How technology is key to managing the B2B supply chain

The supply chain is crucial to the success and longevity of any business. It’s often thought that only large conglomerates rely on the supply chain, but it’s something that every enterprise relies on. They all depend on the following functions; suppliers, purchasing, production, distribution and customers. Every single supply chain ends with the customer - whether this is B2B or B2C.

Years ago, it was much easier to hide a breakdown in the supply chain - if there was an issue with the production process, you could offer a warranty exchange, make shipping faster or increase your acceptable rates of failure on products. The pace was much slower, but technology has drastically impacted the way in which the supply chain functions and the way in which businesses interact with it. Parties are all connected digitally and want answers as soon as possible. Client portals are expected to be updated with a tracking number and estimated shipment date simultaneously when the order is placed. Waiting 14 business days for information is no longer the norm, nor is it acceptable. 

Technology has not only strengthened the links in the supply chain, it’s made the process transparent, and helps to strengthen other areas of the business. You can tie supply chain management in with advertising, forecasting and inventory control. This means that purchase recommendations can be based on projected demands. In an ideal world, this is all linked to their digital purchase order system where it can be approved on mobile, desktop or tablet. 

However, the supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and if there is a weak link, the chain is at risk of breaking down, which will have an impact on your business and your customers. Below, we outline six areas where technology can help manage the supply chain and help overall business efficiency. 

1. Avoiding downtime

Man-made mistakes are one of the leading causes of downtime and cyber security breaches. From sending sensitive information to clients via the cloud, to inventory checking in warehouses, digital systems ensure accuracy. Downtime can cause detrimental problems to any business, and suppliers may be faced with significant penalties and fines if they do not meet production deadlines. 

One way your business can minimise any downtime is by reviewing any potential vulnerabilities that may lead to this and ensure you have a robust and protected IT infrastructure. Assess your actual requirements – review your RPO and RTO to determine how best to protect your systems and more importantly how quickly you can recover in the event of an outage occurring, whilst maintaining strong patching routines to ensure systems are protected and any weaknesses in software systems plugged.

One of the largest contract presswork and stampings companies in Europe, C. Brandauer & Co Ltd came to OGL as they wanted to change their IT support provider and minimise the risk of downtime. Their Financial Director said: 

“We were desperate to avoid any downtime. We needed better control and lockdown of our data, and we wanted a more proactive service. We called OGL and explained our situation, who were more than happy to review the gaps in our systems and to help solve our problems.”

“Ultimately, they’ve given us additional peace of mind that our systems are operating in a much more secure way and on a budget that suits the size of our business. I feel they have not only done what has been asked but have given a dedicated and an enthusiastic approach to how they monitor and maintain our systems by way of quarterly health checks and reporting back future recommendations.” 

“We are now confident in our IT support and are looking to the future, as there could be a potential to move off-premise which will need all our IT infrastructure in place prior to moving to avoid any downtime.”

2. Data retention

Many engineering and manufacturing firms deal with large volumes of sensitive data, and this data needs to be stored properly. You need to make sure that the way in which this data is stored and shared with the appropriate parties is done in a secure and compliant manner. Some industries are required to retain sensitive information for up to 15 years, so a defined and proven data backup and recovery strategy is vital. 

One way to remain compliant and ensure your data is secure is by storing it on a private, remote cloud. This gives you easy access whilst reducing your on-site energy costs and environmental impact and provides protection in the event of a fire, flood, theft or cyber-attack.  Alongside this, ensuring your servers and other hardware is always up-to-date and upgraded costs your business both time and money. When you choose to store your data on a private hosted cloud, your team can access this information on a secure, verified device, wherever they are.

Nationwide tools distributor, Allfix, made the decision to move over to OGL’s cloud infrastructure because they wanted to remove the risk of having a physical server on-site, and increase their cyber security. They said;

“We were looking for an easier way to have access to our data in multiple locations as we have staff working at both our branches as well as working from home. “Having prof.ITplus hosted on private cloud infrastructure has helped our business greatly. Where, previously, some reports might have taken 10 or more minutes to complete, they now take less than 1 minute.” 

OGL has invested heavily in their data centre infrastructure in recent years to ensure customers benefit from the latest technology delivering greater speed and accessibility, as well as complete peace of mind that customer data is backed up and always available in the event of any unforeseen failure.

3. Remote working

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and High Speed Office, flexi-time rose by 12.35% from 2012 to 2016. In the last decade, the number of UK employees working remotely has increased by a quarter of a million, and it’s thought that 50% of the UK’s workforce will be working remotely by 2020. From reducing office costs to having a wider talent pool and increased morale, remote working comes with a wide range of benefits, but there needs to be an infrastructure in place that mitigates the risks surrounding remote working. 

Remote working relies on the use of more tools and applications so that employees can update the progress of an order, communicate in real-time and access / collaborate on sensitive documents. It’s no secret that these technologies have proliferated in the last decade and made remote working much easier. However, if applications aren’t implemented properly, it can lead to security vulnerabilities which impact the productivity of your employees. 

Think about it - the file sharing software we are used to, has been built for consumers, not industries storing incredibly sensitive information. Supply chains need to ensure that the software they’re using not only works both on and off-site but gives your business adequate protection. Solutions such as Microsoft SharePoint, Intune Mobile Device Management, VDI and Citrix all provide these vital services for you to be able to protect your assets while further securing them with multi-factor authentication.

National manufacturers of gas burning systems, wanted to revolutionise the way in which they worked as a company, and ensure that their remote workers can securely access their customer database when in the field. Their managing director said: 

“OGL has allowed our business to be much more efficient; in particular their suite of cloud products has enabled us to access our data anywhere in the world. With hosted services and VPN access it means that our employees can still do business whilst travelling, so there is no downtime. OGL also supports us by providing remote monitoring for our servers so we don’t have to worry about server downtime which could severely disrupt our business.”

“Our historical data is also our reference point for providing intelligent after sales to customers, so it’s imperative that all our data is backed up and supported. Our hardware is essential to our business too, such as our PCs, which are all supplied, set-up and maintained by OGL.”

4. Industry regulations

Many manufacturing and engineering companies need to meet stringent industry regulations when it comes to building and supplying their products. Automotive and electrical suppliers are held to rigid standards and failing to meet these standards can lead to harsh fines and a loss of business. 

For example, manufacturers need to meet world-wide ISO quality standards such as 9001 (quality), 27001 (data security), 14001 (environmental) and 5001 (energy management). Ensuring that your business is following ISO standards means that you can improve your system and processes, all while improving the safety and quality of your products. Alongside this, customer satisfaction will improve, thus opening more opportunities to access new markets, as products will meet stringent regulations for an array of markets. 

An all-encompassing IT and cyber security solution will help you keep in line with these rigorous standards. When you choose to implement an IT infrastructure that has meticulous record keeping, safety and compliance features, overall equipment, asset and facility maintenance, then you’ll be in a better position to meet the demands of each ISO standard. 

Star Fasteners, a leading global specialist in the fastener industry, rely on OGL and CyberGuard to manage and protect their IT infrastructure and core ERP system: “OGL provides us with our business software, prof.ITplus, which manages all our daily transactions. This gives stock and orders full traceability and ensures we meet our customers’ expectations and comply to ISO 9001:2015 standards.”

5. Production deadlines and financial penalties

Businesses much higher up in the chain rely on rigid production deadlines, and when engineering and manufacturing companies fail to meet this, it can lead to significant financial penalties and loss of business. 

For example, Bosch is a Tier-1 supplier to some of the most well-known car companies in the world and provides steering gears to BMW for use in their 1-Series, 2-Series, 3-Series and 4-Series compact cars. In 2017 Bosch was unable to meet BMW’s demands for steering gears. This wreaked havoc on both companies. Because of this, production at BMW slowed dramatically. And as a result, BMW is seeking compensation from Bosch to make up for lost sales and the cost of extra shifts that will be necessary to ramp up production.
Bosch blame their subcontractors, Albertini Cesare (AB). AB manufactures the aluminium casings for the steering gears. Reports indicate that AB's financial instability contributed to the production delays. 

One way to ensure your company is compliant with production deadlines is through a managed IT infrastructure that includes a proactive monitoring service. This will help keep your systems running so you can maintain productivity and identify any potential problems before they become an issue. This allows your business to perform to its full potential, achieving the maximum amount of sales, customer satisfaction and profitability, without having to worry about your IT infrastructure. 

6. Keep up to date with new developments

If any manufacturing or engineering business wants to scale, they need to maintain high levels of speed and efficiency at all times. Modern businesses are now implementing cloud computing platforms such as Microsoft Azure to store their data, and utilising applications such as Power BI, Business Analytics and AI to drive efficiencies. 

In order for a manufacturing and engineering business to succeed, they need to keep up-to-date with what their competitors are doing. Implementing an IT infrastructure that forms the backbone of their business will ensure that they are running on the latest versions, so that they can optimise performance and know where to improve. If critical applications such as CAD and their production scheduling software are running slow or crash, this will impact the day to day running of the business. 

Linking stock control systems to Business Intelligence means you’ll have real-time data on how current stock levels align with productivity levels. From this, you can then analyse trends and look at seasonality, giving you greater visibility of where efficiencies are being realised.

Working with an experienced managed IT service provider who understands the specific needs of the engineering and manufacturing industry enables business owners to focus on running their business knowing that the critical infrastructure is running smoothly behind the scenes and they are benefitting from the latest technologies.

Ensuring the underlying technology is up-to-date at all times also protects the business from any potential threats from cyber-attacks as hackers will look to find weaknesses in a network which they can exploit. 

UK leader of steel finishing services, Joseph Ash Galvanizing provides services including galvanizing, spin galvanizing, engineering, shot blasting and powder coating. OGL could see that a one size fits all approach wouldn’t work for the likes of Joseph Ash so they designed an IT infrastructure that would effectively align with their long-term goals, whilst ensuring that their infrastructure was up to date. Their managing director said: 

“As with any business, our IT systems are crucial to us and we were keen to invest in the full security package. After implementing Carbon Black Defense, it seemed a logical progression to install AlienVault as it further enhanced our system security, providing us with a robust unified security management suite. We were also aware of the impending requirements relating to GDPR and we needed something that would give us the ability to report on any potential system compromises.

“Using CyberGuard’s AlienVault service has really benefited our business for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s reduced the level of stress for the IT team in their day-to-day responsibility of managing our system security. We are much more confident as a business that we have mitigated against the risk of a security breach and in turn it should help us to build brand loyalty as we can demonstrate to our customer base that their data is being stored in a very safe and secure environment.”

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