Manufacturers Need for Speed in a Digital World – Embracing AI & Automation


The past year was rife with disruption and manufacturers had to adjust quickly to changes in both market demands for specific products – everything from PPE to toilet paper – and fractured supply chains.  Political and social influences globally including the impact of Brexit and growing environmental and sustainability demands added to the challenges. Manufacturers also embraced a global marketplace to reach new buyers. This meant adopting new technologies to enable them to streamline digital commerce and support related processes to scale.

Despite the economic uncertainty caused by the ongoing pandemic, April proved to be the best month yet in the UK for manufacturing reaching a 27-year high.This is both an opportunity and a threat. Competition is going to be fierce to maintain competitive advantages and keep revenues high, with our recent study finding 87% of manufacturers are facing more competition now than they did just a year ago.

As more buyers shifted from in-store to online purchases, there is increased the pressure on B2B businesses to bring products to market faster. In fact, 97% of B2B manufacturers have reported such pressures in getting products to market faster. While it’s hard to say exactly what has driven the increase in competition over the past year, the increasingly global marketplace and evolving technologies are certainly changing the way manufacturers go to market. Speed and time to market are now top of mind.

With the move to new channels and geographies, manufacturers have looked to leverage automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to help them meet new demands. Manual processses to create, enrich, and syndicate product data for millions of SKUs, product images, localisations, and product content won’t scale. It’s error-prone and time consuming. It also has the ability to negatively impact time to market, customer experience, and begin withdrawn from the digital self if not done well. That’s a big risk in a highly competitive market.

As more B2B buyers embrace digital commerce for large purchases – 32% are willing to spend 50K to 500K online or via self-service – CMOs and e-commerce teams need to ensure they deliver an exceptional buying experience across the entire digital journey.

How is AI and automation being used to effectively deliver such experiences? According to our recent research, 95% of manufacturers are using automation and AI to tailor product information for different channels. This is a staggeringly high percentage, especially in the more traditional manufacturing sector. It begs the question how each organisation defines automation and AI? Does automation include marketing automation, such as automated email messages and posts on social media? Or is adoption of AI limited to product recommendations, replacements, or after market parts? If so, while marketing automated emails and product recommendations are both important, automation and AI can deliver a lot more value when it comes to staying competitive.

In whichever way the technology is being used, automation and AI solutions can help organisations become more agile in adapting to changing market conditions. They also enable them to scale faster to enter new markets or data pools. Leveraging cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions can help to syndicate product data seamlessly without downtime. Manufacturers that have already embraced these technologies fared well during the pandemic, while others struggled to adapt.

Speed and agility will always be key in manufacturing, even more so during this highly competitive time. Technology will continue to play an important role in the industry over the next several years, which is why it’s critical for manufacturers to ensure a streamlined approach to product information management across channels now. A key foundation to success is driving revenue and staying ahead in today’s global marketplace.