In this guest article, Dave Gardner, a long time mass customization veteran, comments on how companies can become a “progressive manufacturer” by moving towards mass customization.
David J. Gardner is the Founder and Principal of mass-customization-expert, a consultancy helping companies in the design and integration of innovative business process and information technology solutions for companies. He has held management positions in Engineering, Manufacturing, Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service, and Product Management. He joined Tandem Computers in 1979 where he was responsible for Corporate Documentation Standards for Tandem's highly configurable and expandable computer systems. In 1983, he designed and implemented a Configuration Guide for Dialogic Systems instituting a process that greatly simplified a complex, modular product such that the field sales organization and international OEM customers could easily define their order requirements. David improved the approach at System Industries in the late 1980’s by developing a methodology that not only accommodated "new system" orders but also fully addressed "add-on" orders. In 1991, he founded his consulting company. In July 2002, David was recruited by E-ONE, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fire and rescue vehicles, as Vice President of Product Management to lead an enterprise-wide change initiative to transition the company from an “engineer-to-order” to a “mass customization” business paradigm. He is a graduate of San Jose State University (BA) and Santa Clara University (MBA).
Market Relevancy for 21st Century Manufacturers -- Connecting Your Customers to Your Enterprise
In an ideal world, manufacturing executives would:
1) Carefully consider the over-arching business and operational strategies needed to create a truly compelling, differentiated business in their marketplace, and,
2) Select the business software applications.
How many companies start with Step 2? The vast majority! Why?
A manufacturing executives’ spotlight is usually aimed at the product and marketplace, not operational details unless there’s been a serious breakdown in the operational side of the business. Let’s face it—it’s hard to get executives excited about a new business application system.
When was the last time an executive from a manufacturing company exclaimed, “Our new ERP system is a true source of competitive advantage and differentiation in our market?” While it may be true that there are genuine business execution issues that arise from a poorly implemented, poorly architected, or an inappropriate ERP system, ERP by itself is not a source of competitive advantage. ERP is essentially a “back-office” tool.
The biggest question about new business systems is typically “how much is it going to cost and how long is it going to take?”
Last year, Managing Automation hosted the Progressive Manufacturing Summit 2006. David Brousell, Editor-in-Chief of Managing Automation, delivered an address “7 Rules to Win in a Global Market.” In his presentation, David defined the global manufacturing winners as “Progressive Manufacturers,” offering the following definition:
Progressive Manufacturers infuse technology into all areas of their business to create sustainable competitive advantage by connecting the customer to the manufacturing process.
This definition is powerful and compelling and should be the rallying cry behind all operational and information technology initiatives. Let’s break this down.
My first observation about the notion of being a “progressive manufacturer” is the holistic or seamless nature from a customer’s perspective. As a customer (or a prospective customer), wouldn’t you prefer to deal with a “progressive manufacturer” as it is defined above?
“Connecting the customer to the manufacturing process” implies that a company is customer-driven—the company, its business process and information technologies are seamlessly designed with the customer in mind and offer the customer the means to interact directly with the company. What might this mean?
- Being able to determine order status (in order administration, production control, production line, shipping, etc.)
- Being able to determine in-transit status
- Being able to look at financial issues (open invoices, paid invoices, etc.)
For companies that offer configurable products, “connecting the customer to the manufacturing process” suggests:
Being able to make decisions about the product or order configuration
Being able to understand the configuration possibilities, pricing and estimated lead time based on actual order configuration
“Sustainable” implies a continual state of evolution—that a company is constantly enhancing its ability to maintain its relevancy and value provided to the customer. There is no such thing as steady state or time-out. It is said in nature that there is no “steady state”—something is either growing or dying. The same can be said for manufacturing companies. Progressive companies enjoy no extended periods of relaxation.
“Competitive advantage” suggests you are doing things that you competitors are not. Generally, this would imply innovation either in technology, process or the way in which you delight the customer. If everybody else in your industry is doing exactly the same thing, how can a company expect to enjoy competitive advantage?” The other added benefit of seeking competitive advantage is it catches competitors by surprise and can take years for them to catch up. This is a stealth approach at its best.
Are there any companies that meet the criteria of being a “progressive manufacturer?” Dell is one of the best examples I can think of. I’m certain Cisco Systems is another. In reality, the number of manufacturers you could classify as “progressive” is probably quite small. That bodes well for companies seeking to differentiate themselves in their market.
Let’s circle back around to our original proposition:
In an ideal world, manufacturing executives would carefully consider the over-arching business and operational strategies needed to create a truly compelling, differentiated business in their marketplace.
A company seeking to become a “progressive manufacturer” has the opportunity to start with the objective of “infusing technology into all areas of their business to create sustainable competitive advantage by connecting the customer to the manufacturing process.”
This requires a holistic view of where you want to go as a business. It doesn’t make sense to select one or more applications in isolation of the total solution and hope that you can “connect the dots” later. It’s no different than having an architect design a house. You really can’t architect and build at the same time. However, once the architecture is complete, you can build away.
It’s best to fully understand and agree what the target is to ensure you end up becoming the “progressive manufacturer” David Brousell characterizes in his speech. Getting outside assistance with this is one way to ensure you don’t, as well-know author and consultant Alan Weiss often says, “breathe your own exhaust.” Once you have a comprehensive, coherent vision, you can then begin to assemble the pieces of the solution. To do otherwise, is to open the door to a less than satisfactory solution.
Contact Dave Gardner at