When you think of Industry 4.0, what springs to mind?

It’s the new buzz phrase for the combination of industry and the current Internet of Things (IoT) technology. First, there was Industry 1.0 (when water and steam power mechanized production), then 2.0 (hello electricity) and 3.0 (digital arrives) revolutions. This fourth revolution is moving at an exponential rate and is disrupting nearly every industry in the country. As with the previous industrial revolutions, manufacturing has been the forerunner for adoption making use of new technology for flexible manufacturing, 3D printing and self-regulating machinery (amongst many others).  The McKinsey Institute expects Industry 4.0 applications to create a new surge of factory productivity. So with AI, automation and supply chain technologies now part and parcel of ERP, what does Industry 4.0 mean for the rest of us?

eConsultancy reports that by 2020, customer experience will have overtaken price and product as a key brand differentiator. Companies are expected to deliver reliable customer service across channels 24/7. Technology is moving quickly to support it but the best results happen with human input.


Bots Are a Great Example

In a customer service context, bots can determine intent behind users’ questions. The addition of Artificial Intelligence (AI) makes deep learning from customer information possible so that bots can be further customised. But there are some situations when an automated response just isn’t good enough. So the answer is in understanding what the use cases are for either bots or people. The interaction of your people with the technology will teach it the tougher questions and it won’t be long until we see support products that will alert human operators when AI confidence is low. The big win is freeing up agents for the more complex situations making it possible to deal with more of those whilst the bots deal with the straightforward stuff and continue to learn.


Predictive Analytics Give Insight Humans Can’t Find

Predictive analytics is about finding patterns in a vast amount of data and getting actionable insight out of it.  New predictive algorithms can make something of the swathes of data that is sitting dormant across systems and provide the information that points the directions a business should be moving in whether that relates to cross sell opportunities, identification of a recurring problem or missed opportunities, estimating conversion from digital campaigns and making optimization recommendations, the analysis of social sentiment and profiles.  Of course, it works best when data from various departments is sitting on one system that can bring it together as a jigsaw.


Old School Values With New Technology

Customers increasingly value personal experience and digital technology has become the means to provide it. If you are reviewing your systems and software, make sure you are seeing the various parts of your business as a jigsaw. The most effective systems are those that can work for every department off one platform to allow bots, predictive analytics and automation to continually improve and provide that customer experience and business direction.


So do your homework. Create a strategy. Have the right team and the right tools. Focus on improving processes and then implement the new technologies that will best serve your strategy. Any software partner worth their salt will scope with you and really get to know your business. This isn’t just about comparing functionality, but understanding your customer journey and your business.


More questions?

Interested to learn more about Industry 4.0 and how it affects your business? Watch our Industry 4.0 webinar now.

Industry 4.0 Revolution Timeline Infographic

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The 5 Major Technologies Driving Industry 4.0

By 2020, customer experience will be more important than price. Businesses will remain cost aware but stuttering customer service won’t be tolerated.

Why? We live in the age of the customer.  Digital innovation has not only made it possible for businesses to deliver more, it has meant that customers know more and expect more.  It will no longer be enough to meet customer expectations but to predict them.  What does that mean for your manufacturing business?


  1. Adapt or Fail

To stay relevant in the future, you have to start now. Many companies are already laying the foundations. Others are stuck in the past and assume that high quality and good prices will be enough to survive. That isn’t the case. Imagine one of your customers decided to give another supplier a go for any reason at all. Now imagine the other supplier already has the systems, processes and data use in place to not only meet your costs, but to provide your customer with an experience that makes their own job easier. How much more can you discount your cost to compete? And at what point would you really just be buying business?


  1. Observe (but act)

Look around the manufacturing industry and you’ll hear talk of Industry 4.0, intelligent factories, artificial intelligence, robotics, cyber security, digital strategy, digital skills, simulation, cost reduction and automation to name just a few! What are your competitors already doing? What are other sectors within manufacturing doing? Are there any insights there worth exploring? Observe now and get a feel for what progression looks like for your business, then start board level discussion about it.


  1. Big Data is Key

Data is only as helpful as the insights it can provide you with and you can only see the most valuable insights when the whole organisation’s data is brought together to provide a full picture.  A set of data on its own can tell you a few things and could mislead you; wasting time, resource and opportunity. Data in context tells the truth and helps you to meet customer expectations with better products, services and prices.


  1. IT has never been more important

Who leads your IT strategy and how important is it to the board?  It’s crucial that digital innovation is not seen as back office issue focused on operational efficiencies. It’s a culture that threads through every facet of your company empowering employees at all levels of the company.


  1. Start at the beginning

If you are a business trading on customer service and value, what are you currently doing manually that is slowing down your progress? How informed and effective are your client interactions?  Are you turning information across the business into strategic opportunities and how are you currently going about that? Is there a better way? There is no point investing in any platforms, processes or equipment until you have answered all of those questions.

Take some time aside with your team and consider your current efficiency and effectiveness. Get an outside view of your systems, processes and corporate objectives. If you are looking at new systems, look at the bigger picture of integration of where you are now and where you plan to go. Scalability is crucial.

Always ones to practice what we preach, we immerse ourselves in our customers’ sectors to inform the scoping stage and make our client meetings informed and productive.

Our recent digital transformation webinar resulted in quite a few opportunities from manufacturers keen to get more information about the next wave of change so it’s just as well we were already well into The UK Manufacturing Review 16/17.

Within the review, The Manufacturing 2020 Roundtable reveals what some of the manufacturing industry’s leaders had to say about what comes next for them. It led to interesting discussions internally so we want to share some of the thoughts we took on board with you.

The discussion is pinned around one key question: are manufacturing businesses taking full advantage of available technologies to tackle the productivity gap?



More is possible with automation. From lights-out running to identifying and scheduling maintenance, businesses need to be looking at where there current processes are stuck in the dark ages.



The progress in robotics is noted. Modern robots have put safety fears to bed and can work side by side with employees. Programmability can put them in charge of the more dangerous parts that you might not want an employee dealing with and they are becoming more accessible to manufacturing businesses of all sizes.


3D Printing

Leaders are agreed on its usefulness with one business using it more and more for replacement parts to keep machines going. However, queries remain over accessibility for larger products as well as price.


Big Data

If you read our blogs regularly, you’ll know that data equals insights. You’ll also know that Dynamics365 is geared up to produce more of them (hence the game changer description). For manufacturers, it means pulling in data from across the supply chain and identifying issues, improving quality, adding customer service advantage and reducing waste.


Internet of Things (IoT)

Tied in with Big Data, the IoT is expected to result in 50 billion connected devices by 2020. The opportunities are huge for operational efficiency, predictive maintenance, automated scheduling, optimized servicing, increasing uptime and usage insights for future innovation.


Mass Customisation

With all of these advances, mass customization becomes increasingly possible with modular manufacturing and more flexibility. Customers get what they want, when they want it and at a price they’re happy to pay.


Digital Business

A lot of the talk here is around funding but also perception. Synonymous with customer experience, how are you using digital capabilities to meet your customers’ expectations? One comment was made that SME businesses in particular need to remember that digital is a journey and firms are at different stages. For some, it’s about doing more with your website. For others, it’s about the machines talking to each other and automation. What they all have in common though, is the importance of data that you just couldn’t gather any other way than usage.


Skills Gap

Manufacturing is still struggling to appeal to a younger generation who view it as old fashioned. Apprenticeships are a good route in but the colleges need to keep up with the equipment they are training people on and the forthcoming Levy will impact on the cost too. One of the business risks highlighted is that whilst degree qualified design engineers are easy to find, manufacturing engineers are few and far between leaving businesses exposed as their current engineers get older and look to retirement. In the same vein, middle management is also suffering from a skills gap where you have excellent technical candidates but with no management experience. The sector needs to attract a broader range of experience and skills.

For years, businesses in every sector have spoken of innovation with varying degrees of enthusiasm. It’s not going away. It’s gathering momentum and businesses really need to take stock of where they are on the journey right now, and what the next natural development for survival and growth should be.

We recently ran a Digital Transformation webinar which you might find helpful or if reading is more your thing, you can download this Digital Transformation for Manufacturers white paper.

As always, we’re here to help so do let us know if you have any specific information requests or things you’d like to see us talk about.

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The Microsoft Touch Points for Customer Service & Manufacturing

The UK manufacturing sector is waiting with bated breath for Brexit terms to be confirmed.

In the meantime, manufacturing firms are buckled in for exchange rate swings and rising costs.

It’s too easy to overlook manufacturing in the UK as we stand here in 2017. The world has seen a real shift towards technology and for years now, we have looked at it to provide the growth our country, and countries all around the world, have looked for. Growth has been in decline for years. The technological era hasn’t really delivered. And when you look back, it’s clear that growth around the world has always come from manufacturing, and always due to a drive for productivity.

So, let’s look to manufacturing again.  We’ve seen attempts to revitalize the sector in recent years with relocation to cheaper markets, single product production on a large scale. It did mean cost efficiencies for a while but there is too much rigidity in the supply chain and as we can see with Brexit and environmental concern, those transit miles make less sense now. Add to that the fact that cheaper markets such as China or Brazil are becoming richer and will not be so cheap to deal with in the future.

There is an opportunity right now for UK manufacturing to lead the way with the next industrial revolution. To make manufacturing great again. How? By bringing together the technological innovation of recent years with the next big manufacturing reinvention.

The time is good. We have 3D printing, which has already dramatically improved the plastics sector and is working through the metal sector now and giving scale customisation at the same cost as mass production. We have advanced manufacturing robots that are already in play in small ways but can so easily be developed to up the game. We have CRM and ERP systems that can provide the automation and insight to take manufacturing firms to the next level of productivity and collaboration.

With what we now have in Microsoft Dynamics 365, it’s clear as day to us that large technological innovation is reentering the manufacturing space. It could boost industrial productivity in untold ways.

Maybe now is the time to relook at our factory locations, our models, and our innovation. Maybe consumer proximity will become the new norm. Factories can be smarter, leaner, more agile and more local.

Is it time for manufacturing to push forward the next wave of productivity and growth and get back into the limelight?

Needless to say, it won’t happen automatically and we will need to stop telling our children that the robots are taking over.

Instead, we need to tell them that technology and manufacturing can take the UK forward with confidence.

Is your business going in the right direction?



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Top 10 Manufacturing Outcomes of Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Since the UK voted to leave the EU back in June, manufacturing has already slumped and, thanks to the weaker pound, risen again. The UK manufacturing industry needs European customers to stay customers, for global trade to take a second look, and for Foreign Direct Investment to continue to use the UK as a base.

Perhaps the UK construction and manufacturing industries will look within the UK more and more for suppliers but what happens next will be dictated by the negotiated terms of the exit with the manufacturing battlegrounds of red tape, tariffs, currency values, immigration and legal frameworks all crucial to creating a favourable landscape to do business in.

For an industry that is already facing the investment challenges brought about by the pace of technology and skills shortages, long term thinking needs to be done now.

There’s a temptation not to spend on IT, to simply batten down the hatches and go about business quietly as you are. Or, perhaps to only invest in technology that improves the products being manufactured.

Yet customer service is one of the most crucial success factors in profitable, growing companies. And excellent customer service can only be delivered where efficient communication channels exist within an organisation, and between that organisation and its customers.

And here’s where CRM comes in.

• Customer Service Is A Method Of Differentiation

With the possibility of fewer contracts, prices are often the biggest factor in decision-making. But within an industry where people value ‘you get what you pay for’, customer service is hugely important. The best customer service can only be delivered with insight on each and every customer, their interactions with you, and knowledge of their expectations across the business and then meeting those expectations. Forget the dropped batons, happy customers = follow on sales.

• Business Focus

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘busy fool’. CRM provides the insight needed to identify the priorities and to focus efforts in the right directions, with the right information.

• Transparent Business Development

Using CRM not only helps you look after live business better, it helps you win new business. In a more competitive market, sales efforts have to be highly managed and effective. Knowledge of a potential customer’s every interaction with you and specific areas of concern makes for more meaningful and successful conversations.

• Make Marketing More Meaningful

In the current digital environment, there’s no excuse for generic emails or mailshots. If your marketing efforts are suffering low response rates, you need to look at the relevance of the content, the method of delivery and the handling of any resulting responses. CRM lets you segment your database, create targeted messages based on previous sales knowledge and manage the campaign from start to finish with every interaction recorded and traceable.

• Departmental harmony

A 360-degree view of a customer’s project or relationship with the business improves communication. Those times when the sales team could have done with knowing that a customer had already received a brochure. Or, when a project manager could really have benefited from knowing that there was a query with an invoice affecting a project. Removing the silos can only ever be a good thing.

• Make geography irrelevant

With MS Dynamics CRM, your workforce can communicate and make things happen quickly, easily and effectively from wherever they are.

• User Adoption

The MS Dynamics’ intuitive and familiar user interface and integration with other Microsoft products mean that everyone in the business can get to grips with it. MS Dynamics has one of the highest adoptions rates in the category.

• Hosting

Regardless of whether you want to keep systems on site or use Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, your CRM will always be running and secure so that you don’t lose everything at the touch of a button. Microsoft Cloud’s recent UK Data Centres creation offers a security for UK customers that are perhaps unsure what Brexit will do to their data protection laws and prices.

• Customisable

Every business is different. Every MS Dynamics implementation is different. Your solution will closely meet the communication, marketing, sales and project management needs of your business.

• Globality

Microsoft is spending more money than you can imagine continually evolving Microsoft Dynamics to meet the needs of businesses of all shapes and sizes across the world. It recently understood the need for UK data-centres and was one of the first Cloud providers to do just that. It’s in a great position to understand the needs of businesses both pre and post Brexit.

CRM is about engagement. The EU is the perfect example of what happens when that breaks down. If the UK is to face a decline in manufacturing, or in construction output, a drive to just be the cheapest may just put you in the running of the race to the bottom. The companies that survive are the ones that will deliver value beyond the invoice.

We’ll be hosting a free webinar about CRM in the manufacturing industry on the 20th October at 11:00am. Join us and discover our view of how CRM and other Cloud technologies are going to change the way manufacturing does business.

To signup for our October webinar where our MD, Billy Lyle, will discuss this topic in more detail please click HERE to register.