4 min read

Manufacturing 2020 Roundtable: The Topics


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.

6 min read

What Does Digital Transformation Mean Now Anyway?

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Digital transformation.  It’s a catch all term for how digital technologies are changing the lives we lead, and the businesses we operate today.  To be honest, it’s overused. You’ll see it in nearly every article you now read. What’s the problem with that? As a term becomes more and more used, it fails to stop people in their tracks. It fails to engage in meaningful thought. And when the term digital transformation becomes like wallpaper, it does the technologies it seeks to promote a disservice.

So, let’s just stop a minute. Let’s unpack the term digital transformation and let’s find meaning in it again so that you can understand where it will truly help your business to progress.

Most businesses understand the term digital now. Even Cloud is a widely understood term and organisations are embracing the systems and processes that sit on them to facilitate productivity, efficiency, collaboration and relationship building.  For most organisations, it’s an acceptance that their customers also expect digital progression and the improved service levels that come with them. So for most, it’s about starting there. Then there’s the visionary stuff that is fast becoming the mainstream.


The Internet of Things (aka IoT) is about Cloud-based machine-to-machine communication made possible by networks of data gathering sensors. It generates data that instigates an action designed to improve efficiency. It works best when there is infrastructure in place to analyse it all.  It’s pretty limitless and is growing into new areas every day. At a domestic and immediately understood level, it could be your smart energy meter that allows you to control your energy use remotely or an alarm clock that tells your coffee machine to get going with that first cup of the day. At a city level, it could be smart roads and amenities. At a business level, it’s about the same drive for efficiency, productivity and turnover.


In manufacturing, new equipment tends to come with IoT sensors pre installed but the industry is also adept at retro fitting to existing equipment. BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, expects the installed base of manufacturing IoT devices to grow from 237 million in 2015 to 923 million in 2020. By then, manufacturers will spend approximately $267 billion on the IoT. Manufacturers are currently using IoT solutions to track assets in their factories, consolidate their control rooms, and increase their analytics functionality through predictive maintenance. Many IoT solutions are still basic, but we expect manufacturers to eventually implement more complex technologies, such as autonomous robots and augmented reality (AR) tools. Indeed, it’s innovations like this that usual cause growth for a country’s economy as it takes us into a new industrial age.

Insurers using IoT technologies will be able to cut costs, improve business practices and better assess clients’ risk levels. Usage based insurance (UBI) is already in play with IoT devices that track customer activity and offer discounts or rewards for desired behavior.


Artificial intelligence has just enjoyed its 60th birthday and it shows no signs of letting up. Digital Visionary, Kevin Kelly (you can find him on TED Talks) puts it like this. We already have AI. It’s everywhere. It’s used to fly planes, to make recommendations on Netflix or Amazon, to diagnose x rays, to go through legal evidence and even to serve you search results.  With the Industrial Revolution, we got artificial power. With AI, we are plugging in smartness and giving that power cognition. As humans, our intelligence is too dynamic. We have a symphony of over 100 different types of intelligence in our brain that forms different orchestras on a minute-by-minute basis. Sometimes, one player in that orchestra gets too noisy for the situation. With AI, you can have just the intelligence you need. So, your machinery, your programmes, your smart car can get on with the job without any distraction.  Here’s an interesting though of his. It’s not about the AI taking over. AI and human intelligence have to work together. It’s not about AI taking over. It can’t. Its profundity is found in its single mindedness. We need to continue to deliver the lateral thinking.  So, yes manufacturing may be reticent to let AI in, but the manufacturers that will excel are those that make it work FOR them, not instead of them.


Businesses are generating a huge amount of Big Data on a day-to-day basis. Big data is when you have enough of it that you can analyse it for insights leading to better decision-making and strategic changes. Most businesses have the data yet many don’t have the means to analyse it. Retailers who are confidently using CRM to generate vouchers and communication based on a customer’s buying habits are ahead of the game. The insurance sector is catching up fast with the ability to recalculate entire risk portfolios in minutes and detecting fraudulent behavior before it hits.  Manufacturing can identify root causes of issues and defects in near real time limiting damage.


Imagine a business call where you can call up remote members of the team or your clients, and engage with them in augmented reality. Unbelievably more natural, definitely more collaborative and surely something we will all want to be doing in the future. The same 3d experience that brings proper collaboration to businesses raises the game for training, for repair instructions, for showcasing products, for tourism, for interior design, for office environments. It really is limitless and whilst the glasses are currently clumpy and conspicuous, just give it time. The dominant form of this hasn’t emerged yet and whilst I find it very exciting, I suspect the mainstream won’t be ready for this for quite some time.


Drones remain a thing and you’ll probably have seen Amazon’s efforts to implement them.  I suspect the US will lead the way given the passing of FAA rules that make it easier for commercial interests to take to the skies.  I think there’s huge potential for manufacturing firms and the insurance sector to use drones although in completely different ways. Watch this space!


What will your business’ digital transformation look like in 2017?

Here’s what I suggest.

  1. Start with your strategy. Always. Never jump to technology because it excites you. Know that it meets a corporate objective first.
  2. Get an outside view of your systems, processes and corporate objectives. Chances are that you will be starting with the basics by making sure your CRM is doing what it needs to do, that your processes are intelligent and that your data is being put to good use.
  3. 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.
3 min read

4 Productivity Resolutions for Business Leaders

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There’s something different about the time between Christmas and the return to work in early January.

The office environment is a little quieter, the pace is slower and people are more communicative. Inboxes are dealt with, junk mail deleted, desks tidied, to-do lists revised, outstanding tasks achieved.

Organisation brings calm. Calm brings clarity. Clarity brings vision. Visions are for sharing. That sharing brings collaboration. Collaboration brings effectiveness. Effectiveness brings productivity. It’s a virtuous wheel that often gets punctured because we are being busy fools, working at a frenetic pace to just get things done as quickly as possible. We miss opportunities for smarter thinking.

In a bid to keep the spirit of ‘tween days, you need to address the basics.

Here are our simple, often forgotten, business leader productivity tips that will bring calm and effectiveness into your day and organisation.


  1. Control Your Email

Do you control your email or does it control you? Here’s something worth thinking about. Email represents us. People do judge us based on our email habits. You need to be organised and responsive.  However, the trick is doing that without letting it disrupt your day.

  • Decide when to tackle your emails – twice to three times a day should do it. Once a week, try to clear your inbox, filing what’s important, deleting what is not. It’ll stop the email becoming white noise.
  • Be succinct in your emails, keep to one main point and you’ll get a quicker answer.
  • Confirmation or conversation? If your email will most likely result in a ping pong of emails or if you don’t want something in writing, use the phone instead.
  • Remember that emails are easily misconstrued. Avoid group emails unless it’s simply to distribute information. A group of people will always have differing interpretations and you can quickly lose the point.


  1. Control Your Diary

If you’re anything like our MD, Billy Lyle, you’ll be in demand. Everyone wants a slice of your time but you still have your own tasks to complete and clients to look after.  There are so many tools and apps to help you manage your diary better but ultimately, it comes down to this:

  • You only need one calendar.
  • Use one digital task manager and get rid of all the post-its.
  • Theme your week if you can – client meetings, research, prep, people.


  1. Control Your Knowledge

What information do you need each week to manage the business? When was the last time you felt able to study your area? Just for fifteen minutes? How much time do you spend finding out answers when they’re suddenly urgent? How many times have you felt poorly informed in a client situation? By being on top of your knowledge sources, you’ll identify the ones worth having and the ones to lose.

  • Set proper time aside for your management reports.
  • Build a reading list and habit, whether it’s daily, weekly or fortnightly where you commit time to get on top.
  • Schedule thinking time and objectivity will become a habit making for better decision-making and productivity.


  1. Control Your Meetings

Meetings need to happen; information, status, brainstorm, one-to-one, strategy, board, committee. It’s the most productive way to discuss and collaborate, to make things happen but employees dread time away from their desks.  They often come to the meeting distracted and poorly prepared.  Here’s how to make it more productive for everyone:

  • Have a clear purpose
  • Have an agenda (circulate it in advance!)
  • Have an agreed end time
  • Have a good moderator
  • Have agreed actions

It’s remiss of us not to point out the huge benefits of Microsoft Dynamics 365 in addressing so many of these points (and hundreds more) to improve productivity and profit throughout all sizes of business. But we’ll get back onto that in January!

For now, the team here at Redspire would like to wish you all a productive and prosperous 2017.

1 min read

Door 24 – Our Dynamics 365 Prediction


Forget Secret Santa, your employees will be more appreciative of working in a business with forward thinking and logical processes that make their jobs easier and the company more profitable.

Your customers need better service, not another hamper. The time for inefficient systems, processes and decision making is gone. Companies cannot stay competitive beyond Brexit and the digital world by holding onto makeshift approaches.

So, should you jump now or wait it out? Here’s what we predict. The companies that are already using CRM or who are about to implement CRM will be the ones to watch. They are already preparing their organisation and their people for the next wave of innovation. As is always the case, what is a game changer now, will become the expected standard rapidly and if you are not on the train you could be left behind as industries across the world continue to transform in the next couple of years.

All CRM or ERP systems promise to improve your business prospects. And they do. However, there is always an adoption period as your staff becomes empowered by it. A business that acts now will be culturally ready to seize the transformative opportunities relevant to their sector of both the technology that is available today and whatever opportunities that it brings tomorrow.

On that note, we’ll wish you a Merry Christmas and look forward to answering more of your questions in the New Year.

Hope Santa is good to you all!

5 min read

Door 23 – Dynamics 365 Round Up


It’s the 23rd December.

So, just today then tomorrow and that’s the Dynamics 365 calendar at an end, which makes us sad because we could go on and on and…well, you get the message. There’s a lot still to say. Meantime, here are the highlights of what we’ve said so far.

  1. The Common Data Model is the hero. Lying at the heart of Dynamics 365, it’s the central database for storing and managing business entities. In the past, CRM and ERP have operated separately. This brings them together and it’s this unification that takes the insight, reporting and productivity to levels that will be hard for your competitors to match.
  1. The Dynamics 365 Business Edition isn’t released yet but we believe financials will sit at the heart of it and it will probably be online only. It’s likely to have a pared back Dynamics CRM and we hear on the grapevine, marketing which will possibly provide something akin to click dimensions. It will likely be cheaper than Salesforce thanks to Microsoft’s size and commitment to make Dynamics 365 available to businesses with less than 250 employees too.
  1. The Dynamics 365 Enterprise Edition has ERP at its heart. It’s better for companies of 250+ employees and is available online and on-premise. It beats Salesforce on cost and capabilities despite being a step up in cost from the previous iterations of Dynamics CRM, Dynamics NAV or Dynamics AX. You access the Project Service, Customer Service, Field Service, Sales and Operations apps on this edition.
  1. Once you decide on the Business or the Enterprise edition, you license based on individual user requirements. You build the licensing picture with a combination of plans and apps. The 5 apps mentioned above will likely be joined by the addition of Marketing in Summer 2017. The plans are how you decide the type of access a user needs based on light or full access.
  1. Team Member Licensing is the means to give light access to users who need to have visibility but not write/edit access. It’s a cost effective way of maintaining appropriate transparency and collaboration in the organization.
  1. Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales has the same core functionality as Dynamics CRM Online has had but with you can also see what is going on elsewhere in the business. As with all the apps, it includes Non-Production License, Social Engagement, Mobile Offline, PowerApps for Sales, Knowledge Management, Voice of the Customer and Team Member capabilities.
  1. Dynamics 365 for Customer Service brings greater collaboration to a customer’s interactions with the whole organization so that staff can better serve them. Service is undoubtedly improved and opportunities become more obvious.
  1. Dynamics 365 for Project Service Automation is all about project management and its integration with the rest of the business so that resources can be more easily managed and projects are run more effectively.
  1. Dynamics 365 for Field Service is the tool for engineers, contractors, installers, surveyors et al who are all out on appointments and jobs. New jobs are raised, appointed, resourced and implemented much more efficiently and the single customer view on the database remains entirely up to date throughout.
  1. Dynamics 365 for Marketing. Ah, this is still a little under wraps. We’re excited that Microsoft mentioned it would have Adobe integration at its core. That’s a lot of power. It will drive all your initial awareness work as well as nurturing, conversion, customer relationships and retention.
  1. The Cloud v On-premise debate is slowly moving in favour of cloud. This applies to the functionality of parts of Dynamics 365, as well as the opportunity to benefit from tiered pricing.
  1. The Non-Production License comes with every full user license and lets you test without potentially disrupting your live system.
  1. Microsoft Social Engagement takes the admin out of social channel monitoring. It monitors, alerts, surfaces insight and is searchable too.
  1. The Integrated Self-Service Web Portal ensures your customers can find out what they want to know, when they need to know it. It’s included with every subscription so you can be there for your customers 24/7 without having to staff up.
  1. Voice of the Customer Surveys is your tool for making sure your customers are entirely happy, for showing that it’s important to you that they are, and for better opportunity identification and surfacing.
  1. PowerApps is a useful shortcut to build an app. You’ll still need someone for design and Excel formulas but the tool is strong and helps those people complete their task more quickly.
  1. Microsoft AppSource is a bit like iTunes for Dynamics365, bringing recently built apps, services or modules from other Partners to Dynamics365 users. Sharing knowledge and work already done helps businesses to further develop their Dynamics365 platform cost effectively.
  1. Microsoft Flow (Business Process Flow) links business applications together to make day to day tasks much easier for users. Users can continue to use the tools that they like but still use the Dynamics365 platform and act from within it. It extends out to 72 applications including competitor platforms allowing businesses using other platforms to benefit from the functionality.
  1. Mobile Offline comes with all the apps and does what it says on the tin. If you think of flight mode on a plane, it’s not dissimilar except that the sync between offline and online when connectivity resumes is automatic. You might not even notice it.
  1. PowerBI can read data to root out challenges and opportunities at a very granular level showing, for example, the impact of one decision across a business,
  1. Migration to Dynamics365 has been made as straightforwd and appealing as possible with the product offering, transitional pricing and ensuring Microsoft Partners (like us) are kept informed so that we can apply our skills to the new offerings immediately on release. Thanks to Microsoft’s size, there are discounts and promotions available now that make the migration a no brainer for most
  1. We discussed the importance of mapping out the functionality you need by user. Whether you are an existing CRM user, are just contemplating. Whether you use Dynamics or one of Microsoft’s competitors, now is the time to review so that you don’t get left behind

So, where is this all going to lead in the world of business productivity, CRM and technology? We’ll give you our opinion tomorrow.

1 min read

Door 22 – Dynamics 365 Migration


Christmas makes you want to be good to yourself but don’t mistake Dynamics 365 as an indulgence.

Microsoft are making it as accessible as possible with transitional license pricing for existing Dynamics CRM customers. To make the most of the discounts and promotions, you need to be talking to your Partner well in advance of your next renewal date to make sure you get the right licenses at the correct pricing.

Microsoft also have a promotion offering a 20% discount on Plans 1 and 2 (up until 30th June 2017) for businesses currently using a more traditional CRM platform such as Salesforce, SAP or Oracle.

Remember that the difference in cost between Dynamics CRM and Dynamics 365 isn’t comparable. Dynamics 365 meets the needs of the changing business world. It’s not just about the execution of CRM anymore, but the need to use every day-to-day task to hone productivity and keep the customer service advantage. Dynamics 365 remains seriously competitive compared to Salesforce, despite it having the functionality and scope to command a higher price, largely because it can leverage other parts of the Microsoft business to deliver.

Whether you are transitioning to Dynamics 365 from Dynamics CRM, or starting afresh, you need to map out the functionality you need by user. That also needs to be informed by your corporate objectives and any other systems you have in place. It’s always worth engaging with a Microsoft Dynamics Partner to help with this stage so that you can find the smartest way to introduce the platform to your organisation.

Have you kept up so far? Tomorrow is a round up blog so don’t worry if the Christmas haze has left you a bit blurry.

1 min read

Door 21 – Power BI


Power BI (Business Intelligence) doesn’t necessarily come with all the apps that Dynamics 365 offers but we’re excited about it and it would be remiss not to cover it.

So, this is all about a Cloud based business analytics service that takes your data and turns it into rich visuals. For example, a chart that shows your projected sales of individual products over 3 months. You may know that you have an inventory issue with one of those products that then impacts on the sale of others in your line-up. By altering the prediction on one area of the chart, you’ll immediately see the impact across the other product projections. The Dynamics 365 dashboards are very good and may be enough for some but PowerBI can root out challenges and opportunities at a more granular level for scenario planning. The price tag is fairly low so it’s worth taking.

Each of the following options work across your business processes and apps.

  • Microsoft Power BI Desktop – Uses a free form drag and drop canvas
  • Microsoft Power BI Mobile – Live interactive mobile access to key info from anywhere
  • Microsoft Power BI Gateway – Connects to on-premises data sources meeting individual and organisational needs.

Are you feeling daunted about making what feels like an essential move to Dynamics 365? Tomorrow we’ll talk about migration. If you can’t wait till then, contact us and we’ll have a chat.

1 min read

Door 20 – Mobile Offline


Mobile Offline comes with all the apps and does what it says on the tin.

If you think of flight mode on a plane, it’s not dissimilar except that the sync between offline and online when connectivity resumes is automatic. You might not even notice it. You can create, edit and delete records offline and the only limitation is that things may look a little different due to image restrictions in offline mode. If your business has a field service team of any type, mobile offline is a good user experience that improves productivity and customer service.

Next up is Power BI. See you tomorrow.

1 min read

Door 19 – Microsoft Flow


Business Process Flow links business applications together to make day to day tasks much easier for users.

Users can continue to use the tools that they like but still use the Dynamics365 platform and act from within it. It extends out to 72 applications including competitor platforms allowing businesses using other platforms to benefit from the functionality e.g. Asana, Salesforce, Basecamp, Facebook, Google Drive, Instagram, MailChimp, Trello, Twitter, WordPress to name just a small number. Just like PowerApps, there are hundreds of templates to create connections that might include notifications, data organisation, automated approvals, new save paths, calendar sharing, file copying, translations, tweet content emails et al.

Talking of ease of use, tomorrow we’ll talk to you about Dynamics 365 Outlook.

1 min read

Door 18 – Microsoft AppSource


AppSource is a bit like iTunes for Dynamics365, bringing recently built apps, services or modules from other Partners to Dynamics365 users.

Sharing knowledge and work already done helps businesses to further develop their Dynamics365 platform cost effectively. These are apps that will have been built to solve common problems or to tailor Dynamics365 to a specific sector/vertical. It includes Cloud apps built on Dynamics 365, Office, Cortana Intelligence, PowerBI and the Azure platform plus add-ons, extension and content packages for existing apps. It’s a fantastic way of sharing development experience. You can scan apps by category or industry.

With that insight into what is happening on Dynamics 365 in one easy place, it’s tempting to have your pick but we’d always advise you to ask your Microsoft partner to evaluate the opportunities based on the objectives.

Looking for shortcuts between apps or tools? Learn about Microsoft Flow tomorrow.