Smart Manufacturing May Start with Better Communications

Ryan Spurr

I had to think long and hard about this blog. Let’s be honest, phone systems are not new. The concept of unified communications isn’t new either. So, what is new? And what should we take into account when considering a new unified communications platform?

I discovered that unified communications platforms are getting more compelling, more integrated, and more beneficial. Over the last few years, and even the last 18 months, the world has changed how it uses technology to get work done. 

In our personal lives, technology is changing faster than in the workplace. Just consider how you communicate outside of work with friends and family. If my toddler has hijacked my phone, it’s no problem. I locate the nearest tablet, smartwatch, or home screen to accept that video call from a friend. We’re spoiled with outstanding digital experiences—and we want the same at work.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen the fastest business process and technology transformation ever. And I’m not talking about Industry 4.0 here—I’m talking about the more mundane aspects of work we’ve taken for granted. While not all jobs have been affected similarly, we’ve seen a change in salaried and frontline-worker communications in manufacturing. 

Salaried workers are capable of working from anywhere. More importantly, 56% of employees seek a hybrid option and 30% seek a purely remote option, which indicates employees expect a choice for remote or flexible work options. This ask goes beyond remote-work approval from HR or management—involving technology changes to support this evolving work style. The pandemic has allowed most employees to work from home, a second home during a family vacation, or just knowing that you can be anywhere to get work done. 

The options are slightly different for frontline workers, who must be in the facility to manufacture products or support physical activities. That said, the pandemic changed these workspaces and expectations for communication too. 

For example, imagine a weekend shift where a specific machine fails and requires an onsite visit from an industrial controls engineer. For many companies, the pandemic pushed these folks offsite or limited their onsite exposure. That same engineer now expects to leverage unified communications to speak with onsite technicians or frontline workers to walk them through the troubleshooting process remotely. The frontline worker who may not have had access to a phone before the pandemic, can now use a tablet or a smart mobile scanner to take the call. Leveraging industrial scanners and technology reduces the need for an engineer to drive into the facility, speeds time to recovery for the factory, and improves the employee experience so that engineers can still make it to their kiddo’s soccer game.

Beyond the personal benefits to employees, this offers a considerable advantage for post-pandemic work. The shift changes how employees communicate while travelling, at events, in new office configurations like hot-desking or shared workspaces, and in the consistent communication experience from facility to facility. If you have hybrid workers returning to the office after 12 months, you can bet they will expect seamless technical expertise in their workspace. If that experience isn’t good, employees may start to think differently about the relationship and explore new opportunities with employers who get it.

There are benefits in the industrial workspace as well. Modern communications lead to greater productivity, fewer third-party visits, and lower travel and expense costs. Another trend that started before the pandemic—enabling engineers and top talent to reside anywhere in the country—may also accelerate due to new unified communications solutions. For leaders, this will help with local top-talent shortages, as a physical presence becomes less critical and you can effectively communicate with any employee on any device, anytime, anywhere.

This is a massive differentiator for employers that choose to ditch the legacy communications platforms like PBX, and explore new solutions that create talent benefits and optimize the workforce.

Beyond the human-capital rationale for improving communications solutions, here are just a few of the reasons manufacturers are also considering UCaaS:

  • Cloud-based platform that eliminates existing telephony and PBX from the tech estate
  • Quick time-to-value with a rich set of features
  • Third-party integrations with CRM, data, and collaboration platforms
  • Voice, text, and alternative communications options
  • Integrated security
  • Diverse hardware support
  • Simpler billing and management

Let’s also not forget the customer experience. There are modern alternatives for Call Center as a Service (CCaaS) that focus on customer experience, while also delivering a rich set of features and business system integrations that improve call center productivity. Your business can now integrate with customer resource management (CRM) systems, streamline customer-facing processes, and double your call center capacity with the same number of agents. Unified communications are becoming more than just phone services.

Each manufacturing business is different and will benefit uniquely from modern unified communications. It’s important to understand that the workforce is changing, and tight labor markets call for outstanding employee experiences to attract and retain talent. The headwinds affecting manufacturers also require creativity regarding cost savings, productivity, and getting work done. Advancement doesn’t always have to take the form of the most exciting or forward-leaning technologies like artificial intelligence. Unified Communication solutions are a great way to alter your tech estate, manage costs, improve integration with business systems, improve productivity, and deliver a great employee experience. Don’t wait! Ditch the legacy and reimagine how your workforce communicates to get more work done.To discuss your next-generation communication challenges and learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Technology Solutions, contact our manufacturing specialists today!

Ryan Spurr is the Director of Manufacturing Strategy at Connection with 20+ years of experience in manufacturing, information technology, and portfolio leadership. He leads the Connection Manufacturing Practice, go-to-market strategy, client engagement, and advisory services focusing on operational technology (OT) and information technology that make manufacturers more digitally excellent.