“Lean” manufacturing principles are well known to manufacturing executives. These include standardizing processes, eliminating waste, reducing variants in products and services, and delivering higher product quality. Working from the perspective of the client who consumes a product or service, lean is centered on making obvious what adds value (any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for) and reducing everything else.
The goal in lean business process improvement is the same as in lean production, drive a higher quality output, in this case, customer experience, with higher efficiency and less waste and less cost. Innovative companies are now applying these lean manufacturing principles to core business processes like sales and order processing, customer service, product planning and design, procurement, and distribution and logistics. This journey almost inevitably reveals how “unstructured” information clogs processes and presents an opportunity to drive efficiency from end-to-end in vital business processes.
To serve customers and meet regulatory requirements, manufacturers must distribute, track, and archive countless documents, such as invoices, receipts, proof of delivery, product information, planning documents and engineering change order (ECOs), quality and testing information—the list goes on. All of these must be integrated with multiple core manufacturing systems (e.g., MRP/ERP Software, Product Lifecycle Management Software, Supply Chain Management Software, Manufacturing Execution Systems, and Production Scheduling and Control Systems).
A lot of this document and content management is currently done manually and with hybrid digital/paper systems, creating extra work, opportunities for errors, and process interruptions. This creates huge obstacles to delivering efficient customer service and maintaining information needed for regulatory compliance.
Key questions that manufacturers can consider when thinking about how to apply lean business process improvements to their business are:
- Could we provide better customer service if we eliminated waste and inefficiency from our internal processes for handling quotes, orders and customer information?
- Could applying lean manufacturing principles to our procurement and materials handling processes drive quality improvements?
- How would a more efficient ECO process impact customer satisfaction?
- Are we missing opportunities for customer self-service that would improve the customer experience and improve efficiency?
One key to simplifying and standardizing these myriad processes is a common platform to manage all of the unstructured information associated with them. One uniform document management backbone, used in multiple business areas, provides the ability to drive lean business process improvements that streamline communication and reduce cycle time in the handoff of business functions across these functional areas.