By Paul Palmes
I recall more than one training class where the instructor used the metaphor about the buggy whip manufacturer who is clueless and despondent and continues to make products that no one buys. It’s a classic, much-used example to demonstrate the importance of understanding market trends and your customer’s wants, needs, and requirements.
Of course, it’s never that simplistic. If the organization was listening to the industry and its customers, there was more than enough time to change, given that there was a willingness to learn and adapt. The automobile didn’t replace the buggy overnight and neither did Uber take market share of Yellow cab with the snap of a finger. It took quite a while for Kodak to hang up its consumer film business in response to the rise of digital imaging and smartphones. On and on, the disruptors have and will appear in any given market. In terms of all things digital, the rate of acceptance and implementation can be amazing. What once took years is now managed in months or even weeks. This is our first concern:
- The time of change is compressed. A disruptor could and likely will capture the market before we are able to effectively respond.
The buggy whip manufacturer was also criticized for their lack of product variation. Their whips are only available in black. They have always been black. The competition’s products are also black and nothing else need be said. Buggy whips are black, until someone thinks out of the box and suddenly color overtakes the market and ushers in new interest and profitability. Whether accidental or the output of a formal process, the first company to add the color option now has the majority market share. This short tale brings us to our second concern:
- Who or what department within our company is actively thinking about new options, applications, markets, and entirely new products in the age of big data and the internet of things?
A good friend told me that her company no longer uses surveys to learn about the pros and cons of their products. “Sensors built into our machines are always on and are reporting back to us. We know exactly how they are performing. This data is analyzed constantly and drives continuous product improvements.” She also maintained that updates (delivered via the internet) and maintenance were well received by customers who were pleased that problems were actively addressed and reported to the customer and not by the customer. That’s game changing! You buy a product that monitors itself, recommends maintenance and, for a price, sends replacement parts. The product is recognized as constantly improving and requires attention only when it asks. Adding sensors to manufacturing equipment brings the same monitoring close to home, radically changing the traditional landscape of unplanned breakdowns.
We’ve come even further. It’s called big data and its impact and reach was the stuff of science fiction only a few years ago. Coupled with the relatively new ability to store every keystroke, GPS location, email, text message, and phone call, big data can capture and synthesize huge amounts of information about your company and its products. Look it up! Simply Google “big data” to begin the process of realizing that there are even companies that will mine this data for you. They use both formal and informal data to compile trends and opinions. Essentially the market’s response to your company and/or its products. The information out there is not only vast and factual, it’s also our third concern:
- What are the possible opportunities to include sensors in our machines to improve production or monitor performance? How are we using big data to our advantage?
The future is an interested party as never before. It’s ability to rapidly become the present must become a siren call to businesses throughout the world if they expect to remain competitive. A catch phrase for this momentum is “industry 4.0,” or the “fourth industrial revolution” in which automation and data exchange transform the manufacture and supply of goods and services. Robotics, driverless cars, and big data are not future concepts—they are firmly in place and are rapidly changing our world. Soon to come will be reduced delivery hours resulting from driverless trucks with no rest requirements dramatically shrinking component lead times for robots fabricating products consistently capable of “100 percent plug and play.”
Regardless of your size, it’s past time to learn about these matters—not just as an observer, but with purpose and resolve to get into the game somewhere and somehow before your approach or your products become expensive, unreliable, or passé. There’s never been a shortage of imagination, but with the speed of execution the same can now be said of implementation. The inhouse 3D printer replaced the nearby machine shop’s six-week lead time and paid for itself the first time it was used. Design validation, stress tests, best engineering practices, and plasma table nesting layouts are no longer separate product development functions, they are integrated throughout it. Tomorrow’s production and/or service company must begin exploring the pitfalls, advances, threats, and opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution to find their place within it, learn its language and begin adopting its methods.
Adaptation is not necessarily easy. As W. Edwards Deming is famous for saying: “It’s not necessary to change, survival is not mandatory.”1 This article speaks to the business survival of everyone in the supply chain. No one is immune, including the auditor who must assess compliance based on new forms of data and third-party analysis. The universe of assessing effectiveness and compliance in configuration management, customer satisfaction, externally provided goods and services, design, context and interested parties will soon show heightened expansion and entirely new galaxies of thought and information. In the author’s opinion, this is the new metaphor. Just as the Hubbell telescope expanded our galactic vision, big data and the internet of things is rapidly expanding our ability to see new forces, trends, and insights into all of business and work. Our collective future is one that increasingly disallows the old saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know” because access to information is progressively one click away. Throughout the supply chain, the future is an interested party requiring our attention as never before.
About the author
Paul Palmes is principal consultant with Business Systems Architects Inc. of Fargo, North Dakota, and Prescott, Wisconsin. Working as a specialist in quality management and world-class quality systems over the past 30 years, he has enabled many organizations to attain ISO 9001 registration and many others to improve profitability and culture. He is a Certified Quality Manager and BSI Certified Lead Auditor.
His many publications include four books—The ISO 9001:2015 Handbook, McMillian Press and Going Beyond ISO 9004 (with Alka Jarvis), Process Driven Comprehensive Auditing and The Magic of Self-Directed Work Teams, published by ASQ Quality Press, and articles written for The Auditor and ASQ’s Quality Progress magazine.
A long-time member of the U.S. TAG to ISO TC 176, he’s held positions as chair, vice chair, and membership chair. He also served as U.S. TAG representative and international TC 176 liaison to the IAF, co-chair of the IAF’s ISO 9000 Advisory Group, and a member of the Auditing Practices Group (APG). He is also chairman of ISO/TC 176, SC 1, responsible for the 2015 revision of ISO 9000, and a member of the ISO Joint Technical Coordinating Group (JTCG).