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Manufacturing information management for better efficiency

My ex-employer would benefit from better manufacturing information management

Now that I’m a terminator, I can see clearly that my old employer would benefit from better information management. 

I used to work for one of the world’s top four french fry (and other potato products) manufacturers. They annually produce 1.7 million tonnes of potato goodness and sell across the globe. Looking back on what I now know, I can see how they could do things differently to improve their operational efficiency, customer service, and sales efforts.

This is in no way bad-mouthing my previous employer, they are, in my opinion, the best manufacturer of french fries in the business. But their digital transformations left a lot to be desired.

I now know that an effective content management system would revolutionize their manufacturing information management and set them ahead of the competition. Content management probably makes you think of marketing websites, but in reality, it’s much more than that. It’s information management, product information management, and communicating the right information to internal and external stakeholders.

Before exploring further, let’s think about content in more detail.

What is content?

Content is many different things to different people. In relation to the potato manufacturer, it includes:

  • Product descriptions and marketing information
  • Product imagery
  • Customer testimonials/reviews
  • Recipes

But it is more than marketing, it’s also:

  • Ingredients
  • Cooking instructions
  • Allergen warnings
  • Nutritional information
  • Quality certifications
  • Products tests – i.e. heat retention
  • Produce provenance
  • Pricing – bespoke to customers
  • Source times
  • Customer contracts
  • Complaints
  • Supply chain information

Content is a vague word in itself. It can mean many things and certainly content means different things to different people, for example:

Customer Perspective

Content is marketing information, but also ingredients, nutritional information, and allergen advice.

Salesperson Perspective

Content is customer contracts, supply chain information, pricing, and margins.

Product Manager Perspective

Content is product specifications, ingredients, cooking methods and instructions, and product testing.

It’s all content, some produce it and some consume it, and quite often there is a great deal of overlap as to who finds it useful.

How content and information flow

Manufacturing information management can be a mixed up jumble of systems and applications

This is a snapshot of how new products come to life and how the information and content flowed from creation to customers at the food manufacturing company:

  1. New product introduction form – Form filled in with product concept details, market research, and various other information. Saved on a specific folder on Sharepoint.
  2. Design & development – Excel spreadsheets are used to monitor tests and product specifications as the product design and development stage takes shape.
  3. Pre-production & prototyping – Producing first product prototypes based on information taken from the design and development spreadsheet.
  4. Manufacturing
    – Batch records – Excel and Word documents that are filled out by different people at different stages of the manufacturing process and then emailed on or saved in a shared folder.
    – Quality control checks – Again, Excel and Word documents that are filled out by different people at different stages of the manufacturing process and emailed on or saved in a shared folder.
    -Specifications – Kept in a shared folder and updated as required.
  5. Launch
    – Marketing information – usually created in Word or PowerPoint and saved in a shared folder.
    – Sales information – PowerPoints, Word documents, and PDFs that are created, stored on SharePoint and emailed around.
    – Contracts – emailed around as PDF attachments or Word documents.
    – Pricing – created in Excel and emailed around or saved in a shared folder and manually entered into SAP.
  6. Mass Production
    – Batch records – As above.
    – Quality control checks – As above.
    – Specifications – As above.
  7. Post-launch feedback and improvements – Customer feedback – emailed around or verbally passed on to relevant people.

As you can see, there is a lot of content and a lot of information being created and stored in many different places. It’s all jumbled up and there is no real structure or system to it. This is not an uncommon scenario in many manufacturing companies. So, what would an effective content management system do?

Inefficiencies in Manufacturing Information Management

With each stage of a new product introduction, there is the creation of data, content, and information. This often leads to duplication of work, and inefficiencies in locating and using documents that can lead to delays as workflows are ad-hoc at best.

Here is a list of common issues with the above approach:

  • Slow processes – Lack of workflows creates delays in the NPI process. A new product introduction normally takes six to 12 months, far too long when dealing with consumer trends.
  • Lack of project visibility – When documents get changed by team members there is a lack of visibility to understand what has changed and why. Perhaps it’s a tweak of the ingredients or cooking times. These details become important in the manufacturing process and it is important that all stakeholders can visually see what has changed in the latest version to understand why.
  • Inaccurate information – Marketing publishes product details via websites, apps, and brochures. They create this by copying the details from the PDF specification created by the product managers. Manually copying and pasting can lead to mistakes. What also happens is that products change over time, for instance, replacing Palm Oil with Sunflower Oil, these changes often do not get reflected in customer-facing channels. Inaccurate information can have serious consequences when it comes to allergens as misleading information can have dire impacts on those with allergies.
  • Poor customer communication – The only way for customers to get their contract information is via their salesperson or help desk. This comes to them in a spreadsheet. They have no way of obtaining this via an app or login area on the website.
  • Lost and ineffective feedback processes – Product feedback is often emailed to the helpdesk by a salesperson who has spoken to customers. The helpdesk then emails this to product management.

Effective Content Management is Product Management, Information Management, and Customer Service

If I was to implement content management for my previous manufacturing employer I would do the following:

  • Build schemas for departments – Build content schemas to act as blueprints for our team’s content needs. This would provide the backbone for front-of-house and back-office applications and websites. A schema for product development, a schema for marketing, and a schema for manufacturing – each with its own specific content requirements.
  • Semantically connect schemas, data, and content – Create relationships between data and content. For example, semantically linking data from product managers to marketing so that if a product manager changes a product’s ingredients, it automatically gets updated on the website.
  • API-first approach – Using GraphQL and REST APIs, the dev team can replace the reliance on spreadsheets, Word, and PDFs and provide teams with frontends to add data, content, and assets to help them do their jobs more efficiently
  • Workflows – Build custom workflows for each team to ensure follow-up tasks are actioned, quality is assured, and accurate information is visible.
  • Diff viewer – Introduce diff viewer into user frontends so product management and manufacturing teams can compare changes as they develop new products.
  • Advanced queries for customer-specific information – Provide customers with secure access to their contracts and product information via a customer portal.
  • Product feedback workflows – Enable customers and salespeople to provide structured customer feedback via a customer portal. Kick-off workflows with the product management teams to analyze feedback in its structured format to innovate products further.
  • Content and process analytics – Content and data produced by manufacturing teams are stored in JSON and are machine readable meaning they can be analyzed and used to understand and improve processes and procedures.

Better Manufacturing Information Management Conclusion

Manufacturing companies often have different processes and procedures. An important aspect of their manufacturing information management is to look at their processes in terms of content, workflows, and customers. Having a process to monitor and manage these aspects of information management can help reduce issues and inefficiencies throughout the organization.

With effective content management, you are killing a number of birds with one stone. Effectively you are handling cross-departmental communication and working methodologies such as manufacturing information management, product information, and customer communications. The benefits of taking a broader headless CMS approach to manufacturing include –

  • Less developer intensive – Reduce the need for multiple systems and let your front and backend developers code with the tools they know and trust. With a code-friendly and standards-based (JSON & RDF) approach, devs will spend less time maintaining the CMS and more time working on the organization’s critical projects.
  • Flexible and extendable processes – Processes and working methods change, new machines get introduced to the factory, and different methodologies get introduced. Taking a schema modeling approach lets you flexibly extend how you deal with this as things change.
  • Faster new product introduction (NPI) cycles – Automating workflows, email reminders, and being able to compare versions of documents will speed up NPI processes and make the business faster to market helping to maintain a competitive advantage.
  • More responsive to customer needs – Bring the voice of your customers into your content. Give them the ability to feedback directly to product management to develop stronger products.
  • Consistent and accurate communications – No more copy-and-paste mistakes. Automated product updates when they change. Global and localized consistency of communication across all regions.
  • Better customer communication – Give customers access to information relevant to them at any time via a customer portal. Reduce the chance of damaging relationships when contracted product volumes are not at agreed levels by providing automated updates and alerts to keep them informed.
  • Automate customer-specific information – Reduce the need for manual inputs into SAP (or other ERP) – open an endpoint and use the API to automatically update pricing and other relevant information to eliminate errors and avoid unhappy customers.

These are some of the manufacturing use cases we’re working on with TerminusCMS. If this sounds interesting to you, get in touch with us for a chat to discuss your requirements.


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