The simple t-shirt begins its life in the cotton fields of the American South. After harvest, cotton bolls travel across an ocean to spinning facilities in Indonesia. From there, the resulting thread is sent to Bangladesh to be knitted, dyed and sewn. The t-shirt then returns to the U.S. for printing, packaging and distribution to retailers.
That’s just a rough sketch of the journey from field to finished product. Obviously, the reality is much more complex, involving hundreds of people, communicating across geographies, working across functional boundaries and joining disparate hardware, software and communications devices.
Those involved in this fast-paced manufacturing environment must be able to problem-solve and make timely decisions that benefit their organization and its partners in the supply chain. In many ways, the process is one big collaboration. How can communications technology make life easier for everyone involved?
Collaboration within the organization
Businesses need functional specialization – like engineering, production, marketing and finance. However, these functions can easily become siloed, preventing effective communications and decision-making. When information gets “stuck,” it creates havoc all along the supply chain.
Production knows it’s behind but is too busy fighting fires to tell Sales about the delay until it’s time to handle the unhappy customer. The fact that Sales is at headquarters on the other side of the world doesn’t help matters. Meanwhile, Engineering desperately needs to communicate with a plant manager across the country, but ends up leaving voicemail after voicemail.
On top of all of this, layer different communications styles. The folks in the office, complains the factory floor supervisor, sit at their desks all day, shooting off emails or having meetings. Meanwhile, he’s on his feet for hours at a time with a smartphone in his pocket and two-way radio on his belt, problem-solving on the production line. From his point of view, face-to-face meetings mean time off the floor and a loss in productivity.
Now take the same situation and apply a unified communications strategy: Sales and Production can set up a daily meeting using their smartphones. The sales manager makes the call from her home office and the production supervisor never has to leave the factory floor. Specially written APIs allow both to access the company servers and discuss current data. They can even stop a conversation on one device and pick it up on another.
Via presence technology, the hard-to-pin-down plant manager can notify his colleagues in real time when he’s available for voice, SMS or video conferencing. Even though he’s off-site – maybe in a different time zone – he can use VoIP telephony to easily and securely communicate.
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Collaboration outside the organization
Now take these communications challenges and multiply them. In today’s manufacturing world, collaboration occurs all along the supply chain. The clothing designer in New York needs to speak to the production supervisor in India. Procurement must notify the yarn factory in Indonesia that the shipping of raw materials has been delayed. The factory in Honduras is hit by bad weather that pushes production off-schedule.
When all of these participants are connected via the cloud, communications occurs more easily, even across company boundaries and national borders.
The designer can share documents in real time with the Indian production manager, getting his input on the feasibility of the t-shirt’s design. The yarn factory can see the movement of supplies before Procurement even contacts them. Via the cloud, both can access the information they need to resolve any problems that occur.
And the factory in Honduras? Because it’s linked into a shared communications system, a partner facility in Colombia can pick up the slack, coordinating with the original plant to meet production deadlines.
Unified collaboration enables communication to take place anywhere, on any device, with everyone using the same set of tools. The result is a nimble production process that gets products to market more quickly, even under less-than-ideal circumstances.