If you look, you’ll find seemingly countless online discussions and articles about how manufacturing companies benefit from digitizing traditionally paper-based admin work.
There’s clearly no shortage of data experts and organizations ready to rearrange how your company manages data collection, use, and policy. And there’s presumably a market to match, or these articles about manufacturing needing digital tracking and logging wouldn’t be so abundant.
Yet, a recent study showed that years into the global Covid-19 pandemic—when the digitization of our lives really accelerated—over 70% of manufacturing companies still use paper for data collection, organization, storage, analysis, and distribution. Why?
Perhaps it’s partly a language issue; marketing writing can obscure the fact that data is just another word for information, and that analytics is simply the work of making sense and use of information.
Manufacturing’s slow adoption of data platforms may also be partly healthy skepticism—how long have we been hearing that this one latest device, process, or platform is going to literally change everything about how we work and live? And then life continues, apparently as usual?
Why aren’t more manufacturers using digital forms to track and log data?
It may be argued that people generally don’t work in manufacturing, mines, factories, etc because they feel suited to workdays filled with completing and filing paperwork. Just as easily, one could say employees choose to work in manufacturing because of its relative lack of computer-based and other digital tasks; and older employees, accustomed to certain ways of doing things, may be perceived as more resistant to change, especially change involving computers and associated tools.
We believe you likely don’t need to worry about employees resisting moving from paper-based to digital tracking and logging. The switch from paper to digital tracking and logging will, of course, require some adjustment; but they can handle it, even if they’re initially uninterested.
Don’t most or all of us, regardless of age, education, or profession have a smartphone, use social media (like Facebook), renew drivers’ licenses or health cards online, and—especially since the pandemic began—rely on platforms like Zoom to stay in
touch with friends and family?
How digital tracking and logging benefits manufacturing
With the right partner leading the way to digitizing operations, the switch away from paper can be just as simply and easily managed.
- it won’t get lost, torn, or covered in machine oil or coffee stains;
- it logs all factory floor and machine activity as it happens, in real time, which
- improves production levels,
- pinpoints where improvement is needed,
- makes planning for future demand easier and more accurate, and
- improves quality control;
- while paper itself isn’t expensive, using it in manufacturing is: It goes missing or gets damaged, and by its very nature makes the data it records out of date by the time decision-makers see it. There’s also the environmental price of printing reams of paper every day, as well as space issues as more paper-based data is produced, catalogued, and stored;
- when all company data is connected, employees at all levels and in every corner of your organization work better both together and alone. Everyone knows the data they’re consulting or using is accurate, and no one is in a position to control data to ensure their own job security;
- you know where your data is, who’s using it, and how—which will provide otherwise hidden insight into what processes may be improved, when machines tend to lag or are most efficient, optimal windows for planned maintenance vs. maintaining high productivity, and how to better distribute employees in your plant or factory;
- it reduces costs resulting from inputting errors, duplicating work, and by requiring less time than completing and managing paper-based paperwork does; and
- it takes the mad scrambling and file-hunting out of compliance reporting and inspections.
These are all great points in favor of digitizing your paperwork.
Yet, it seems that by themselves, they aren’t convincing most manufacturing companies to make the change. Companies may or may not be sticking with paper despite the advantages of digitizing due to actual or perceived resistance on the factory floor.
How you manage your data will affect your brand and your bottom line
At bottom, it doesn’t really matter why: The fact is, whatever reasons manufacturers have for not digitizing, that decision is now affecting—and will continue to affect—their reputations.
Think about it: What message are you sending your customers if your factory is still running on paper products in the 2020s? It doesn’t matter where in the organization the resistance originates, whether it’s workers or the C-suite; the message you’re sending is that your company as a whole doesn’t adapt well to change, isn’t thinking about long-term sustainability and competitiveness, and doesn’t respect employees’ ability to adapt.
None of this is going to be reassuring to your customers, who depend on you getting their orders right and on time, and who want to know you’ll be there for the long haul as their own companies grow and change.
Some clients will remain loyal because they may also be averse to change. But it’s a very crowded market out there. And most customers purchasing your manufactured goods (for either direct use or resale) simply won’t be able to afford to stick with a plant or factory outpaced by faster moving, more dependable competitors.
Part of that reliability comes from keeping good employees happy and on your payroll. Whether or not you keep your best people will be significantly affected by where you focus your respect.
Do you want to respect team members’ perceived or actual fears of change? Or do you want to respect their intelligence and encourage them to draw on their innate human ability to adapt? Which will make people happier to work for you in the long run, and therefore more careful, engaged, and productive? Which will give you a reputation not only as a great supplier, but also as a great place to work?
According to one study, the “manufacturing analytics market is projected to register a CAGR of 24%” between 2022 and 2031, with Canada and the U.S. as “the leading market due to increasing focus on innovations, as well as ongoing research, and development in manufacturing analytics technology for stable economic growth.”
The question then is this: What’s holding you back? Some employees may grumble but probably most won’t and all of them will be okay in a post-paper workplace. They will be more than okay, in fact, and so will you. Perhaps, most importantly, current customers will have ongoing evidence of having made the right choice with you; and your reputation for making smart, strategic business decisions will win you new clients worth keeping.
What’s holding you back? If you know, talk to us about how we can help. If this is only a rhetorical question for you right now, we can be of service there too. Whatever you do, don’t sit around hoping paper will make a big comeback in manufacturing; paper is best used for wrapping gifts, making art, and printing books, so let’s leave it there and move on together.