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  • Mike Shields

The Voice of the Customer on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and CRM

From the frontlines of Smart Manufacturing Summit with 100 CEOs

I just came back from the Smart Manufacturing Summit, sponsored by the Chief Executive Network, in Indianapolis. This two-day annual conference was attended by the business executive leaders from 100 mid-sized manufacturers. The agenda was rich with topics core to being the best at manufacturing: additive manufacturing (3-D printing and beyond), workforce dynamics, emerging materials and practices, and the role of enabling information technologies on competitiveness. We heard key panel insights from the CEO’s of Cummins, Eli Lilly, and Stanley/Black and Decker about their intense focus on the voice of their customers and markets in every aspect of their product and customer life cycle. This summit attracts a wide range of manufacturing businesses – process and discrete – companies producing everything from individual parts/components to high cost capital equipment and systems.

As one of Microsoft Dynamics’ key global partners in the Manufacturing sector, my role and involvement centered upon technologies that manufacturers are leveraging for profitable business innovation. Three in particular stand out as important themes over these two days:

1.) The Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT)

Over the course of several sessions, this topic became a lot less mysterious as the conversations turned toward specific, practical applications. The key question for most is “How and when should my company get started with IIOT”?

Three Applications that generated the most interest:

Extend the Customer Product Life Cycle – Collecting sensor and usage-data to anticipate and promote customers’ equipment service, parts and upgrade needs (sometimes called “the Aftermarket”). We discussed how dramatic cost/performance improvements in data collection, transmission and cloud computing have made these applications accessible for most discrete manufacturers. Many of the companies at the summit already installed the sensors – but haven’t yet capitalized on the analytical and applied usage.

Improve Efficiencies – Leveraging machine feedback and machine learning to improve the performance of processes and equipment. As with the customer/product opportunity, these same technologies enable internal monitoring, measuring and data-driven improvements.

Enhance Products & Develop New Products – Leverage IIOT data to develop further intelligence on product performance and improvement opportunities, identify trends, and provide feedback for innovation and product development.

During the final panel discussion Christian Pedersen, GM of Microsoft Dynamics, did a great job clarifying the role of the Internet of Things – in simple and practical terms that made IIOT accessible to these businesses (photo courtesy of Gil Garcia). Addressing the question of how to get started, his advice is to get started with low-cost/risk, proof-points and then systematically develop further capabilities and opportunities. We translate this directly to conducting a proof of concept with a small-scale, affordable way to get started; and then grow from there.

2.) CRM for Customer Engagement and Increased Sales Effectiveness

The power of integrated Customer Engagement systems is being underleveraged amongst many of these manufacturers.

In breakout/roundtable discussions, we heard from several companies about their experiences to date with CRM. It became clear to me that the predominant impression of CRM is that it is for Sales Force Automation (SFA) – i.e. managing contacts, leads, opportunities and sales activities. The broader capabilities to enable digital marketing, management dashboards, analytics, customer care, social connectivity and customer loyalty are not yet in the picture for most. Among the key topics we discussed were the increasing impact of B2B Commerce trends (shaped by B2C practices), the changing workforce dynamics, the role of channel partners in the customer engagement process, and the role of analytics in driving demand. I heard enough to believe that by unleashing the full power of CRM beyond SFA there is huge potential for many of these companies to gain competitive advantage.

This was an area where Microsoft offers the easiest access to a simple and low-cost starting point that can extend to the fullest range of needs/capabilities. By packaging all of the components needed for Customer Engagement with the pervasive Microsoft Productivity suite, these manufacturers have access to a one-stop-shop for customer engagement. Since most of these businesses are already leveraging many components of the Office Productivity suite from Microsoft, it’s a simple step forward to plug in Dynamics CRM. As with IIOT, starting with a small scale pilot or proof of concept is a low risk, low cost entry point.

3.) Service Lifecycle and Customer Care

Linking the two topics above, IIOT and CRM, it looks like many of these manufacturers have near-term opportunities to gather and leverage machine data and use it to develop actionable customer care, support and service outcomes.

CRM’s ability to digitize marketing campaigns, support workflows and measure service level agreement performance looks like the early game-changer. There is a great deal of interest in how to build ‘systems of intelligence’ that can listen to these large-scale data sources to drive increased parts and service revenue and further assure customer retention/satisfaction.

An example that seemed to resonate was a case story presented by Rockwell Automation about very costly integrated system deployed to field locations on trucks to support oil/gas production – where IIOT data is providing huge ROI by reducing downtime, increasing efficiencies and shortening billing cycles. The operators are using on-board tablet devices for real-time diagnostics, feedback and even real-time billing transactions. This solution drives productivity, equipment uptime, higher yields and increased cash flow. It is a high-powered example of technology leverage.

Another Microsoft Partner, Vertical Solutions, provided insights into how to get started with the integration of Service/Support into the overall customer engagement process – to manage the life cycle of products in the customer environment. For those manufacturers of capital equipment and high-value products, offering another way to drive customer success and improved profitability.

Beyond these three key themes, our breakout sessions hit the age-old challenge that these companies face when trying to integrate their ERP “systems of record” with these new, powerful, “systems of engagement” and “systems of intelligence”.

Integration was stated as one of the major barriers to the effectiveness of CRM and IIOT leverage within these companies. The costs and resources needed for customized integration present major obstacles for any company; but for mid-sized manufacturers they are generally cost-prohibitive. These leaders are wary of panaceas that many software vendors offer to provide integration through XML or other data “pushes”. I see major opportunities for these mid-sized companies to leverage the breadth of the already integrated CRM platforms in conjunction with some pre-published integration/APIs to greatly simplify and lower the costs of integration. This will unblock the data flow and unlock more of the potential of the new technologies. It’s an area where Microsoft and eLogic have combined to provide a more readily affordable and accessible solution. With the broadest horizontal business productivity suite (Office 365, Sharepoint, Outlook and the CRM platform) – we now combine the ERP/System of Record Master Data integration points to realize a seamless Customer Engagement platform.

In summary, this was an eye-opening event for me. I got to listen to, and learn from, the leaders of about 100 of North America’s most successful manufacturing companies. I came away with ‘the voice of the customer’ very clearly in mind; and that’s what I took back to eLogic with me. I see a bright future for technology to play an increasingly important role in these companies, as they improve customer engagement and business profitability. I’ll be addressing each of the above topics in future posts. Stay tuned.

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