The proportion of enterprises that use SharePoint has increased in the recent years drastically. Businesses can definitely get a lot more out of their investments, but they often don’t know what all SharePoint can actually do. Most of the companies surveyed, report that they rely on it for document management, but an increasing number of businesses are also using it for reporting, social networking, and advanced process automation (using 3rd party tools). Major challenges faced by most organizations are managing productivity, overload of complex information and making teams work together. These challenges are particularly amplified in the manufacturing industry. To give a better sense of what all SharePoint can do beyond the most basic document storage and sharing tasks, we’ve put together 10 key manufacturing challenges and ways to tackle them using SharePoint.

Scenario 1# Reduce Cycle Times of Approvals & Automate Complex Business Processes

Manual processes consume 30% of productive time during hand-offs and rejections in production. With SharePoint, you can digitize and automate your business processes using built-in workflow capabilities, thus eliminating waste related to manual handling and tracking. Notifications ensure that relevant parties are aware of activities and their status. Digitization of business forms using InfoPath helps in building validations that ensure that the prerequisites are provided, which drastically reduce the number of rejections. Manufacturing firms are leveraging SharePoint to automate manual processes like stock transfer approval, purchase requisition, vendor/customer setup, item setup and expense reimbursement thereby freeing up resources to focus on core activities.

Scenario 2# Paperless Back Office and Shop Floor Document Management Systems

SharePoint’s document management capabilities can help in maintaining vendor/customer contract documents, product histories and equipment controls, thereby eliminating costly reliance on manual paperwork. Using out-of-the-box connectors, ERP/CRM can be integrated with SharePoint to build document management capabilities that are often lacking. While the data itself resides in ERP/CRM, supporting documents such as policies/procedures, contracts, work orders and compliance records exist in SharePoint. These supporting documents are governed by strong document management policies such as versioning, retention, disposition and record declaration. SharePoint can also be used as a platform to link planning, administrative systems and the shop floor.

Scenario 3# Stream line Cash Flow – Avoid Delays & Reduce Task Closure Time

Overdue, whether in production scenarios or on payment fronts, adversely affect cash flows and disrupt client/vendor relationships. Besides, follow-up and coordination have major impacts on organizational productivity. SharePoint simplifies these bottlenecks by facilitating tracking of items through closure. Examples of potential bottlenecks include overdue invoices, disputed POs, and shipping issues. By configuring the business logic in SharePoint, required supporting documents can be accessed, reducing closure time and duplication of effort.

Scenario 4# Business Intelligence – Calculated Decision Making using Real Time Data

SharePoint has a feature-rich BI module which provides self-service BI capabilities out-of-the-box. SharePoint’s ability to integrate with a versatile set of applications can be leveraged to consolidate data from disparate systems. This brings together actionable insights to enable informed decision making. It can also provide front end input to a master production scheduling system to optimize inventory planning. It also can be leveraged, for example, to correlate production data (burn rate), warehouse data (inventory current volume) and procurement (order placed and lead-time) to identify items which might lead to a production slowdown. Instead of scanning through tons of data to find  discrepancies, employees can save time and get actionable insights instantly using SharePoint’s self-service BI capability.

Scenario 5# Unified Collaboration Platform for Cross-Functional Teams

Certain processes such as design and quality require various stakeholders to collaborate together. Without a proper platform, haphazard communication can lead to duplicity, misalignment, recurrence of common errors, and restricted distribution of information. SharePoint provides a centralized platform where employees from dispersed geographic locations or cross-functional teams can collaborate effectively during any phase. Tangible benefits are achieved with SharePoint when it is coupled with workflow to create a platform for collaborative processing, e.g., from conceptual design to analysis to design modeling to drafting/ documentation to machining. You can achieve collaboration with minimal end-user efforts and IT involvement as SharePoint enables effective collaboration.

Scenario 6# Empower Sales Team on-the-Go with Enhanced Mobility Features

SharePoint is a great platform to assist your mobile sales team. Improved mobile support makes the data available to the salesforce on their devices. Product information, metrics, document templates, case studies and real time production data can all be accessed from mobile devices. Sales collateral maintained in SharePoint provides sales team with additional information required for improving the credentialization of your organization. The search capabilities ensure that your sales team in one geography is aware and can showcase an implementation done in the different geography.

Scenario 7# Strengthen Relationships with Interactive Vendor Portals

Organizations that do not use portals to connect with trading partners/ vendors lack the visibility to leverage the opportunities and benefits of collaboration. In the manufacturing industry, organizations vary widely in how they administer and monitor contracts with their vendors. SharePoint can be used to develop distinctive contract management capabilities and facilitate sharing of contract documents, performance metrics, and Purchase Orders with external vendors. The portal provides vendors a better view into your processes, which in turn improves their efficiencies in serving your organization. SharePoint 2013 has simplified licensing that permits license holders to host external vendor portals at zero additional costs. Compared to the earlier versions of SharePoint, total cost of ownership is significantly reduced.

Scenario 8# Better Manage Complex Projects & Initiatives

A recent survey suggests a lack of confidence in how business critical projects are being managed in the global manufacturing sector. The primary cause cited is the absence of robust, comprehensive project management applications to support the efforts. Increasingly in manufacturing, both initiatives and regular functions are being treated as projects with the application of project management fundamentals to manage them. Be it cost reduction initiatives or contractual improvements in efficiency, they are monitored and governed as independent projects. SharePoint provides out-of-the-box features like workspace with security controls to maintain project artifacts, assign tasks, manage milestones, monitor resources, track project time-lines and report project metrics. SharePoint also provides integration options with MS Project Server for those who are looking for more sophisticated project management capabilities.

Scenario 9# Use SharePoint to get Higher ROI from your ERP

ERP solutions are often built generically for an industry, with minimal customization to adapt to your business. Utilizing a generic solution can lead to loss of competitive advantage. Your business functions, which have evolved over time and are specific to your organization, may not be fully supported by ERP solutions. You cannot let software dictate how processes should run; rather, software should support the required processes. ERP customization are often discouraged and can be expensive. The SharePoint platform provides a cost effective alternative to custom built business applications for specific business functions. The flexible nature of the SharePoint platform, along with the wealth of features provided out-of-the-box, reduce development time by 40%, thereby improving the ROI and time to market.

Scenario 10# Product Life-cycle Management (PLM) with SharePoint

SharePoint is fast becoming the progressive choice for PLM/PDM. For instance, SharePoint can be used to improve innovation, collaboration and coordination at a global scale. Additionally, it can free up PLM/PDM team members from the hassles of time consuming requests from extended members by providing the information through a structured, search powered repository. Participants are enabled to “discover” the information themselves. SharePoint facilitates creation of collaborative work-spaces for work-in-progress activities and provide a repository to maintain digital artifacts with mark-up/comments. SharePoint workflow is leveraged to facilitate process-centric functions such as engineering change orders (ECOs). The platform is configured to remain in-sync and up-to-date with the master PDM or PLM system, ensuring that all information is represented accurately and consistently.

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