Based in New York City with more than 73,000 customers in 194 nations, Infor leverages “the cloud” and big data to supply industry-specific information management applications engineered to improve operational efficiencies while being able to quickly adapt to changes in business demands.
Jeff Nedwick is strategy director at the company’s Automotive Industry Solutions division, and he recently answered a series of questions from Aftermarket Business World about how this technology can assist aftermarket businesses.
Q: What exactly is big data?
A: Big data, or big data and analytics technology, is any technology that facilitates the capture, consolidation, dissemination and analysis of data coming from any source, in any format and at any speed.
As the world becomes more instrumented and “things” are able to publish information about their performance, their condition and their environment to the Internet, the volume, variety and velocity of data that can be analyzed increases dramatically. Technologies that can extract insight from all that data in a timely and efficient manner can provide tremendous value to those organizations that are able to harness it.
Q: How is this technology being applied at the manufacturing level?
A: Manufacturers – particularly automotive manufacturers – can leverage big data technology in several ways. The most common use case is predictive maintenance. But for automakers, predictive maintenance can refer to optimizing the maintenance of plant floor equipment – through real-time monitoring of the equipment and its operating environment, or monitoring of the vehicle itself. The latter use case involves real time analysis of vehicle sub-systems, which can alert the driver of an impending component failure and route them to the nearest repair shop with the replacement part in stock.
Considering the broad range of operating conditions and product configurations, identifying the root cause of a product defect can be an extremely difficult task for automotive OEMs. But the ability to quickly analyze fault codes from data collected by sensors embedded with the vehicle can help automakers spot trends faster and dramatically shorten the time it takes to isolate the problem.
One of the ways automakers are trying to differentiate their vehicles in today’s extremely competitive market is by providing a better customer experience. Typically that equates to extending the driver’s connected lifestyle into the vehicle and that is done by utilizing big data and cloud technologies to synthesize vehicle data with driver data and present it on the world’s largest mobile platform – the vehicle’s infotainment system.
And finally, savvy automotive companies recognize the monetary value of all that vehicle data and are looking into ways to use it to create a new source of revenue by reselling it to third parties who can use it for extremely targeted and timely product offerings.
Q: How can aftermarket manufacturers benefit from cloud technology?
A: Aftermarket manufacturers are no different to other automotive vehicle or components supplier manufacturers in that they now recognize that they can no longer afford to be in the data center business. Capital that is currently tied up in owning and maintaining an IT infrastructure could be better used to fund R&D efforts to develop innovative new products or to expand manufacturing capacity to support growth initiatives.
A good example of this is Ambac International, a global manufacturer of diesel fuel systems, who recently decided to move to the cloud because their aggressive growth objectives were being constrained by their legacy on premise ERP system.
Cloud-based solutions have a lower total cost of ownership and help lower overall IT costs through reductions in data center spending and in IT personnel costs.
Q: Is this technology applicable to suppliers vending to OEMs?
A: Automotive suppliers have a great deal to gain by moving their enterprise systems to the cloud. They live in a world of razor-thin margins where every dollar not directly tied to the development of innovative new products, expansion into new markets or adding capacity to keep up with customer demands must be heavily scrutinized.
As growth in emerging markets continues to outpace both NAFTA and Europe, OEMs are investing in manufacturing facilities in or near the markets they will sell into and they’re taking their suppliers with them. As a cost of doing business, suppliers are often required to enter into high-risk operations – operations that provide uncertain futures and in locations short on IT resources – on short notice. Dedicated, on premise IT infrastructures and support staff make little sense in these highly volatile environments. A better solution is to utilize cloud-based enterprise systems which can be stood up much quicker, require fewer on site IT resources and dramatically reduce the need for capital.
Suppliers to OEMs also carry more R&D responsibility than ever before. This R&D requires access to capital – capital that is too often tied up in supporting on-premise enterprise systems.
Q: What are some of the latest developments in aftermarket supply chain management?
A: Automotive aftermarket supply chains are already some of the most complex in the world and they are getting even more complex thanks to growth in emerging markets and its requirement to forge partnerships with local suppliers. Increased interest in connected car/autonomous cars is also adding complexity to the supply chain by attracting many non-traditional suppliers from outside the automotive industry.
Management of these incredibly complex supply chains requires tools that provide visibility into every link of the supply chain and identify possible supply chain bottlenecks before they delay shipment of parts to a customer and potentially halt production. Such solutions foster collaboration by providing an intuitive user experience and easily integrate into existing ERP systems.
Q: How can this technology assist at the warehouse level?
A: Careful management of the entire supply chain is critical when responding to last minute schedule changes from an OEM – a breakdown in one link of the supply chain can be the difference between on-time delivery of parts to the customer or shutting down their assembly line.
Advanced supply chain management solutions automatically notify suppliers when a schedule change is made. Embedded trading partner profiles ensure that customer-specific shipping labels, documents and Advanced Shipment Notifications (ASNs) are automatically generated by the supplier. Barcode readers in the customer’s warehouse verify the accuracy of the received shipment, automatically notify relevant personnel, update production systems and authorize payment to the supplier.
The entire process can be tracked by production planners and purchasing personnel from their desktop or a mobile device via easy-to-use, customizable dashboards and alerts.
Q: Is this technology available and affordable for small to mid-sized distributors?
A: Yes. All participants in the supply chain can benefit from these intuitive, affordable tools, especially when deployed in the cloud.
Q: Can it be applied to customer relations management?
A: Aftermarket parts manufacturers who sell to both OEMs and to retailers/distributors face unique CRM challenges. The technology should include an embedded, up-to-date trading partner catalog that eliminates the need for the supplier to manually keep track of changes to data exchange requirements for every customer or create a data exchange for every new customer added.
Q: Is it also suitable for customer billing purposes?
A: For aftermarket suppliers that also sell to OEMs, EDI capabilities embedded within customer management solutions integrate complex CUM (Cumulative) billing processes with ERP capabilities are a necessity. Web-based EDI services that run in the cloud reduce EDI Value Added Network (VAN) charges while seamlessly integrating with on premise ERP systems.
Q: Are retailers using this technology?
A: Many retailers and distributors use cloud-based solutions to electronically exchange data shipping, billing and order status information with manufacturers.
Q: Is it practical for auto repair shops to utilize?
A: Automotive dealers typically use the EDI capabilities embedded within a Dealer Management System for the exchange of data with their OEM customers. However, a cloud-based EDI solution could be very valuable for exchanging order, billing and shipping information with the many suppliers of aftermarket parts and services.
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