Although the long winter caused multiple industries to slow production and distribution of goods and services, the "Randstad Manufacturing & Logistics Employee Confidence Index" - representing levels reported in the first quarter of 2014 - demonstrates increasing optimism. Compared to the previous quarter in 2013, there was a 12 percent drop in the number of industry workers who believe the economy is getting worse, while 26 percent feel it is improving. Data from the U.S. Department of Commerce corroborates this sentiment, as orders for factory goods increased 1.1 percent during the first quarter. At the same time, economic activity in the manufacturing sector has increased for 11 consecutive months, The Institute for Supply Management reported.
With increased confidence and activity, manufacturing and distribution centers need to make sure they have the most efficient systems in place to meet market demands. It's important to be prepared to handle an influx of orders. Ultimately, maintaining control of the supply chain begins with a company's information technology infrastructure and making automated data collection a core principle of operations. However, many businesses simply aren't prepared to adjust for increased manufacturing activity after a long and muted winter. Here are three catalysts for integrating automated data collection software highlighted in RFgen's recent white paper, "The Data Collection Software Buyer's Guide":
- Employee Inefficiency
In the simplest terms, paper-based systems are inefficient. Yet, numerous companies continue to operate with them to the detriment of their growth and business partnerships. One of the greatest issues facing manual processes is the fact that it's worker-dependent. Unfortunately, the work environment in most distribution and fulfillment centers creates more opportunities for human error than it reduces them. How does this occur? A study performed by the marketing intelligence and trend analytics firm IDC reveals the depth of the problem. According to the research, knowledge workers spend an average of three and a half hours per week looking for information that they ultimately never find. Meanwhile, these individuals work for another three hours recreating content on a weekly basis. This kind of inefficiency leads to reduced productivity and financial resources wasted on repetitive processes that can easily be automated.
- Data Growth
Given the pace of digital innovation and dependence in businesses in nearly every sector, the amount of data companies face has grown equally fast. Osterman Research, a company focused on the messaging industry, looked into the sheer number of emails sent. According to the research firm's 2004 study, businesses are sending upwards of 40 percent more emails annually. What's more, data had become increasingly unstructured because it's sent through a variety of channels. At the same time, companies are able to store more information at lower costs as more suppliers, such as data centers, are competing for a bigger share of the market. Because it's cheaper to collect more data, companies are beginning to face an overwhelming scenario wherein all paper-based documentation is being converted to electronic formats while more information continues to flow in through existing digital channels.
- Declining Technology Costs
Innovations in technology have helped drive down costs. Think about this in terms of computers. More efficient and reliable manufacturing processes have allowed individual components to be created for a fraction of the cost of what consumers would have found just five years ago. Meanwhile, equipment is available from a variety of suppliers, which also contributes to keeping costs low. Companies, such as Dell, also have filled a market niche in manufacturing computing equipment especially designed for company-wide deployment for a lower cost than buying individual machines for each employee.
Manufacturing is continuing to gain momentum going into the second half of 2014. At the same time, internal and external forces are making data automation software the optimal choice to meet demand and create more efficient operations.