Skip to Content

Why Canadian Manufacturing Is Poised For A Data-Driven Transformation

Are You Getting Everything You Need Out Of Your CRM Platform?

Traditionally when manufacturers think of data, their minds might immediately go to the plant floor. How can they get more efficient with the assets they use?

When Michael Janney was working as a CIO at a manufacturing company, he once asked his colleagues in sales what seemed like an innocuous question: when it came time to meet with a key account, how did they prepare?

“The answer was— and this is typical in the manufacturing sector — ‘Well, I call customer service,’” Janney, who is now Vice-President of Industries at Salesforce, recalled in recent virtual event hosted by Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME). “The customer service team would then have to log in to multiple systems, that were siloed from each other and sales’ access, in order to provide them the information they needed in order to visit a customer.”

For Janney, this was just one example of how manufacturers need to think differently about the opportunities they have to pursue business transformation by embracing digital technologies.

Traditionally when manufacturers think of data, for instance, their minds might immediately go to the plant floor, Janney said: How can they get more efficient with the assets they use?

While there’s plenty of advantages to be had in focusing there, Janney said they should also be thinking about how technology could help them become more strategic in the way they leverage business and operational data.

“Just think about marketing data,” he suggested. “What are the marketing trends, how are we making sure we’re meeting customers where they need to be met? More importantly, how do we analyze this and other types of data, like sales, to get predictive and improve the maintenance of the assets?”

The Urgency To Stay Competitive

Though organizations in other industries may have adopted digital technologies to enhance their sales, marketing and service operations already, the manufacturing sector may still be in the early stages of the journey.

According to Matt Poirier, the CME’s Director of Trade Policy, this may be in part because of all the other challenges facing the sector, including the impact of economic fluctuations and an increasingly tight labour market. The stakes for Canadian firms that want to stay competitive may be particularly high.

“Our sector’s past performance on investment, such as technology, machinery and equipment has lagged our global peers,” he said. “It’s a chronic and significant problem and structural to Canadian business.”

David Linton, a partner with BDO Canada who provides consulting to manufacturing firms, noted that some firms are taking important steps by embedding sensors on equipment and connecting them as part of the Internet of Things (IoT). However that means they’ll have even more storehouses of information to sort through and act upon.

“Big data is not a trend. We’re not going to reduce the volume of data we’re going to be collecting in future years,” he said. “This is an onward and upward kind of journey.”

Canadian manufacturers should be setting goals to both analyze the historical data they’ve already collected and choose the right tools to use it to inform their decision-making, Linton added.

Making The Cultural Shift

This might be something of a cultural shift for manufacturers that haven’t traditionally thought of themselves as data-driven organizations, said Kim Waslovich, Senior Client Director at Toronto-based consulting firm Slalom.

“As we work with organizations here in Canada in manufacturing, we really try to get them to think about how to maximize that data to drive benefits in their organization,” she said. “This is not about collecting data for the sake of data.”

Instead, Waslovich recommended an approach based on a bold vision for making use of data, as well as ensuring data is accessible and transparent to all the stakeholders who need it. Other key elements of a data-driven strategy include “guardianship,” or the ability to trust the data you have, and teaching “data literacy” so that it can be well-understood by the right people.

Janney said Canadian manufacturers could start small with pilot projects to become more accustomed to digital transformation. At his previous employer, for example, using a platform like Salesforce for Manufacturing could break down the silos and allow sales people to get immediate insight into customers’ service histories.

“They could see the order status — whether it’s scheduled or awaiting scheduling. They can look at that information even if they were sitting in the parking lot of the customer before they walked into the building,” he said. “That meant the customer service team’s time was freed up to focus on external customer issues.”

Technology Fit For The Job

The good news is that technology has matured to surface both operational and business data and bring it together in ways that bring insights to benefit the entire manufacturing organization, Janney said. This includes platforms like Mulesoft to assist with data integration, or Tableau to visualize and more easily comprehend data, he said.

Operationally, this means that manufacturers can hone their ability to predict when a piece of machinery is likely to break and plan for maintenance during scheduled downtime, helping to minimize unscheduled downtime. On the business side, it means they’ll get a more accurate read on marketing data or sales win rates to drive greater opportunities with prospects.

“The customers you’re serving could be internal or external,” Janney said, “but this is really about how to take all of this data and make sense of it to benefit the customer — to really change their experience for the better.”

Get timely updates and fresh ideas delivered to your inbox.