Communications is the key

Minhaj Zia, Manager, Naltional Sales, Unified Communications, Cisco India and SAARC

In a turbulent global economy, manufacturers are under constant pressure to remain profitable by creating new products while cutting costs. With business communications getting more complex, creating an effective communication environment for mobile personnel and distributed workgroups has become a critical issue for manufacturers.
Against this backdrop, UC has been revolutionizing communication across businesses and presents the opportunity to create industry specific solutions that can generate IPR around UC technologies/solutions. Manufacturing Unified Communications and Collaboration Solutions help meet increasing customer expectations while managing costs and supply chain processes. Manufacturers gain deep visibility into supply chains, minimizing the time and rework of processes.
Better communication with employees leads to higher-quality products and improved efficiency, besides helping to make decisions with greater confidence and reduce or eliminate delays. Better information allows managers to efficiently oversee increasingly complex product lines. The end result is higher manufacturing performance, allowing companies to rise above competitors in the marketplace.
India is witnessing a wave of growth in manufacturing. With this new manufacturing opportunity slated to be more skills intensive, industry leaders foresee India well poised to take advantage. Since manufacturing has linkages with the all other sectors of the economy, the health of this sector is very much at the core of India's socio-economic fabric.
Communication Challenges
The higher input costs for the Indian manufacturing sector resulting from indirect taxes on selling prices of commodities, higher cost of utilities like power, railway transport, water, higher cost of finance and high transactions costs puts the sector at a disadvantage. Entry of private sector investors into infrastructure sectors like electricity distribution, aviation, roads, railways, ports and a new bill which includes encouraging contract labor, adds to the complication.
To survive the current business environment, manufacturers must increase productivity through the entire supply chain – this necessitates that real-time data from the plant floor be made available to their ERP, SCM, and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) systems.
Manufacturers have built various control networks that are often separate from their business networks. These legacy control networks use proprietary interfaces that prohibit the control and business networks from communicating, thus creating silos of information.
Given the above said, products, software and, services must be specifically designed keeping in mind the changing needs of the market and help manufacturers tap the vast Indian potential. Such solutions must be able to transform separate manufacturing processes into a single, efficient, collaborative workflow across the entire organization and result in an integrated solution that delivers real-time information to employees, partners, and customers at any time, from anywhere, creating greater mobility and seamless connectivity.
How UC works in manufacturing:
One of the biggest risks in manufacturing is having a factory product line go down - thousands or millions of dollars of production are at risk for every hour or every day that the line is down. Should this happen, it is critical that the company get that line up and functioning as quickly as possible.
In a lines down situation, those responsible for solving the problem can make use of a collaborative solution and automatically outdial a pre-defined team of people responsible for problem resolution. The technology solution can reach out to them simultaneously, based on business rules - cell phone, pager, work phone, home phone...whatever is the fastest...and bring them into an audio conference. The team can enter the meeting via IP phone or via the telephony user interface on their cell phone.
The meeting can easily move from a simple audio conference to a web conference if documents need to be shared, and also to a video conference if video content needs to be reviewed to solve the problem. This helps rapid resolution of the problem, saving minutes or even hours of factory downtime.
Solutions that allow for integration of plant floor data with business systems provide employees with access to the information as and when they need it and help to improve business efficiencies and decision-making abilities. Manufacturers obtain visibility to the factory floor without disrupting the production line and are able to add new services to the existing control network at any time and any location in the network, while maintaining the existing control scheme. This ensures the continued operation of the manufacturing plant and emergence of each and every employee into a strategic business asset.
Unified communications solutions bring visibility into the entire supply chain, allowing manufacturers to make informed decisions based on the most up to date information and current inventory levels. They can help re-route goods in transit, manage network security across many different connected locations- both internal and external and allow for collaboration with the factory floor, suppliers, distribution centers, and customers. This helps to keep costs down and ensures prompt and accurate order fulfillment.
The wholesome benefits
A collaborative environment during the product development phase enables all stakeholders, including key suppliers, logistics providers, production control, and engineers, to work with each other with one common set of information. This results in reduced costs, greater flexibility in choosing development resources, rapid time to market, and faster safety and environmental compliance. As a result, manufacturers gain greater agility, become more responsive to changing customer demands and stay ahead of the competition.
Collaboration also helps enhance interactions across all customer touch points, including sales, service, outsourcing vendors, and channel partners. By anticipating and responding to customer needs, companies improve customer loyalty and optimize the entire production process to deliver what sells.
In essence deploying such solutions helps manufacturers gain deep visibility into supply chains minimizing time and rework of processes. Communication is enabled with employees leading to higher quality products and higher company morale. Decisions can be made with greater confidence and delays can be reduced or eliminated. In the end, high manufacturing performance enables the company to surge ahead of competition.

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