Fall is the season when many companies review their Strategic Plans for the coming few years. For a diversified manufacturer, it is a pretty intense process – separate sessions for each business unit, multiple presenters, megabytes of detail. I’m not complaining about the review – it’s a tremendous opportunity to get a comprehensive sense of our markets, customers, competition, and product directions. If you are not regularly participating in these sessions at your organization, find a way to get in!
What do I listen for during a week like this?
- General Themes and Trends; where are we concentrating on niches, and where are we widening our sights for adjacent markets? Where are we trimming down, and where are we building up? Where are macro environmental and economic forces moving clusters of projects (ex. the explosive (sic) growth of Oil & Gas in North America)? And how are we – and our competition – lining up our respective forces to win?
- Specific Initiatives that may need digital systems or process change and support. Sometimes it’s obvious – are we pushing for larger sales forces with broader penetration – or more targeted teams, focused on smaller customer sets? Is it time again to look at aftermarket and services, to create the kind of predictable, recurring revenue that technology companies value so much? At other times this takes a little imagination – will there be major organization change, global moves, M&A activity, or new product development that will have significant Digital requirements?
- Dependencies and Assumptions; might be difficult to set up new product lines in new locations, for example, when the infrastructure or ERP upgrade is scheduled to complete six months after the target date. Plus, groups are typically focused on their own initiatives and not checking for resource dependencies in engineering, shared services, manufacturing, or IT.
No Room for the Internet of Things
When introducing a new topic like the Internet of Things (for this crowd, “using Information and Technology as a Product or Service”), you will probably be disappointed – at first. This is predictable because, as we all know, the IoT is new and folks are still waiting – for ideas, for standards, for skills, for pioneers. A [decent] Strategic Plan, with revenue and profit projections, is going to be focused on mature NPD alternatives that have been cooking for a bit. When will we have time to think a little longer term?
Another set of challenges that smaller manufacturing companies face – the impact of Lean, and being lean – and being a maker of Things.
- Lean Manufacturing looks to eliminate waste – which for some translates to a bare minimum of investment in edge technologies. Yes, this is wrong-headed Lean, but it’s a prevalent scenario, all the more common because of …
- Profit Pressure in the traditionally conservative manufacturing segment, which doesn’t provide a lot of leeway for experimental work on gadgets and graphs. Besides, these are problematic concepts at a fundamental level because …
- You Can’t Ship Ideas, and the history, culture, and expertise at most manufacturing companies is all about planning, making, shipping, and optimizing tangible “stuff”
So Will IoT Ever Get On the Radar?
Of course it will – stop being so fatalistic. If you pay attention, there will be any number of opportunities that will suggest themselves:
- Yes, the good strategies will focus on well-formed ideas with action plans to deliver results. But the journey to get there is loaded with hints about the applicability of IoT. What does Voice of the Customer tell us the end users are hearing, seeing, doing? What are competitors experimenting with? And what longer-term NPD projects are going on?
- Join in the side conversations, and make connections with the more energetic and imaginative engineering and marketing folks coming in and out of these meetings. More people than you know are thinking along these lines, and they will be itching to talk about their big ideas that did not make the final strategic plan.
- It’s a good bet that some business units and product lines are dabbling in this stuff already. Look for success in some of the “building blocks” of IoT solutions, and engage folks making progress in conversations about how to go bigger.
Helping Them See a Path
Wait – what do I mean by building blocks? Stay tuned – I’ll go through my IoT framework next time.
# 15 September, 2014