When facing competition-particularly fierce competition, it’s important to know all you can about your adversary and their weapons, the battlefield on which the fight will take place, and the best time to strike or retreat. In other words, knowledge is power, and the ability to remain flexible and fast to emerging or changing developments is a tremendous tactical advantage. This notion of changeability is at the heart of new movements in manufacturing based in production agility. While certainly a modern business concept, agile manufacturing goes beyond simply being another version of 1980’s-styled computer integrated manufacturing or 1990’s lean manufacturing. Rather, agile manufacturing represents a complete shift in the mindset of production industries in the 21st Century; one in which there is both a greater relationship between technology and worker skills, and greater customer access to, and demands upon, the core competencies of their manufacturers/vendors.
The basic concept of agile manufacturing is to develop what could best be called a nimble mindset when it comes to understanding market environment. In short, rapid changes in the market environment are not something to be feared, but are seen as opportunities to exploit for the purpose of beating the competition to the punch. Rapid changes in the market are moments that call for rapid responses. The manufacturer that has taken the effort to instill agility through enterprise resource planning has the competitive advantage when it comes to quickly transforming their own knowledge into new products and services for their customers. Indeed, in a global economy, market opportunities are often identified in new growth areas where wholesale and retail product needs were often non-existent until a few months ago.
In a global economy, windows of opportunity open quickly and the more agile the manufacturer the greater the rewards to be gained from being the first responder to customer needs. Such rapid movement requires more than versatility or the ability to merely adjust to changing circumstances. Expanding the customer-base through emerging markets necessitates the quick reflexes that result from the consistent improvement of business intelligence-the knowledge, skills, and empowerment of employees toward the idea of greater interaction with customers. In this light, progressive business knowledge is seen as a useful and dynamic proactive resource rather than passive data collection after the fact. That is to say, innovation in the market (innovation of product, innovation of taste/desire, etc.) provides the greatest growth opportunities for companies who are quickest because of their concerted effort to be agile.
A first step toward becoming an agile manufacturer is developing the means by which business intelligence of the marketplace is made meaningful, and production is wholly synthesized through integration. This means the employment of enterprise resource planning software (ERP) that brings all areas of the manufacturing operation into a single, real-time database where the actions of one department never happen in isolation; where all aspects of the operation are capable of responding quickly to present and emerging customer demands. Particularly suited for agile manufacturing, ERP software provides the basis for rapid communications and the exchange of data, as well as the means by which responsive actions can be quickly taken to ensure competitive advantage.
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