And What Manufacturing Businesses of Every Size Can Do About It
I’m a software guy, an entrepreneur and a manufacturing engineer. Not long after I graduated from college, I was working at a manufacturing business where I encountered the AS400.
For those too young to recall, the AS400 was one of the earliest ERP systems. It intrigued me. From that moment on, I was fascinated by the information I could put into the AS400 and the applications I could write to get information out.
That’s when I first started to wrap my mind around manufacturing systems – how we can improve the flow of data and the connectivity of things with technology. And that’s informed both my thinking and the companies I’ve built during the ensuing years.
I’m confident that manufacturers across industries can thrive in spite of the adverse effects from pandemic-driven supply chain shortfalls and labor-related issues. Here’s why. Applications platforms enable manufacturers, both large and small, to be resilient and fleet footed not only during tough times, but to meet the ongoing challenge of continuous growth and profitability.
The Applications Platform is the Great Equalizer for Small and Mid-sized Manufacturers
Enterprise ERP and MES software solutions have been around since the 1990’s, migrating to the cloud in the 2000s. The largest, best-in-class companies had a strategic plan. Their strategy accommodated multi-year implementations and a budget often in the millions of dollars. Add the considerable cost of employee time and training and it’s no wonder that small and mid-sized manufacturers were locked out of enterprise solutions.
Unfortunately, point solutions have been the go-to tech fix for smaller and mid-sized manufacturers, regardless of industry. To clarify, I’m talking about disparate applications designed to do particular things, like accounting software, CRM, payroll, barcode label printing and countless others.
Why a Point Solution is Like a Band-aid
Think of a point solution as a band-aid—a short-term fix for a particular problem that’s causing you pain. Simply put, the problem with point solutions is that they are discrete, separate from one another. This remains true in spite of efforts to connect differing point solutions into a cohesive whole.
Now, with the recent emergence of the applications platform, smaller and mid-sized businesses can expand their horizons. They can consider an applications platform just like the largest global, best-in-class companies are doing.
The Applications Platform Enables Automation for Manufacturers of Every Size
There are tangible benefits to cloud enterprise software. Automation is one of them. But there are different levels of automation. The important consideration is to understand where your organization currently falls on that spectrum.
This illustration represents the typical journey that smaller businesses take as they move from paper-based manual processes to digitalized, automated processes in a succession of incremental investments in point solutions.
The move from cocktail napkin notes to white board ideation, then on to computer-based spreadsheets and databases represent real progress. It works for awhile but it cannot sustain growth.
Better Manual Processes
The introduction of accounting or other stand-alone software is a step toward efficiency and reduction of manual processes. The closer you are to the bottom of the pyramid, the greater the soft costs of inefficiency and poor visibility.
The hard costs, license fees and subscriptions of enterprise solutions are offset by improved operational efficiency and redistribution of manual tasks to revenue-generating activity. But manual effort continues because of discontinuities between the software, people and processes.
Real-time Operational Visibility
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) delivers greater visibility in the form of a ‘single source of truth’ as people, processes and devices are more connected, delivering increased automation and more real-time insights.
The Unified Operational Applications Platform
The applications platform eliminates the soft cost of inefficient manual processes and reduces overhead. It is a solution ecosystem where existing software can be connected with new applications that can be rapidly deployed using built-in developer tools.Acting as the engine of business, the applications platform reduces or eliminates manual work and introduces automation so that a manufacturing company can do more with less overhead.
The Applications Platform Advantage
An applications platform is like having a rocket ship with an endless supply of rocket fuel so that you can travel far beyond your competitors and never run out of fuel. This is what the application platform does for smaller and mid-size manufacturers. Now, these businesses can skip over all of the manual processes and the point solutions and go directly into a solution that finally solves their unique business problems.
The definition of an applications platform, software platform, or operational platform or manufacturing platform, whichever you choose to call it, is simply an environment. I think of it as an ecosystem where developers and non-IT professionals can write applications and run them.
Wait. What? A sales rep or a business exec can write their own apps? The answer is yes, they can. The applications platform should include a variety of built-in features. One of them should be a WYSIWYG builder for non-IT professionals, like a sales exec who wants to build a dashboard.
But a well-built platform also offers software engineers the professional tools they need, like access to class libraries and utilities for developing and executing robust applications.
In 2022, Forrester predicts:
Forrester reports that digital applications platforms… “integrate orders and production schedules to shop floor execution, elevating operational technologies like digital twin and Internet of Things (IoT) to a business level and enabling manufacturers to satisfy their customers’ insatiable demand for speed and choice while balancing profitability.”1
Legacy Solutions Are Not Applications Platforms
While the term Platform and Event-Driven Architecture are only two of the newest buzz words, you might see software solutions that have been around for decades now touting themselves as a platform.
This is a bit of a misnomer considering that platform level concepts have only evolved to support manufacturing over the past few years. In truth, a fully developed, robust applications platform has not been fully implemented by more than a few notable vendors. So, be mindful of deceptive attempts to make you think you’re getting the latest when you’re not.
In the past, most solutions were designed for specific purposes. They evolved around a particular process like electronics, stamping, molding and others. More recently, these solutions have realized that they need to position their software to reach a larger market. This is the challenge that manufacturers of any size must face. My advice is to be skeptical of old solutions that claim to be new again.
Introducing Fuuz® the Applications Platform Built for Industry
I launched the applications platform Fuuz in 2018. Since then, we’ve helped hundreds of manufacturers and makers of all shapes and sizes across diverse industries.
Fuuz, developed by my company, MFGx, is a better solution. I’m saying this because I know it to be true. Here’s why. Fuuz is an end-to-end platform, built with the latest microservice architecture and security, and delivered as a multi-tenant SaaS cloud.
Having worked in the industry while still in high school and during my pursuit of a Masters in Manufacturing Engineering, I say this with confidence. Fuuz is a revolutionary solution. It delivers genuine Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) capabilities to our customers.
And yet, the Fuuz platform is at a price point just above what a typical point solution would be. Now, small and mid-sized manufacturing companies, have the opportunity to run their businesses on a platform at a fraction of the cost of traditional big-name platforms like IBM, AWS and Azure.
Fuuz for Enterprise Business
Fuuz is also great for larger enterprise companies. That’s because Fuuz is designed to accommodate enterprise scaling with built-in connectors to ERP, MES and other standard business software. It also delivers the flexibility of rapid application development with its built-in features, including a dashboard designer, a device gateway and a browser extension, to name just a few.
There are hundreds of pre-revenue startups and Fortune 500 companies running Fuuz globally. They have been able to create value from their investment, typically 15x faster than any conventional platform that’s been offered to this point. I hope you consider joining them.
About the Author
Craig Scott is the Founder and CEO of Fuuz™. Over the past 20 years, Craig has identified problems in manufacturing and created companies and solutions to solve them.