Cloud-based digital workplace platforms will power the future of work in manufacturing

In the past two years, manufacturers have increased investments in digital technologies to meet the demands of the changing environment like erratic supply chain or poor equipment efficiency. However, the industry is discovering that technology alone cannot solve these business challenges. They must also empower their workforce with digital capabilities to ensure the successful execution of an organization’s strategy.

Thirumala Arohi Mamunooru, Senior Vice President and Head - Education, Training & Assessments, Infosys, shares his perspective on the current challenges and opportunities at the workplace in manufacturing.

Most of us believe that the manufacturing industry is not well suited to a remote work model. However, the pandemic and the adoption of Industry 4.0 proved to be a catalyst accelerating automation with a cloud-first infrastructure in the factory environment to enable a hybrid work model. Manufacturers who began to adapt designs to meet the requirement of social distancing realized the benefits of the new work model. They strategically began to invest in virtual environments that could bring at least part of their factories online, so much so that Gartner predicts 50% of factory work will be done remotely by 2024.

WEF found that rapid advances in AI, robotics, and other emerging technologies were happening in ever shorter cycles, changing the very nature of the jobs that needed to be done - and the skills needed to do them - faster than ever before. The workforce must be enabled with productivity tools, learning opportunities, and digital capabilities for the success of an organization.

Workplace challenges in a ‘remote’ factory environment

Let us discuss some of the typical workplace challenges in the industry and how digital capabilities can help overcome them.

  • Product Launches: Unveiling new products to customers and channel partners such as dealers and distributors without physical contact is not easy. Manufacturers need to invest in technologies to connect with their stakeholders virtually in an immersive and engaging manner. A sales executive should be able to interact with potential customers through the 3D rendering of products, showcasing features, or sharing videos and brochures with the click of a button. Making experts available via live sessions to talk about a product and answer relevant questions can provide the necessary support to the front-line worker when on the field.
  • Channel Partner Training: Manufacturers need to enable their channel partners, such as dealers, with skills to sell their products and services digitally. Similarly, they need to train their service technicians on procedures to carry out repairs effectively. An immersive, collaborative platform that can support multiple users to discuss, brainstorm, or ideate together can help make virtual training successful, like a face-to-face workshop.

    At Infosys, we have helped many manufacturing clients deliver deeply engaging experiences to their dealers, customers, and stakeholders via virtual events through a cloud-based workplace platform. For example, Paccar, a global technology leader in truck manufacturing conducted its annual training meet virtually with a life-like event experience using a workplace platform. Another leading manufacturer of material handling equipment, Toyota Material Handling, achieved great success for their annual dealership event held without any physical venue.

  • Selling Large or Complex B2B Deals: When bidding for substantial contracts, sales associates often feel the need for support from their leadership. They would usually want the head of product development to talk about product features and future enhancements. The services leader can elucidate how products are supported in the field. The finance head could explain the leasing options available. With travel restrictions, how can companies provide such multifarious interactions to their customers? A virtual format of customer engagement that allows multiple leaders to speak to the relevant executives from a potential client organization via live and parallel sessions can facilitate the successful closure of sales.
  • Phygital Showroom: Another area of concern that has been troubling manufacturers is the low footfall in their brick-and-mortar showrooms. How do they communicate, demonstrate, explain, or interact with their customers without them being present in a showroom? Once again, immersive technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality can transform the way companies engage with their customers. Highly captivating and experiential virtual events that display products in a 3D format can enable customers to view, walk around, and 'feel' a product. By simulating live events, such virtual platforms can recreate the experience of a near-real physical experience with the option to interact with a salesperson or a product expert or download detailed information.

Building a knowledge-based culture of innovation with a cloud-based platform

Moving beyond the challenges of the pandemic-induced distancing, employees from the manufacturing sector need access to information/expert help whenever they are on the field, in the plant, or at their desk to help them do their jobs well. Technology tools need to provide more than seamless communication and collaboration capabilities; they must support efficient knowledge practices.

For example, first-line workers must have quick and easy access to the right experts or documents to address a customer query or resolve an issue effectively. Similarly, knowledge workers can increase efficiency with data analytics, design development, and productivity capabilities. On the other hand, employees are also a storehouse of information on customer preferences, market conditions, product nuances, and processes. They are often challenged into creative problem-solving as they execute their goals and have the potential to contribute significantly to the growth and innovation of the company, they work in.

Employees must have the opportunity to experiment with new ideas by channelizing their in-depth knowledge about processes. Availability of self-help productivity features can drive a sense of ownership and keep employees motivated to stay on the path of growth. Providing easy access to all the necessary tools and applications that they need while on the job, via a single pane of view, can significantly ease their work lives.

A cloud-based digital enterprise workplace platform can help incubate a culture of innovation, where designing, testing, failing, learning, and developing solutions become an accepted practice, and this can go a long way in boosting employee productivity and morale. It can address not only the current challenges presented by the pandemic but also bring together capabilities that ensure that the workplace is always connected, observant, sentient, agile, responsive, and thrives on a culture of innovation. All these, will help make the workplace in a manufacturing company more resilient and future-ready.