In a modern business, consumers have a lot of power. Business competition is changing and switching from competition on price or availability to the ability to generate a steady flow of customers and to create a lasting positive image of your business in the minds of those who can buy your products. Manufacturing companies are experiencing significant challenges in the way they design, engineer and manufacture their products. And many of them are looking at PLM as a way to connect with existing and potential customers.
PLM vendors are reacting on the demand to build better communication with customers via connected devices (IoT is hot) as well as building a special platforms to connect with customers. The trend to understand and connect to customers is so hot, that we can see an entire new PLM business such as PropelPLM built around the idea of customer-oriented process and leveraging Salesforce.com platform for such purposes. Salesforce is a strong CRM platform, but from a standpoint of process organization it is still more or less traditional enterprise software managing data in silos. It is almost the same as enterprise PLM systems managing data in relational databases for the last 10-15 years.
As much as PLM vendors believe in building a platform to manage single truth about products and customers, they might be surprised by unexpected competition coming from social media platforms. Manifestos and Monopolies article by Ben Thompson brings an interesting perspective on the role of Facebook in the distribution process.
However, for most products this has not been the case for well over a century; first the industrial revolution and then the advent of the assembly-line method of manufacturing resulted in an abundance of products. The new source of economic power became distribution: the ability to get those mass-produced products in front of customers who were inclined to buy them. Today the fundamental impact of the Internet is to make distribution itself a cheap commodity — or in the case of digital content, completely free. And that, by extension, is why I have long argued that the Internet Revolution is as momentous as the Industrial Revolution: it is transforming how and where economic value is generated, and thus where power resides.
The main point is that communication will become a starting point for competition in the future manufacturing world. And as much as I can see gadgets, furniture and even cars coming to my Facebook timeline, I start to believe that control over communication pipeline will be an important factor for many manufacturing companies in their future competition.
It made me think about future digitalization in manufacturing and consumption. Think about manufacturing as a demand driven process, which starts from consumers using digital distribution channels. Capturing consumer communication processes and connecting it to manufacturing, engineering and design can be a interesting opportunity. To combine the power of communication channels with digital fabrication and 3D printing can be even more interesting. It is not entirely crazy to think about manufacturing companies customizing products on demand while potential customers are providing correction to the features in a real time. Facebook is obviously not the only platform focusing on social consumption – Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and others need to be added to the list.
What is my conclusion? The role of communication platform in the future of manufacturing will increase. It will be an opportunity to connect even closer with customers’ demands, requirements and turn manufacturing and distribution process upside down. In the past, manufacturing companies developed products and then established marketing and distribution campaign to sell it. In a new manufacturing world, manufacturing companies will start from communication to end users and then loop back into design, manufacturing and distribution. Next time you open Facebook you might see manufacturing companies asking your about what chair design you want and in few days shipping your a chair individually designed for your needs. Just my thoughts…
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Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.