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Forces driving transformation in a connected world
In our conversations with global manufacturing companies, we continue to hear how the manufacturer’s paradigm is changing. Consumers have increased influence over the adoption and success of new products and services, forcing manufacturers to develop new relationships with them. Trends like innovation, globalization, pricing pressures, complex regulations, sustainability and changing demographics will continue to influence business investment. However, the consideration is not limited to just the consumers and their ability to participate in a connected world, but also the expectation of tech-savvy employees in the work environment who also happen to be consumers in their personal life. The ability to leverage an employee in today’s connected world is in fact a transformation opportunity for manufacturing companies.

Microsoft’s productivity vision
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently said that Microsoft is a productivity and platform company that will thrive in the mobile-first, cloud-first world. He describes Microsoft’s three core ambitions:
1. To create more personal computing
2. To reinvent productivity and business process
3. To build the intelligent cloud

What is key to modern productivity in manufacturing is to look at the broader combination of these three capabilities. For example, empowering individuals with productivity tools also enables the mobility of the experience with natural interactions. This would then enable dynamic teams to use collaborative platforms, enterprise applications, and data in organization transformation. Security, privacy, and compliance will continue to play significant role in such workplace scenario. In my previous blog, we talked about the Modern Workplace – one that of a dynamic workspace where physical and technical boundaries have blurred. Such a workplace could be for specific functions like a connected factory, smart connected office, or connected field services each with its own requirement for the three key capabilities described earlier.

The Connected Factory Workplace
Manufacturing companies have been leaders in using technology in driving productivity gains. With this current trend, it’s no more just a matter of automating and speeding up production processes. The widespread use of the Internet of Things (IoT) has prompted manufacturers to find ways to integrate the information that comes from production lines, market trends, and consumer preferences in order to make better and faster decisions. Technology underlies the ability to successfully achieve each of these imperatives. This also requires enabling and transforming people processes. Leveraging modern productivity practices, manufacturers can empower all of their employees to drive continuous improvement, streamline factory operations, improve quality, and enhance team coordination for faster problem awareness, understanding, and resolution.

Role-based workspace integrating people, process, assets and insight together
The concept of a workspace is that of a portal combining information from different sources into a single view. A workspace would provide access to personal productivity (like tasks, calendar, and emails), manuals/data sheets, and integration to line-of-business (LOB) applications along with ability to search and share people’s knowledge and experience. Such a workspace would also address the need to manage safety, incident reporting, and compliance training in a timely way.

Indranil2 Dana Holding Corporation is an example of a leading manufacturer doing this work very well today. Dana communicates directly with 12,000 factory workers through use of kiosks on the plant floors to access everything from employee benefits to safety updates as well as access relevant business applications to stay up to date. Dana has also been successful in enabling its factory workers to join other Dana employees in using enterprise social network. By modernizing employees’ technology tools, Dana is able to provide a better end-user experience, remove barriers to cross-company communication and collaboration, and free up their IT staff to deliver more strategic services for our employees. Read the full story to understand how Dana is using Office 365 to reduce project development issues, launch products at lower costs, and improve profit margins.

New Era of IoT enabled manufacturing
With the advancement in sensors, devices, connectivity, machines and data insights, manufacturers are also looking to take advantage in developing new differentiated capabilities and empower their people, empower their organizations, and also reshape their industries. Critical to the success is the ability to integrate people processes in delivering operational efficiency. This could be through the use of technology to integrate equipment-related events, the ability to react or perform predictive maintenance even before the actual failure takes place, which will help to manage equipment uptime and overall equipment efficiency. Collaboration tools also play a significant role in assembling virtual teams to solve issues anytime, anywhere. New types of devices and wearables like HoloLens will also enhance mobility of the experience with natural interactions.

And robots are driving productivity on the factory floor, working alongside people. We recently partnered with KUKA AG to develop the next generation of industrial robots that can also collaborate with people to jointly perform tasks as peers working together.

Connected Factory Workplace: tangible benefits
The benefits of a connected factory workplace are enormous. In fact, we commissioned Forrester to examine the potential return on investment that enterprises could realize with collaboration technologies like Office 365. The study uncovered that on average, Office 365 has led to an 8.5% decrease in time-to-decision, driving agility and speed to market for decisions. I encourage you to read the full findings of the Forrester report here.