Supply Chain Resilience: Empowering A Remote Workforce

This blog’s content was sourced from a webinar recorded on September 23, 2020 at 2PM ET/ 11AM PT with Presenters Kristin Amenson​, Debbie Altham​ and Jeremy Centner, in partnership with Sikich LLP and Microsoft.

Last post, we touched on the current hot topic of the remote workforce when it comes to supply chain resilience. Now we’re going to take a deeper dive into it, specifically looking at how the remote workforce works for people in the back office. In particular, we’ll examine how it relates to the shop floor, especially since the shop floor cannot work remotely.

Remote workforce needs the cloud

So many manufacturers still use on-premise software solutions. They’re still doubtful about the cloud. They still ask us questions about security and access. Rather than go into big detail about why would you need to think about the cloud in this time, let’s discuss our clients that have made the move.

They’re enjoying a business uptime expectation from the Microsoft Azure services for their applications of 99.95%, and someone else outside of the company is worrying about it. They don’t have IT people running in to see why things are running slowly. Their business continuity plans are supported by robust industry leading disaster recovery and high availability architectures. That means if one goes down, another one picks up and takes over, so they’re enjoying that alone.

However, I think one of the really important things is that our clients are using the cloud. They’re benefiting from saving around about a billion dollars a year in terms of security costs, since Microsoft tirelessly works to keep the Azure system safe and secure from threats.

Collaboration and Communication via Automation

The first step in enabling a productive secure working from home scenario is going to be collaboration and communication. Things like file storage and access with OneDrive or SharePoint online, the Microsoft 365 Office products, as well as Outlook and Teams that we’ve gotten so familiar with using is a great first step, but the next step is reducing the volume and frequency of paper-based documents, approvals, and things of that nature. With Dynamics 365, you get a robust set of workflows with electronic approvals and electronic signatures for the majority of the various business processes that are out there. You could start the process by simply scanning in physical copies of paperwork, attaching those within the ERP system.


From there, it’s a one and done situation, but if you’re ready to really take automation to the next level, you can really implement and introduce the idea of OCR or optical character recognition. OCR is a solution that can actually read electronic or digital invoices, purchase orders, things of that nature, will actually generate the document based off of field mapping and rules within the system. It truly is a process that is fully automated, allowing for the system to pick up a document from an Outlook inbox, for example, and produce the document within Dynamics 365 for review.

OCR really just saves a lot of time, reduces the risk for errors, and then it allows your AP folks for this specific scenario to really focus on more valuable activities, like chasing down incorrect vendor charges, handling and addressing purchase price variances, as well as just making sure you maximize on those on time cash discounts that you are seeking.

The point, in a nutshell, is to remove the paper where you can, create electronic approvals, and everything can flow much more seamlessly, and everyone has access to the information they need.

But OCR isn’t the only electronic documenting feature within D365FO. There’s also a self-documenting feature called the “Task Recorder.”

Task Recorder

The Task Recorder allows a user to basically push a button, record a process, and walk through any given task, whether it’s creating a vendor invoice, creating a sales order, or creating a new customer. Once you stop the recording, those become actual work instructions, so the system can push out word documents with the tasks, activities, keystrokes, and clicks that were performed. Then that can even be taken one step further to create on-screen guidance with something that we call task guides.

Imagine a user that’s sitting down for training and can be guided through a process step-by-step, bubble-by-bubble that really just walks you through how to do something with best practices in mind because those have been recorded with best practices.

This can do a lot for an organization from training new users to filling in for people who are out on vacation or are out sick to onboarding other employees and cross-training alike. It also has a really great feature that creates efficiencies in learning plans and education about the software, but also education about the business and what we consider as a best practice. Even those monthly, quarterly, yearly tasks, I struggle to remember how to do, so I can revert back to those task guides in the task recordings that we’ve created that will walk me through the process seamlessly.

Remote Workforce and the Shop Floor

The new operational hazards that COVID-19 has made us be aware of for lack of a better term, things like social distancing, taking temperatures of people that are coming into the facility. The new challenges that COVID-19 has brought—including social distancing, taking temperatures of people coming into the facility, etc.—are difficult for manufacturers and people in factories to overcome.

Back in 2016, Microsoft launched a new set of applications called the Power Platform and within that set, Microsoft Power Apps. Now Microsoft Power Apps is a true application that is aimed and targeted at a citizen developer or someone who doesn’t necessarily understand software programming, coding, customizations, things like that. It really gives these organizations the ability to create applications that can be utilized either on a desktop machine, cellphone, tablet, etc. to really create niche different functionalities that are specific to their organization. This can include things like a daily health check-in app, a temperature recording app, and other similar things that can be created without having to develop some big piece of code that ties into the ERP system. It’s already integrated with the native Power Platform integrations.

Within that context, Microsoft’s partner community and Microsoft themselves have created a simple free to use Power Apps that are all targeted towards COVID relief, COVID testing, and things like that. I would encourage you to go out and take a look at what’s out there in the marketplace, and not to mention that the Power Platform is a remarkably low cost entry point, so it really gives companies large and small access to these capabilities.

Shop Floor Scheduling

If you walk through any given manufacturing facility, the scheduling board often has a prominent position right there smack dab in the middle of the shop floor itself. While the white board is simple, easy to use, and easy to understand, there are true limitations when you’re trying to do mass updates or major changes. This is where Dynamics 365 can introduce electronic planning boards. These planning boards provide a great visual representation of production schedules that include routes, resources attached, finite capabilities, things like that that really give you an understanding of how scheduling can be architected, as well as updated in an agile and easy manner to manage.

The planning boards also provide the capabilities to re-architect shop floor processes, rearrange shifts, and do that what-if analysis that’s really fundamental to creating those new plans. For example, what if I move from two shifts to three shifts, or what if I change out how my warehouse and production shop floor is set up to create that social distancing that we now need with the COVID world. With the Dynamics 365 supply chain management application, these scenarios become reality, and that automation can extend out into the warehouse, where you can enable things like robotic automation, voice activated picking, and other things along that nature that really help drive efficiency and keep those social distancing measures in place.

The Sales Remote Workforce

We know that stores have been shut down and are reopening due to the pandemic. Some of them today are even at limited capacity. We also know that customers are still buying, whether they’re our customers or your customers. If you really need evidence of this, feel free to look out your window at any time during the day and watch all the delivery trucks driving by.

There’s been a lot of regulatory changes that we’ve seen happen where organizations are able to retool their manufacturing and operations to start selling products that could potentially benefit the health industry. Having the ability to put an e-commerce solution together quickly that’s going to feed in with your manufacturing and with your sales system is going to be critical. Now taking that a little bit further, customers are also going to want to interact with you electronically as well. Microsoft has been able to put together an ecommerce platform and a multi-channel retail platform that allows you to sell your products directly to the end consumer.

E-commerce customer experience

Where you are in the order process? Has your product shipped yet? This is the experience we expect from online retailers, and manufacturers can start giving customers that same experience through the portal solution that Microsoft has and go beyond just selling. Start thinking about this from a servicing perspective, allow your customers to submit support tickets, or request field service support to get your machine fixed. Then let them see what’s going on with those statuses, whether it’s, “Hey, where am I with my order?” or “What’s going on with my support ticket?” Give them that comfort that they are part of the process, and they can drill in and get that visibility right away.

Now looking at the sellers specifically, we know that they’re scattered throughout the country and collaboration on engagements are absolutely critical nowadays. By leveraging a tool like Microsoft Teams, you’re able to take the communications and the collaborations that you would normally do inside of the office and collaborate around an opportunity or a pursuit.

With the tight integrations of Teams and Dynamics 365 on the sales side, we’re able to bring engineering and the sellers and finance and operations together to talk and collaborate about that individual pursuit, whether you’re in your office or across the pond over in Europe. The ability to bring all of those resources together to collaborate around the pursuit is important.

Configured price quotes

Taking this out a step further, configured price quotes are something that a lot of organizations have in either an Excel spreadsheet on steroids or in a custom beast of an application that has the secret sauce and recipe for building your products and services. By taking that and bringing it into the actual Dynamics ecosystem, you’re allowing the organization to have/keep complex rule-based quoting.

Once you bring that in and tie it into the opportunity process, you’re going to reduce the amount of errors. You’re also going to give the sales organization visibility to see what’s going on with that configured price quote.

In addition, you’re going to reduce the amount of time it takes to actually build that quote. Eliminating the errors and the costs of managing those errors will allow the customer to get their expected solution from a proposal perspective quicker than they normally would.

Product visualization

In your typical sales process, engineering does a great job of designing the component that you may be selling, your sellers take that information and print it out or send it electronically, and then your sellers go and visit the organizations they are selling to.

Imagine taking that engineering drawing and turning it into an augmented reality 3D solution in Dynamics 365. Your sellers then use their smartphones, walk right into that shop floor, and take your piece of equipment and say, “Here’s exactly where it’s going to go, here’s exactly what it’s going to look like.” From there, they can then talk with the customer about things and enhancements they need for that piece of equipment, take notes on the drawing itself right there in Dynamics 365, and collaborate in real time with the engineering team over Microsoft Teams.

Being able to sell in a new way, in an exciting way, allows your customers the ability to visualize your products in their shop floor real time. All of this can be done with D365.

Servicing customers remotely

Not only can we sell to our customers remotely, but we can start to service them remotely as well. In some situations, you’re going to need to dispatch a field sales or field service representative. Microsoft Dynamics 365 has a completely integrated and connected field service offering that bridges the gap between operations and what’s going on on the sales side, where you’re going to have the ability to check and manage warranty and customer agreements. You can schedule a work order as needed, secure the necessary parts or an inventory needed to successfully do the repair, and more importantly, schedule the right resource based off of certifications territory and logistics that is suited to do that job.

We can take it a step further and start talking about the internet of things (IoT) and building smart components. My refrigerator will automatically order a new filter for itself, because it’s connected to Wi-Fi. I may not ever know that it was time for the filter to be changed until the filter arrives at my doorstep. Then I get a knock on the door and here’s a filter and I go ahead and put it in and sure enough, it needed to be changed.

Why can’t your $2 million piece of manufacturing equipment do the same thing for your customers? Start thinking about IoT and how you can collaborate that knowledge and information with a truly integrated field service offering. Those machines that you’re building out in the field can automatically request their own service.

That information can be brought into a centralized hub, where your team can analyze and say, “Yeah, you know what, there’s the opportunity that this machine has got parts that it needs, or it’s failing in a certain area.” Before you have any type of human intervention, you’re proactively offering service to your customers based off of metrics and readings you’re receiving in from your devices out in the field.

Remote Field Service

We’re learning that remote is quickly becoming the way of life, and your field techs are going to need other levels of assistance. Microsoft has made another great augmented reality solution available for technicians that gives them the ability to exactly see what they need to see when working on a piece of equipment. As they’re working on repairing a piece of machinery, they can see the manual. They can see a step-by-step guide. They can know exactly what piece of equipment they need to replace based off of the information that it’s sending back through the IoT provided information.

By either using your phone or using a HoloLens, you’re going to get a really enhanced experience and better service and quicker service to your customer, because you’re going to know exactly what needs to be done, and obviously provide your customer with a higher level of service.

Dynamic Guides for Field Service

One of the things that we’ve noticed is that with COVID and social distancing, when you’re onboarding new members of your team and you’re trying to get them integrated into the manufacturing process within your organization, or in the assembly process within your organization, you can’t have them side by side with you looking over your shoulder. With training guides, you can use augmented reality to build that step-by-step instruction where you can tell them look over to the right, grab this particular wrench, bring that wrench over, apply it to the machine, turn it until this particular piece is tight, and then add on this particular component.

You can build out this step-by-step guide with a HoloLens. What that does is it gives your organization and your team members the ability to get that visual confidence that they need that they’re doing the right thing, and they’re able to succeed in their job, but more importantly, it’s going to get those team members up to speed more quickly on the job. Hopefully, that in turn will increase the performance that you’re seeing in time to get things built.

If you have any questions about how Dynamics 365 can empower your remote workforce, please contact us at any time!

This publication contains general information only and Sikich is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or any other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should you use it as a basis for any decision, action or omission that may affect you or your business. Before making any decision, taking any action or omitting an action that may affect you or your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. In addition, this publication may contain certain content generated by an artificial intelligence (AI) language model. You acknowledge that Sikich shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by you or any person who relies on this publication.

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