Vertical Industry Communications: Manufacturing Outlook

In this, the third in our series on vertical industry communications, we analyze communications for manufacturing. For earlier articles in the series, see:


Manufacturing Highlights
Manufacturing is a core industry with broad impact for most economies. The manufacturing industry has a diverse array of subsectors, including aerospace, automotive, food, beverage, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, electronics, clothing, furniture, and a wide range of consumer goods.

Manufacturing is very competitive, driven by global production and transportation options and with Internet-based product and price comparisons. This competitiveness drives manufacturers to seek continuous improvement in their operational models. Now, with breakthroughs in unified communications technologies, manufacturers can realize bottom-line benefits by optimizing the communications steps in their value chains.

Manufacturing is a process-oriented industry, since a primary goal is to produce consistent quality products, usually at high scale and low costs. Methods such as Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma management seek to maximize production efficiency by removing defects, errors, waste, and rework from the manufacturing process. Now, communications activities can be subjected to the same optimizing methodologies.

Manufacturing Value Chain
The manufacturing value chain elements are essentially as described by Harvard professor Michael Porter in his famous 1985 book, "The Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance." These steps are to:

  • Develop
  • Market
  • Sell
  • Produce
  • Deliver
  • Service
  • Enterprise Support for the above

The communications requirements of the first six value chain elements group into three categories, each of which uses specific usage profiles (descriptions here). Importantly, the communications requirements for these usage profiles in manufacturing are no longer best served by a PBX, especially a PBX with one common feature set for all users. Let's look at the value chain elements.

Develop and Market
These two value chain elements are highly collaborative. In these profiles, inventive and creative group activities help shape the products and the promotional projects to match the needs of the selected market segments. This is true whether manufacturing locomotives, computers, clothing, or candy.

In these value chains, team members create hypotheses for products and marketing campaigns. They then critically evaluate these hypotheses, and collaborate with others to make the new products available to the market. These others may include production planners, distribution planners, sales and service planners, and outside contractors such as at advertising agencies.

Communications best practices in development and marketing are now based on process-specific software that includes the required communications capabilities. Two examples would be Atlassian Jira for (software) development teams and Workfront for marketing teams. Both applications include tools for team interaction, code/document creation and sharing, and communications via messaging and meetings. Outside parties, such as subcontractors or agencies, can be included in these workflows. These tools may not include voice calling to other extensions in the enterprise, but that's usually managed with an adjacent application such as the IM client (Microsoft Skype for Business and Cisco Jabber), workstream communications and collaboration (a "teams" app), or softphone applications such as IP PBX desktop and mobile clients. While some of these tools don't include voice calling to external parties, today's collaborative workers commonly use their smartphones for text and voice.

Participants in development and marketing value chain elements use the Collaboration Usage Profile.

Of course, we see the IP PBX on-premises and cloud vendors seeking to serve this value chain/usage profile group with team-oriented software such as Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams, Unify Circuit, and similar offers. That may be possible in some manufacturing firms, but would require some care to customize the implementation to match the development and marketing workflows.

Click to Page 2: Manufacturing value chain elements continued