Keeping things moving with faster, more efficient information management
The manufacturing sector relies on accurate, real-time inventory information to operate properly. The older the information, the less useful it is for decision-making. This may seem obvious, but poor inventory management through a lack of timely information access is one of the industry’s biggest efficiency barriers.
Paper-based workflows are a big part of this challenge because they bring with them issues of impractical filing systems, misplaced records (and the subsequent need to re-source or re-create them), and haphazard archiving practices. In a study released by the IDC in 2012, Melissa Webster found that workers who handled paper documents spent 7% of their workweek dealing with problems and time-consuming tasks unique to hard copies. When taking into account the time spent searching for documents that were never found, the figure rose to 11.6%. If those documents then had to be re-created, this took the total amount of wasted time to 15.6% of the workweek.
A related factor affecting the speed and accessibility of information in manufacturing is the lack of a “single point of truth” across production units. Manufacturers often have multiple facilities that must work in concert. A lack of a single, integrated information management system that provides real-time data access can make coordination extremely challenging, especially when units are located long distances from each other and production errors are easily compounded by small oversights. “Even the best, most sophisticated systems rely on accurate and complete data,” says Stephen Pillsbury, principal of PwC’s US Industrial Products practice. “Businesses need to develop a common supply chain and operating data structure that facilitates communication among key stakeholders and enables effective management.”
The manufacturing sector is in need of information management solutions that make existing hard-copy processes easier while removing their pitfalls, and solutions that facilitate the proper integration of digital systems.
A good information management partner will audit existing archives and organise them using an intuitive indexing system. Documents can then be retrieved on demand with a simple online request. The best providers will deliver twice daily as standard, and urgently within three hours. Having an external information management firm looking after data also means that different manufacturing units have access to the same information in real-time. Even when hard copies have to be delivered to remote locations, a good provider will get them there as quickly and efficiently as an urban courier.
Perhaps the most attractive benefit to most businesses is the dramatic increase in productivity and efficiency that comes from better information management. There may still be a wait time for physical documents, but the time is almost entirely taken up by the transit process, and no longer by staff searching in vain for files that may not even exist. With document retrieval outsourced, paid staff can get on with more productive, revenue-generating tasks.
A more streamlined and intuitive electronic document access system also naturally increases information retrieval speeds, which translates into more responsive workflows and greater efficiency. Real-time information access helps business units communicate more effectively and reduces the chance of costly errors.
 Webster, M., “Bridging the Information Worker Productivity Gap: New Challenges and Opportunities for IT” at [http://www.idc.com] (September 2012). p. 8, Table 2.