Invention and Reinvention

By Phil Rainsberger

Occasionally lost in the welter of news about the role cloud computing is playing at the world's most cutting-edge enterprises is the reality that cloud technologies are helping revitalize long-established manufacturers large and small.

Far from being technologies that are solely the province of large enterprises, cloud deployments of varying sophistication (and cost) have found their way into the entire gamut of manufacturers, from small machine shops to global powerhouses.

Evidence of cloud penetration into both process and discrete manufacturing operations comes in a recent IDC report that shows manufacturers' global cloud spending on cloud-computing platforms will hit $4.2 billion this year and is expected to top $5.18 billion next year.

That growth is being driven by the same factors that have spurred cloud's inroads into other industry sectors, namely the ability to bring scale, speed and accuracy into existing operations. Those factors, however, take on particular importance in the manufacturing community which, of late, is being forced to deal with stronger-than-anticipated global demand; is being forced to bring unprecedented efficiencies to the table to remain competitive, and is being forced to improve time-to-market performance.

Significantly, the manufacturing sector's embrace of the cloud bears witness to cloud's ability to quickly and seamlessly improve even the most codified, well-tested and deeply entrenched processes.  It's no stretch, then, to believe that if even century-old companies can learn new tricks, the rest of us had better step up our games to match their new strengths and efficiencies.  And there's no harm in appropriating what manufacturers are teaching us to improve our own enterprises, regardless of our fields of endeavor.

Chief among the attributes being cited by manufacturers for the cloud's allure is its unmatched ability to dramatically improve overall quality.  Because all of the individual processes required to bring a product to market are integrated in cloud deployments, nothing is done in isolation and everything is focused on the end-to-end whole. Not a bad example to follow.

It's also been demonstrated that cloud deployments lead to dramatically improved supply chain performance. Whether the supply chain in question leads to the delivery of physical property, intellectual property or anything in the broad in-between, every enterprise is part of a supply chain.  With cloud's ability to generate data sets that show historical patterns across a matrix of factors, demand shifts are being anticipated, and inventory levels are optimized. And not surprisingly, that type of end-to-end improvement means that revenue can be maximized while inefficiencies are minimized.

And while nothing describes success in quite the same way as a continually improving bottom line, the cloud's ability to facilitate collaboration inside and outside the enterprise is perhaps the critical factor in assuring that efficiencies are not only maintained, bu are built upon.  Whether the collaboration is intramural among product development teams, manufacturing teams and internal logisticians, or extramural with customers, suppliers and distribution partners, the ability to easily and continually maintain contact with any and all partners is irreplaceable—and, its value is immeasurable.

To be sure, the lessons being taught us all by manufacturers don't – and shouldn't – hold true in every case in every possible vertical market.  But they resonate enough (and with enough of us) to lead us to sit up and take notice.

At this point, it's not a surprise to hear that the cloud is redefining how we do business, with whom we do business and how best to conduct our businesses going forward.  What is significant, though, is that for all its emerging ubiquity, the cloud has the power to improve the competitiveness of some of the oldest-line, hardest-line operations going.

With complete affection for dogs young and old, I say that if some of those old dogs can learn new tricks, there's absolutely no reason why even the young pups among enterprises shouldn't begin doing those same cloud tricks from day one.

We're continually learning new tricks here at Tier1, and we're being taught by some of the best teachers in the business - namely our customers through their experiences. We'd love to share our knowledge, including best practices, tips & tricks and lessons learned to apply it to your business.