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4 Steps to Turn Your Parts Catalog into an Irresistible Sales & Marketing Tool

September 13, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
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Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) devote most of their sales and marketing resources toward selling new units and discovering untapped markets. This is logical, since the majority of their revenues generally come from new equipment sales.

However, it’s a well-known fact that service and parts sales for capital equipment (that is, commercial and industrial machinery with operating lifespans of a decade or longer) are large—and growing—sources of profits for many OEMs.

Because repair and maintenance services—along with replacement parts and supplies—typically boast higher profit margins than new model sales, these revenue streams can contribute greatly to a manufacturer’s top line.

Printed part lists don't provide a good customer experience

Traditionally, parts were sold by OEMs through one of two channels, either through a dealer network or direct to the equipment owner. Dealers kept printed parts books at the parts counter to help with parts lookup and identification. Owners may have been given a parts list in an Operator’s Manual and a toll-free phone number, at best.

Of course, the Web has blown away the limitations of those old ways of distributing goods and information. Given that disruption, what’s the best way to sell high-margin OEM parts in the Internet age?

#1 Put It Online

Wouldn’t it be great if mechanics, dealers and other part buyers could find a detailed drawing of every single part in a machine and have complete confidence in the accuracy of that information, because it comes from the machine’s maker?

Unfortunately, many companies still manage online sales by providing a generic contact form with a message saying something like, “Let us know what parts you need, your model number and any other information you have.”Digital parts catalogs speed parts lookup and improve customer service

This puts a heavy burden on a potential buyer. I doubt if many customers bother to fill out these forms, but likely decide to call the parts department immediately in order to avoid this unfriendly online experience. Or even worse, a buyer in a hurry will simply perform another online search, seeking an easier way to buy.

Only slightly better than a blank form, the most common format for online parts catalogs is the PDF. In general, these PDF files are not searchable or indexed by search engines, either on the Web or on the OEM website. That means they’ll never appear in search results, and users are required to browse through, page by page, in order to find the assembly or part they’re looking for.

What OEM equipment owners, dealers and other buyers need is an online parts catalog with as much specific detail as possible. That means clear images or drawings, expanded part descriptions, a history of superseded part numbers, availability, inventory locations and other data that can only be provided by the manufacturer. Depending on the software used and the business objective, companies may choose to add eCommerce functionality to the parts catalog and enable direct online sales.

#2 Make It Attractive and Easy to Navigate

The shorthand for this principle is “customer experience.” Some companies value their customers’ time so little that they publish industrial parts lists on web pages with no illustrations and very little context. Just three or four columns with part numbers, prices and a brief description that may or may not be helpful in making a positive ID. What kind of customer experience does this type of parts list provide?

Wouldn’t it be better to have a clear illustration, or a 3D representation, or even an augmented reality (AR) app that make parts lookup fast and simple? And users should be able to search by part name, number, description or other criteria as appropriate. The technology is readily available for those who are prepared to take advantage.Car mechanic fixing car with augmented reality application

For companies that do provide highly interactive electronic parts catalogs, the contrast for users is remarkable. While many people think of parts as commodity items—and believe that buying decisions are primarily based on price—this is simply not true. Buyers value speed and convenience in ordering, and they will pay to get it.

#3 Make Sure It’s Accurate

Of course, ease of ordering doesn’t matter if dealers and equipment owners buy the wrong part. Or have to buy multiple parts because they don’t know which one fits.

Digital parts catalogs provide accurate, updated information

Digital parts catalogs make it easy to keep part information current

How many aftermarket departments track returns and express shipping costs due to customers ordering incorrect part numbers?

In our experience, it’s a subject most people don’t want to talk about. However, we occasionally hear stories about the extreme costs of express freight shipping when an error is made in a critical parts order. And the thousands of dollars an hour that operators lose when machines can’t be repaired on schedule.

Some people view outrageous shipping costs as the price of great customer service and a necessary component of doing business. Wouldn’t it be much greater customer service to actually send buyers the right part the first time?

Achieving close to 100% accuracy is completely realistic with modern parts catalogs that are dynamically generated from a database. Technical publishers don’t have to wait a year before printing the next edition of an outdated paper catalog, they just quickly change the data in a master database and everyone in the world who opens the digital catalog can see the updates right away.

#4 Add Value with Additional Content

In the “on-demand” world of today’s consumer, it’s not good enough to offer the minimum in terms of product support. That means an OEM can’t just publish a non-searchable PDF parts manual and call it a day. Not if they want to stay in business.

For example, people search online for video demonstrations when they need to fix their personal vehicles, and that behavior is leaking over into the commercial and industrial workplace. If you sell equipment that is maintainable by the owner, make sure you’re the first source that customers think of when they need reputable advice.
Digital parts books let you create relationships among parts and other items, create and display kits, and more!

What else can you offer that is related to parts, service and technical support? Is your parts catalog smart enough to show buyers related items when they view a part? Like the seal kit that’s necessary when replacing a drive shaft, or a crush washer that goes along with installing a new bolt?

OEMs are in a unique position in their ability to provide buyers with warranty information, inspection certifications, operating instructions and other proprietary data. Turn that information into a competitive differentiator by exposing as much as possible to users.

It all adds up in a customer’s mind when they think about a manufacturer’s brand reputation and how much loyalty they will feel the next time they decide to make a major equipment purchase.

Remember, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to sell to an existing customer than it is to land a new one. Treat your current product owners at least as well as you treat potential prospects. That means giving online visitors the product information they want and need to keep their machines running.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Digital Transformation

August 17, 2017 Tags: , , , , ,
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What’s behind the currently popular technology buzzwords, “digital transformation” and “digitization”? You’ll find these terms displayed on many technology-oriented B2B websites, from consulting firms to software vendors.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what these companies are offering, or what tangible benefits you’re going to receive after your “transformation”! At Digabit, we want to do a better job of communicating the details of our product offering and its value proposition.

In that spirit, let’s discuss why this thing we’re calling “digitization” is important. Why should manufacturers embrace digital transformation? And how does the idea of digitization get translated into strategy and successful business outcomes?

First, the motive for investing in digital change is simple: the longer you wait, the farther you fall behind your competition.

Do you think the companies that resisted the move from electric typewriters to word processing software for the longest gained some advantage in the marketplace? Or those who waited to switch from locally installed desktop software to a client-server model? In hindsight, it’s easy to see that these transitions were inevitable.

The Move Toward Digital Content

For customers and end users of content, digital means receiving the information you need exactly when you need it, on whatever device is at hand: smart phone, tablet, desktop, or a wearable device like a smartwatch or glasses.

Now the question is, how do you “transform” text and other valuable content from its current form into something that can be delivered to users whenever and wherever they ask for it?

Most people are aware that digital information is different from information stored within a material object like a book. But when technology vendors talk about digital, they’re not simply talking about information stored as bits on a hard drive or a DVD, either.

While people often use “digital” and “electronic” interchangeably, there are clear differences when it comes to information and content management. And the common perception of the term digital has evolved.

Digitization is about more than data formatting

CDs and DVDs store digitally formatted data, but that doesn’t make them “digital” for our purposes.

Technically speaking, digital means information stored as a series of binary digits (normally 0 and 1). However, from the perspective of a company trying to build a digital enterprise, information stored on a DVD is no more digital than the information stored on a magnetic cassette tape.

Electronic Is Not Digital

Electronic documents are fundamentally mirror images of paper documents, simply displayed on a screen. There may be basic search capability in electronic formats, as you’ve probably experienced in text documents created by word processors and text editors. However, these files are still generally stored and managed as separate, disconnected files.

Electronic information in the form of a DVD doesn’t do much more than the cassette tape that’s been around since the 1960s. It stores static information, and you can’t change that information in any meaningful way aside from erasing and replacing it with some other information.

In other words, the data stored on a DVD is certainly digital, in strictly technical terms, but it’s not digitized in the sense of being agile, portable and easily reusable.

PDFs Are Not Digital

More advanced electronic documents, like the latest PDF formats, can offer interaction in the form of user-fillable fields and other features, but they are still not digital. We can mimic some of the capabilities of digital information by searching and indexing the content of a format like PDF, but that requires another type of software to create one additional element: a database.

Digital = Database

The foundation of digital technology is the ability to store and manipulate pieces of data, and further to define (or allow an end user to define) relationships between those data objects.

When you listen to an audio CD or watch a movie on DVD, the sound and images have been converted to a digital format. Aside from that, the information they contain may as well be on a vinyl record album.

Relational vs. Flat Database Architecture

In order to take advantage of the ability to modernize business processes through better data management, modern applications employ a relational database as a core component.

The first generation of databases simply stored related pieces of information in one “flat file” or table.

Flat file databases are still used in many applications where the number of records is relatively small. If you ever use Microsoft Excel to record and sort data in a table, you are essentially creating a flat database.

But within sophisticated software systems, the world has moved on to a more powerful solution, the relational database. Relational databases store information in multiple tables, not just one. That’s what makes it possible to rapidly search millions of records, to enable complex data analysis, and to discover relationships between data entities.

A properly designed business application database can contain hundreds or even thousands of data tables.

Relational database tables vs. flat database

Relational databases let users manipulate and analyze thousands of object properties.

Luckily, you don’t have to understand or remember any of this in order to take advantage of Documoto’s relational database and its ability to search for parts, create associations between machines and all their parts, and suggest purchases in buyers’ shopping carts.

Documoto takes the hard work out of building a hierarchy of digital data that is explicitly designed to organize parts and assemblies. Neither the authors who create parts catalogs or end users see databases or the raw data they contain. The program’s interface prompts catalog creators to upload files and parts data, add tags, and enter additional information, and the application builds the parts information database in the background.

Now you know the magic behind digital data processing within a relational database, but we still haven’t defined digital transformation and how it can impact business processes throughout an organization.

Benefits of a Digital Business Model

We’ve briefly discussed using a database as the foundation to create modern parts catalog in the context of the Documoto platform. However, this is just one potential application that could be part of a larger digital business strategy.

Digitize information to optimize processes and reduce data entry

Data entry…ugh.

When you have parts data stored in a non-proprietary format in a database, you have the flexibility to use that data in any number of ways. You can synchronize and exchange data with other application databases, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

One major goal of digitization is to automate manual processes like data entry. Entering information about a parts order should generally require very little decision making, so there’s no reason to use valuable human labor for that chore.

With software applications like Documoto and ERP systems, there’s no need. You can store pricing information, product inventory and other data in the ERP’s database, while managing part numbers, descriptions, and assembly drawings in Documoto.

When it’s time to display a parts catalog to an end user, data is pulled from whichever database has the relevant information.

Digital Workflows Optimize Business Processes

Setting up relationships between two (or more) applications requires some technical savvy, but integrations like this are the backbone of many digital transformation strategies. This allows you to store and manage one set of data, but let that data flow and be re-used wherever it’s needed to optimize business processes.

So, your aftermarket sales reps see the same parts data in a shopping cart as your service team sees in the parts books. Dealers, distributors and equipment owners can be shown different prices, pulled from the ERP where price lists are stored. There’s no need to create three sets of price documents, because the application knows to show the right information to the right user.

The information is dynamic, meaning application interfaces get information from the appropriate databases in real time and display live data. Not last week’s or last year’s data, like you might find in a simple PDF or a printed catalog.

This article only scratches the surface of the opportunities open to companies that want to maximize operational efficiency by improving the use of data and building digital workflows.

If you’re wondering whether your aftermarket operations can benefit from implementing a relational database system to manage parts information, publish accurate digital part catalogs, and empower online part sales, contact the Digabit sales team today!

4 Manufacturers Getting The Most ROI Out Of Electronic Parts Catalogs

August 10, 2017 Tags: , , , , , ,
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Every manufacturing company should have a digitization strategy, click but some sectors are more suited than others for electronic parts catalogs.

We keep hammering home this point, but it’s true—the future of manufacturing is digital. Gone are the days where your technical publishing wants to update a single part in dozens of parts books. We’ve passed a time where customers want to make a call or send a fax to place an order.

But, is it worth it to put in the time and resources to make the switch to electronic parts catalog (EPCs)s? Based on the results of our customers, we’d say yes. The ROI has been enormous—from the decrease in time to publish changes, to the increase in revenue from online parts sales.

Let’s take a look at four types of companies that can gain the most ROI benefit from electronic parts catalogs and parts information in a relational database in the cloud.

1. LA Metro (Transit Agencies)

It may come as a surprise, but transit agencies that have a lot of parts they need to move for repairs and maintenance are the perfect candidates for electronic parts catalogs.

LA Metro BusWhen you have thousands of buses and hundreds of rail cars that are used to transport millions of people annually, keeping those vehicles in service is not only a priority for moving customers, but also a part of keeping in line with federal regulations for state of good repair. In addition, they are also looking for solutions that will increase productivity and keep costs low.

Time spent in the shop for maintenance might mean missed routes and angry customers. For repairs, maintenance teams need to be able to find parts and order them from their supplier or internal warehouse. When the parts look up ordering system is slow and the information is outdated, mechanics lose valuable time that could be spent on repair tasks.

Electronic parts catalogs solve many of these issues. Administrators can update part information with an integrated set of tools, and make updates instantaneously. Mechanics can log in to a computer, use the search capabilities to find parts and request them through the system. With a guarantee that the information is correct, mechanics no longer worry about retrieving the wrong part and spend less time searching.

A perfect example of transit using EPCs successfully is LA Metro. Since implementing Documoto, they now have 99.9%  order accuracy and an increase in mechanic productivity. Metro is one of a half dozen major U.S. transit systems who have successfully adopted Documoto to modernize service operations.

Read the full case study here. 

2. Atlas Copco (Construction Equipment)

atlas copco machineryWhen you’re a construction equipment company with a large customer base spread around the globe, having accurate parts books is necessary to keep your users happy. For these equipment users, having a machine that is down while waiting for a part means they’re losing money every day. If they’re in a remote location that takes additional time to ship to, getting the order right the first time is crucial. Because these customers are in different time zones, another hurdle is making it easy for them to order parts in the first place.

Using a relational database to create EPCs allows technical publishers to make changes and have that information update to the electronic parts catalogs in real-time. When users look up parts, they know that the information is accurate. By integrating the digital catalogs with an ERP system, a storefront can be created for customers to purchase their parts.

Thanks to this simplified parts lookup and order process, dealers and equipment owners can buy parts online, 24/7, with no backlog to fulfill orders. Not only does this cut down on fulfillment time, but it also creates satisfied customers.

Companies like Atlas Copco are using EPCs and a digital storefront to sell parts online and are seeing a direct impact on their bottom line. In just over a year, they’ve had a 64% increase in online sales, and a 4% increase in overall parts revenue. For a company that see billions of dollars a year in profits, that is a huge monetary increase, from something as simple as offering online ordering and accurate parts data.

Read the full case study here.

3. Hiperbaric (Food Processing Equipment)

If your company’s reputation relies on providing after-sales support to make hiperbaricsure your equipment is running smoothly and safely, having assistance readily available to customers and dealers is paramount. Many companies spend a lot of resources staffing support desks so they can respond to questions, create service requests and order parts for customers. The problem is that many companies only provide this support to customers during regular business hours, and those employee’s time isn’t always used efficiently. Time is wasted looking up information or answering questions that could be used filling more requests.

Having a software solution that not only can create interactive parts catalogs, but also store support documentation and connect to an existing ERP system can be the difference between providing mediocre service and outstanding service for customers.

Through an online portal, customers and field service technicians can log in, view service information and look up parts for only the equipment that the company has designated. Instead of having to call to ask questions, the most current information is readily available at any time. This cuts down on the time the support desk spends on the phone and answering emails as well as the time technicians need to spend looking up information when they are out doing repairs.

With EPCs and online libraries for parts documents, Hiperbaric saw a 25% increase in help desk efficiency and a 25% time savings for technicians. And in just 11 working days, they were able to recover the cost of the digital parts catalog creator subscription.

Read the case study here.

4. Viking Range (Consumer Appliances)

Technical publishing and engineering teams are already stretched thin, especially for manufacturers with dozens of product lines and hundreds of pieces of equipment. Old processes for creating and updating parts catalogs require publishers to make updates to each individual parts book, creating the book in the first place would take nearly a week to complete, and the time delay between updating the books and getting the information online could be extensive.

EPC software makes those problems a distant memory. Using templates, creating the parts books takes a fraction of the time. Thanks to the relational database architecture of EPCs, when one piece of information is updated in the database, it updates every parts catalog where the data is found, saving hours of time for publishers.

Viking Range has the data to prove the benefits. Since using EPC software, they’ve had a 73% reduction in parts book creation time and a 99% reduction in system update time.

Read the full case study here. 

Why You Can’t Sell Spare Parts on Amazon

August 2, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , ,
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A Big New Player in the Online B2B Marketplace

Amazon’s B2B marketplace, Amazon Business, has received a lot of media attention lately. Sales are booming on the platform, and why not? Flexible account and payment options, fast shipping, price comparisons, what’s not to like?

But there’s one big market that neither Amazon nor Amazon Business has cracked.

While B2B and B2C customers alike have come to expect Amazon-like experiences when buying online, the truth is…Amazon isn’t designed to sell parts for highly complex machines and equipment.

Large original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), who make things from heavy construction equipment to assembly line machinery, can’t effectively sell spare parts for their machines on Amazon.

exploded view rotary vane pump

Need new rotary vanes for your pump? Good luck finding them on Amazon!

If you make equipment with lots of moving parts, you need a system that is built to manage all those parts, while also understanding that machines are a collection of a related set of parts and assemblies.

Have you ever seen an exploded assembly illustration with a parts list on Amazon? You haven’t, and there’s a reason for that. Amazon’s eCommerce interface is designed to display single products, and it serves that purpose extremely well.

Of course, Amazon’s commerce platform is backed by a powerful database, but the database architecture is not organized to recognize hierarchies of parts, sub-assemblies, assemblies, and machines.

The purpose of an illustrated parts catalog is to make finding parts fast and accurate, but Amazon’s parts lookup is extremely limited: you can conduct a keyword search by part number or name. If you have experience in the OEM aftermarket arena, you know how reliable a 5-year-old part number is, which is not at all.

Service workers, dealers and equipment owners often need a clear visual reference in order to identify a manufacturer’s part number or description. That’s why parts books printed on paper are still seen as valuable tools, even in this digital age.

What is the best current solution for modern OEM part sales?

A number of commercially available applications focus on managing complex parts data and producing digital catalogs. Some of these, however, are only useful for parts lookup and have no commerce capabilities.

Digabit’s Documoto is one system that combines a powerful database to manage part information, a responsive interface that makes finding the right part simple for any user, and the ability for customers to buy parts directly from the digital catalog.

Documoto is also designed to support data exchanges with other applications, like enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. This is the key to building efficient processes in a digitally focused organization. Data and information must be able to flow between applications and business units with a minimum of data duplication and human intervention.

Documoto’s cloud technology and database architecture may appear straightforward, but they are truly leading edge for manufacturers who want to manage and sell thousands of parts online. If you’d like to explore the potential of growing revenue through online sales, while optimizing order processing and fulfillment, you should check out Documoto.

5 Steps For Easy Content Migration

July 26, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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For manufacturing companies, centralizing parts data from disconnected sources into a single Electronic Parts Catalog (EPC) system continues to gain popularity. Moving to an EPC system enables efficient content reuse, greater control and the easy creation of both online catalogs and exportable/printable parts books.

There are some clear benefits for companies who make the switch to EPCs. However, implementing a new solution is a major investment in both time and resources for a company.  And migrating technical documentation and parts information has a reputation for being painful and frustrating.

Content migration doesn’t have to be like that. After helping our customers transfer hundreds of thousands of pages of parts information, we’ve distinguished some best practices along the way.

Here are five steps you can take to make your content and data migration process successful.

1. Set The Stage

Make sure you have the right team in place.

A project can’t get off the ground, unless you have identified the people who are going to be doing the work. Most importantly, have a project owner who is managing the process from a business perspective and can give clear guidance to the other members of the team.

Get access to all of the data/content you want to migrate.

Take the time to understand the “where” and the “how” of the data you need to have migrated. Do you need special permissions to access certain data? Do the people with access to the data work on different time zones? Will it take weeks for approval to migrate content? Think about this before you start so that you can create a reasonable timeline of expectations and avoid delays down the line.

Get your target system ready to receive data.

We recommend choosing a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform, because it makes the SaaS provider responsible for being ready and accessible for you on time. Work with your content migration team to make sure they understand what is expected. Set up trainings and provide learning materials so that the team knows how to use the system.

2. Start With An End Goal In Mind

Major content migration projects aren’t something you can jump right into and hope for success. They need to be planned out so that the project doesn’t go off track or end up being unmanageable.

What do you want to accomplish?

Hold planning sessions with your team to define the goal you want to achieve and to decide on the scope of the data/content to migrate.

Determine how the new system will be used.

A content migration project for items that will only be used as reference will look very difference from a content migration project for data that will be used for placing orders. Decide what the goal will be for the content/data once it’s in place. When determining goals, use your available resources. In particular, talk with your current channel users. Ask them what they want, how they’d use it, and then consider if their preferences line up with your business goals.

Consider what is unique about the content.

What defines each piece of data/content you want to migrate? These answers will impact on how you migrate the information. The goal should be to have a clean and manageable data set at the end.

3. Get Organized

Once you’ve got the right team in place and you’ve figured out what you want to accomplish, it’s time to get organized and make sure you’re migrating the right data and content.

Pick the essentials that you want to display to end users of the new target system and pinpoint a “golden version” of all Bill of Materials, drawings and catalogs. Avoid having redundant versions and migrating unnecessary content/data.

For example, is migrating a rarely-used, 30-year old operations manual necessary? Or can you just migrate the newest version? Consider these things when organizing your content.

4. Take Things One Step At A Time

Migrating content doesn’t have to be done all at once. Think it through as you plan the order and choose a timeline that makes the most sense.

  • Migrate the bestsellers first.
  • Migrate a product line for a specific range of model years.
  • Migrate current PDFs and other static content first, then move on to more robust data/content.
  • Migrate most-used data for a beta group of users. Watch and see how they use it before migrating the rest.

5. Focus on Quality Over Quantity

Some people think that success for migration means moving all of the parts catalogs and other content in your current database over to the new one. However, if some of the content/data is of bad quality, it will not prove very useful in your EPC.

Take ownership and care, and validate content early and often throughout the migration. One of the biggest pain points and failures we see is when a project team makes a plan, gets going, and then waits until the end to validate if the data is correct and high quality. At that point, the ship has sailed and it’s another massive project to get it fixed. We advocate for validating information little by little as you go.

By following these steps, you can create a thoughtful, structured rollout that will lead to a successful completed project.

 

content migration checklist

What Comes After ECM?

July 19, 2017 Tags: , , , , , ,
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In January of 2017, research firm Gartner announced that the term “enterprise content management” (ECM) is headed for an early retirement. The new market category to describe how large businesses capture, store and distribute information will now be called, at least by Gartner, “content services.”

Sorry, that doesn’t mean Sharepoint is being decommissioned as of 2017! However, it does signal a shift in high-level business thinking that reflects the realities and experiences of information workers over the past 20 years.

What Gartner is saying in its report isn’t that enterprise content is going away, or that we’re not going to manage it any longer. But that enterprise-class, complicated platforms intended to capture all a large company’s various types of content are evolving and being replaced with a new class of solutions.

Part of the problem is the complexity required of systems that are intended to manage all types of content for all types of workers. This complexity, along with a lack of user training, leads to reduced adoption and ineffectiveness.

Complex enterprise content management system

One of the goals of the traditional ECM is to eliminate the negative consequences of information silos. Silos occur when two or more business units within one company both create, use and/or maintain different versions of the same information.

However, providing access to a platform where all users could view the same documents did not magically solve the silo problem. That’s because the real problems of managing content originate from cultural and business process challenges.

So, if ECM is dead, what exactly is different about “content services”?

According to a report from the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), The Next Wave: Moving from ECM to Intelligent Information Management, in the future we’ll be managing information with distributed applications whose functionality is more closely aligned to a particular business use case.

With modern cloud and SaaS applications, integrations can make it much easier to share data using APIs, web services and application endpoints. So, even if every department uses its own hand-picked application to manage critical data, that data can be shared and re-used within software systems used by other departments. Application silos are okay, but no information silos allowed when optimizing business processes!

So, instead of trying to accommodate every user need or force organizations to commit significant resources on customization, business users are moving toward applications that excel in one major functional area. This modular approach fits with the agile mentality in place at many modern technology firms, as it enables faster implementation, easier adoption and less customization on the path to providing value.

What Manufacturers Need to Know About Cloud Technologies

March 30, 2015 Tags: , ,
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Equipment manufacturers working to navigate the rapidly changing business landscape in today’s economy may be hard pressed to find the time and resources to launch new applications, roll out new products or implement new technologies while simultaneously keeping up with competitors and internal deadlines. However, with the use of cloud computing, these and other realities are made all the more possible and convenient for manufacturers that adopt this new technology.

But cloud computing capabilities are sometimes viewed as a technology of the future – advancements that will someday be useful, but just not yet. This logic, however, has the ability to set manufacturers back years if they do not quickly adopt the cloud and its many uses. While some firms sit on the sidelines and continue to work within their current technological frameworks, others are actively engaging and seeing the benefits of cloud technologies in real time, from the production floor to the warehouse to the customer.

To avoid being left behind in the global transition toward cloud technology, here are six things manufacturers need to know:

1. Updating older technologies is easier than one may think

Switching over to a new system can be quite the daunting experience, taking months or even years to fully complete. But in the future, equipment manufacturers will no longer need to further update their hardware and on-site software, because the cloud system is updated automatically without the need for intervention on the part of manufacturers. Suppliers of the cloud framework remove weaknesses, improve efficiency and introduce new applications on the back end so manufacturers don’t have to set time and money aside to come up with their own technological solutions that would traditionally come from an internal IT department. These include fixes to any bugs and protection against any potential cyber security threats as well.

“Having a collaborative infrastructure in place can make transactions and data sharing more efficient.”

2. Digital information isn’t stored on site

Just as the name implies, the cloud operates in an invisible network of sensors and signals, communicating and transferring data immediately upon entry across entire airwaves regardless of location. The days of housing large data centers with millions of dollars worth of hardware on site are over – not to mention, the need to purchase new software or update systems in accordance with the latest technology is removed as well.

3. Analytics can remove inefficiencies

Some may falsely believe the removal of in-house networks could endanger the posterity of vital company documents and data. However, manufacturing data is actually stored in the cloud itself and can be accessed at the touch of a button. One step further, this data can be categorized and collated to serve a more useful purpose, granting manufacturers the ability to pull information from the cloud without having to wade through vast webs of in-house files.

Additionally, the data being transferred is useful in removing inefficiencies previous methods may have created. Instead of using physical parts catalogs, these indexes can be moved to the cloud, making it easier and more transparent for manufacturers and dealers to follow up on customer orders.

4. International business is more manageable

Instead of having to regulate and monitor the security and efficiency of external hard drives, company-issued computers and other devices, manufacturers use the cloud to consolidate daily workflows and facilitate greater engagement across borders, the Harvard Business Review reported. Whether an employee is working from home, a new overseas partner is securing an international deal or operators are improving global supply chain efficiency, the ability to log into a single browser at any point in time or location streamlines communication. And when conducting international business, having a collaborative infrastructure in place can make transactions and data sharing more efficient.

5. Sales and products can be tracked in real time

As electronic parts catalogs are moved online, so too are spreadsheets and reporting systems that keep tabs on all incoming and outgoing equipment. With access to the same network within the cloud, manufacturers can see when a part has made it through the production process, where it is stored in the warehouse, to whom it is sold and for how much in real time. The only requirement is that users enter data related to that specific part before passing it on. This allows owners to track sales and individual products and identify which items are performing best, providing key insight into customer demand.

6. Its adoption will be permanent

The permanence and success of cloud technology can be seen daily, whether it’s a consumer using a smartphone or an automobile connected to advanced global positioning systems.  Research institute LNS Research indicated more than 90 percent of software providers are actively investing more heavily in cloud capabilities, highlighting just how much the technological landscape has shifted. In addition, traditional manufacturing software providers are creating more electronic parts catalogs, essentially directing manufacturers toward the way of the future. For example, Documoto allows equipment manufacturers to effectively update and maintain parts catalogs conveniently at any time or location.

To learn more about how you can modernize your parts catalog with Documoto, watch our free on-demand webinar.

 White Paper - Increase parts sales with Service Lifecycle Management

How the Adoption of Disruptive Technologies Are Driving Growth for Manufacturers

March 27, 2015 Tags: , , , ,
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There’s a wealth of articles, research, and analysis heralding every scientific breakthrough and technological advance as the next big thing that will change the face of manufacturing.

McKinsey Global Institute estimates that disruptive technologies like the rise of mobile, knowledge work automation, the Internet of Things, cloud technology, and 3D printing, could account for an economic impact of up to $33 trillion by 2025.

Leading executives understand that their strategic competitive advantages might erode or be enhanced by emerging technical solutions. Disruptive technologies could potentially raise productivity, attract more customers, inspire new market strategies, and drive substantial growth.

Adopting these technologies is no longer optional or convenient. It’s a necessity to remain competitive. But how do you know which advances are actually worth your while? Unfortunately, as MGI reported, “Business leaders can’t wait until evolving technologies are having their effects to determine which developments are truly big things.”

While most manufacturers have a tendency to focus new technology investments on driving efficiencies and reducing costs, roughly a quarter of CEOs are planning to use emerging technology for new growth opportunities. Matt Reilly, the senior managing director of Accenture Strategy North America suggests more manufacturers do the same, sharing this equation: “Efficiency plus technology equals new capacities that create opportunities for new business models.”

So let’s take a look at some manufacturing enterprises that are actively adopting new technologies like IoT to drive opportunities for growth.

Union Pacific

One of our asset-intensive customers, Union Pacific, has reduced the number of train derailments caused by failed bearings by 75% with the help of near-real-time analysis of data collected by sensors. With that success under its built, the company is now focusing its R&D efforts on additional sensor technologies, like accelerometers that can feel for bumps that would suggest a faulty track.

As CIO Lynden Tennison explained to Information Week, the whole area of “sensor-based, network-based diagnostic and predictive analytics” will be the biggest technology opportunity in his industry for the next 10 or 15 years.

John Deere

John Deere has implemented several moves toward customer-facing IoT. By incorporating sensors in its equipment, the company can now do remote, wireless diagnostics of some tractors and combines.

Eventually, John Deere wants its harvesting equipment to inform a database that then informs tillage equipment, which, in turn, informs irrigation equipment, according to James Heppelmann of PTC.

Whirlpool

Whirlpool Corporation has found tremendous value in its first forays into creating connected appliances. Introducing convenience features like starting the washing machine from an iPhone have garnered consumer interest, and the company’s stock has continued to climb since introducing these optimized appliances over the past year.

Rather than connecting with customers every ten years when they need a new appliance, Whirlpool is now engaging with their customer base on a much more consistent basis. The result gives the company a deeper understanding of how its customers interact with Whirlpool products.

Which disruptive technology is your company planning to adopt? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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5 Ways Equipment Manufacturers Are Building Customer Loyalty

October 6, 2014 Tags: , , , ,
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At Digabit, we spend a lot of time talking to our customers, and I’ve found that one of the main reasons manufacturers love Documoto is that it creates a rich aftermarket experience for their customers and their dealers.

Manufacturers use our solution to enhance coordination between their warehouses and dealers, update and distribute accurate parts information in a timely manner, and, above all, give their customers an easy way to identify and order the right part. READ MORE

A Simple Guide to Cloud Computing

September 12, 2014 Tags: ,
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Why does it matter and is it secure?

Many manufacturers find the hot new area of cloud computing enticing, but intimidating. Most don’t fully understand what the cloud is, and how they can take advantage of it. Even multi-billion-dollar OEMs with advanced IT departments remain wary of having their valuable IP floating in something as nebulous-seeming as the cloud.

What is the cloud?

I am often asked, “Just what is the cloud? It’s hosted software, right?”

Yes, in the simplest terms, the cloud comprises software and hardware services running out on the Internet, rather than on your physical hardware, such as your PC or your company’s servers.   But, the cloud is much more than that. First, you should understand that the cloud is not a single physical machine. The cloud is a network of advanced servers, performing diverse functions. Some of the cloud’s servers provide computing power to run applications, other host files, and still others provide shared services.

True cloud applications run in virtual machines that have the ability to scale as needed to meet increased demand. What does that mean to you, the manufacturer? As your customers look to you to provide more and more feature-rich applications to support their equipment through the service lifecycle, cloud computing enables you to meet that demand without scaling up your IT infrastructure.

Is the cloud safe?

At Digabit, securing your data is our number one priority. We combine state-of-the-art physical security with hardened software best practices to ensure that your data is safe. Our applications are written from the ground up to be cloud focused, with security and privacy in the forefront.

Digabit’s Documoto platform runs in secured facilities on the backbone of the Internet. The locations take advantage of a strong network topology, multiple power grids, and close proximity to fully redundant fiber-optic feeds from Tier 1 providers.

Our cloud provider is in business solely to host mission critical systems with better than 99% uptime. You can depend on us to keep your information impregnable, and Documoto operating efficiently. The safety measures in our physical and network infrastructure reflect that commitment.

Digabit adheres to industry best practices to protect the storage and transportation of our customer data. For example, all communication between a client PC and our servers must be secured via Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). This is a cryptographic protocol that provides communications security over the Internet; SSL is specifically designed to prevent eavesdropping, and tampering with data. In addition, we authenticate each session, greatly reducing the possibility of session hijacking.

Access to the Documoto production system is strictly controlled via the principle of “least privilege,” giving access to the network to only those who need it, and granting only the powers which are absolutely essential for each user to do his/her work.

We engineered Documoto as a secured multi-tenant cloud environment, with virtual security walls between each Documoto customer. Each customer (“tenant” in cloud terms) is given a Tenant Encrypted Key (TEK), which serves at a digital gateway to their data—and only their data.

When a user is created, he/she is associated with only one tenant. As authorized users log into a customer’s Documoto system, our application stack ensures that the data served up is from the tenant to which the user belongs. Furthermore, our security model allows for very granular information access and privileges. You control who in your organization has access to which documents by separating users into “user groups,” each possessing unique access permissions.

All documents are vaulted. This ensures that they cannot be accessed without logging into the system—they can never be retrieved directly by typing a URL into a browser. With our secured application layer, there is no way for any tenant to access the information or documents of another tenant.

Rest assured, your Documoto data is secure!

 Webinar - 10 easy ways to bring parts books into the 21st century

Infor CloudSuite

August 27, 2014 Tags: , , ,
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Back in March of this year, our partner Infor, announced their CloudSuite in this press release. They now offer a cloud based solution for the common ERP software among manufactures, like LN and SyteLine. In the press release Infor states, “…a SaaS pricing model will enable Infor CloudSuite to change the way enterprise software is delivered to and consumed by customers.” It seems as though more and more enterprise software offerings have a SaaS option. Infor is offering an UpgradeX program to migrate customers using an on premise solution. They state the additional benefits customers will receive using the CloudSuite are:
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