a cross-facility level to drive concrete business change.
Why is now the opportune moment for manufacturers to action long-term business change with technology as their primary tool?
The time is now as manufacturers are facing greater overseas competition as well as supply chain challenges. Overseas competitors are more widely investing in technology and adopt it at greater speed. The mindset surrounding technology adoption must shift from capital expenditure for problem solving to investing to succeed. With international competitors taking these steps to succeed, manufacturers need to act now to thrive.
A key learning from the COVID-19 pandemic is the rate at which a global event can change how we live and work at scale.
For manufacturers that have experienced a market slow, take this time to assess the state of your operations and to understand what steps you need to take to action long-term change in your business.
For manufacturers facing unprecedented demand, you have likely stretched your operations to their limits. This has likely amplified the strengths and limitations of your current processes and systems. Explore corrective actions to eliminate future operational pain.
No matter where you sit, taking those first steps now will future-proof your business by allowing you to better weather future storms, as well as adapt to thrive as new opportunities present themselves.
What are the top challenges you see facing manufacturers in 2021?
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant sub-set of challenges to take root. For that reason, the most significant, and less obvious, challenges facing businesses heading into 2021 are the repercussions of the pandemic.
The first challenge is accelerated supply chains as adoption of the direct to consumer model amplifies. Research by Bloomburg sites cumulative store openings compared to store closings, excluding supermarkets and restaurants.
The shift to a direct to consumer model pre-dates the pandemic. I would encourage manufacturers to embrace this model wherever possible. With supply chain disruption caused by COVID-19 unlikely to cease in the short-term, this challenge presents a unique opportunity for manufacturers to thrive by pivoting now to a more flexible model. A model in which they have greater control over their brand and ability to meet market demands.
Another significant challenge is around labour. The introduction of social distancing requirements and PPE have challenged manufacturers to adapt on the fly. For some manufacturers, the core challenge has been around sourcing skilled labour as and when required. Surprisingly, Vauxhall’s parent company made the decision to shut down all Europe-based manufacturing plants due to COVID-19 concerns. I say it’s surprising as automotive manufacture is typically a heavily automated process, compared to other industries.
Vauxhall also sited difficulty sourcing parts as another factor in its decision to suspend production. In combination with compounding pressure to buy local, it is essential that manufacturers cultivate a strong, responsive and diverse supply chain which they can draw on to consistently meet demand.
You’ve lead businesses through times of significant change. What is your advice to manufacturers doing the same right now?
My main advice is to drive forward with confidence and conviction once your team has defined a course of action. Define your why clearly and communicate it at every level of your organisation. Next, work to engage an external partner that can guide you through the process from kick-off and discovery, creation and ideation, design, delivery and support.
An adversarial customer-supplier relationship will likely spell failure for your project. By engaging a partner you can work openly and transparently with, you can draw real value and enact lasting business change.