Manufacturing remains the largest, and in many ways, most vibrant, segment of the economy. It contributes £6.7tn, globally. Contrary to widespread perceptions, UK manufacturing is strong – currently the world's ninth largest industrial nation. Manufacturing makes up 45 percent of UK exports and directly employs 2.7 million people.
Spearheading the success is the rise in digital – both in terms of data and processes.
Data is a key enabler in what has become the always-on state of manufacturing today. As in other industries, digital transformation is taking hold, and businesses must rely on data integrated across disparate management solutions ranging from ERP to workforce management. IT departments must be able to guarantee data availability and instant recovery from outages by deploying systems that provide constant availability, backup and replication, and centralised management of virtualised data environments.
If manufacturers are to survive and thrive in this new digital age, these five rules will hold them in good stead.
1. Adapt or die
Manufacturers that don’t adapt to changing markets and innovation become less and less competitive and ultimately fail. The industry is entering what McKinsey & Co. labels a dynamic new phase where traditional views are outdated and manufacturers are driven by technology and the pursuit of emerging markets. Software, machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are recasting the definition of a manufactured “product” from simply physical objects into smart, connected devices that “are reshaping industry boundaries and creating entirely new industries,” according to Harvard Business Review.
In this new, highly competitive environment, supply chains and distribution channels are inextricably linked through the manufacturing plant, and any hiccup anywhere in the line— from source materials to end customer— adversely impacts operations. This means rapid backup and disaster recovery times are of paramount importance.
2. Ensure always-on operations
Data knows no physical boundaries. This enables businesses to establish and support global footprints. Manufacturing operations are embracing new capabilities vital to competitiveness such as IoT, advanced analytics, networking to the end customer, and post-production enhancements through the delivery of software that provides updates and bug fixes.
These new capabilities also empower manufacturers to reel in constant streams of data from products in use in the field, which can lead to product improvement and better predictive maintenance, and in turn, greater customer loyalty. But they also come with new requirements for continuous operations that depend on real-time access to data.
Unbridled data growth requires new management capabilities to ensure availability, as illustrated by the experience of Volvo dealers in Belgium. Those businesses rely on a dealer management system that tracks each car sale and customer from prospect to buyer to aftercare. The system also connects dealers to Volvo BeLux for inventory planning, ordering, and management. Each dealership has an on-site IT infrastructure and in the past backed up their physical servers on-site to tape. However, as data grew, backup to tape was no longer feasible. Purchasing additional tape drives was costly and Volvo dealers worried about expensive hardware refreshes, the risk of human error, and a lengthy process for data recovery that could take up to a day.
Working with a leading IT integrator, dealer data and applications were virtualised and each dealer’s on-premise virtual machines were backed up on-site to a network-attached storage (NAS) device, with backup copies sent to a secure, private cloud. Using a sophisticated backup and replication solution, the virtual machines could be recovered within minutes, and in the event of a catastrophic situation, full restoration within four hours.
3. Avoid downtime
No matter what the cause, unavailability of data can have a devastating impact on manufacturing operations that incur unplanned downtime as a result.
Veeam's report, which drew on insight from 1,140 senior IT decision makers revealed that an average of 15 unplanned downtime events each year costs businesses an average of $16 million annually. Downtime could mean the loss of even one highly innovative process or idea that could cost the business millions or even billions of dollars.
Manufacturers must maintain continual oversight of their operations to remain proactive and avoid downtime at all costs. That requires a constant view into all aspects of their operations and the ability to respond to and even anticipate problems, such as backing up data regularly, to be able to return to business quickly.
4. Keep up with compliance
UK manufacturers are lagging when it comes to cyber security readiness according to EEF. Despite an evolving threat landscape, almost half of manufacturers had failed to increase their investment in cyber security. With manufacturing enterprises rapidly adopting new technologies and with data being at the heart of digital transformation, they are leaving themselves exposed. With the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on the horizon, manufacturing enterprises need to start looking ahead. Failure to prepare will leave them vulnerable to cyber-attacks and the repercussions such as reputational damage and fines of up to 4 percent of global turnover once the regulation comes into force in May 2018.
With data typically sprawled throughout an organisation, GDPR will force manufacturers to attempt to gain a single view of where data resides. Enterprises must maintain complete visibility and be able to easily set up automated reporting to help validate regulation compliance, including within backup and virtual infrastructures. That requires an efficient storage management solution that avoids costly data duplication but provides for long-term data retention in the event of a safety recall or misreporting issue that can date back years or even decades.
5. Build digital management for manufacturing
Businesses face many potential disruptions, including environmental incidents, hacking events, and everyday malfunctions. As more and more manufacturing processes become digitised, manufacturers will become increasingly reliant on IT systems to consistently manage and backup data to maximise uptime and ensure speedy recovery in the event of a disruption. New technologies and capabilities that rely on data availability will revolutionise the industry. In any industry there will be winners and losers and those who best accommodate these changes are likely to come out on top.
The mechanical nature of manufacturing is an illusion. Today’s products are largely dependent on data availability. Downtime in any one area can have a domino effect on the whole enterprise, causing substantial financial losses. By acknowledging and responding to these five pillars, the manufacturing industry can future-proof itself with data availability at the centre.
By Richard Agnew, VP NW EMEA, Veeam