* Broad dissemination of specialized knowledge By capturing and automating access to formerly specialized information a lean front-end solution lets companies better leverage the knowledge of highly skilled salespeople and engineers, allowing generalists to become experts. Automation of sales processes and rules extends this value further, expediting functions and increasing consistency in product design.
* Powerful analytics for continuous improvement With accurate, complete data stored in one location, manufacturers can easily create meaningful, accurate forecasts and analyses, as well as target key areas to implement continuous improvement and best practices.
* Integration of all systems and information Within the manufacturing environment, complete business integration involves two elements: First, companies must integrate the components in the front-end, which includes people, processes, tools and systems. Second, companies must integrate the front-end to the back-end in order to fully realize the value of a single, end-to-end system. By integrating all systems, processes, and information, manufacturers can gain value from their acquisitions.
What to Look for in a Lean Front-End
To be effective, a lean front-end solution must deliver the following key capabilities.
1. Leverage complex product information
From inquiry to aftermarket, the ability to manage both the customized engineer-to-order products as well as the more standard, make-to-stock products is essential for any lean front-end solution. Front-end personnel must be able to quickly and easily access product, channel and engineering information at every stage in the process in order to handle selection, configuration and quoting; order and fulfillment; and delivery and aftermarket requests.
A solution that provides a single, integrated repository designed for hierarchical product information is critical to disseminate required data at key decision points throughout the business and across channels. The ability to simplify and streamline this information by eliminating obsolete or redundant selection and configuration data and creating automated intelligence- and rules-based processes is also key.
2. Adaptable workflow management for complex processes
Most manufacturers have a complicated, manual front-end workflow, with inquiries and orders moving frequently via a "batch-and-queue" process among people serving multiple functions. At each step, different people must evaluate the data, determining the best sources to answer questions and the right times to move an order from one area to the next. A successful lean front-end solution should shift workflow from a linear, assembly-line process to a work cell approach, with necessary adjustments made throughout every stage of the process, rather than at the end.
The solution should also accommodate key aspects of existing processes, rather than force-fitting those processes into the solution, and it should allow processes to be adjusted or changed on the fly. This flexibility and responsiveness makes it easy for manufacturers to drive best practices consistently throughout all front-end actions and decisions.
3. Rapid solution implementation
With today's tight budgets, manufacturers can ill afford to launch time-consuming initiatives that take years to deliver a significant return on investment. Therefore, the solution should provide cost-effective set-up, implementation and maintenance processes that deliver rapid, measurable benefits, providing payback on investment within six months or less.
User adoption is also a consideration, so make sure the solution is easy to use. Additionally, a Web-based integration platform that connects with ERP, legacy, and point solutions, along with customer and channel participants, lets manufacturers leverage the value of their existing back-end investments. Implementation should be non-disruptive to current IT infrastructure and require minimal internal resources.
The Cost of Not Acting
Today's manufacturers face an extremely challenging selling arena. Only those that can maximize their speed and efficiency to satisfy customers, cut costs and enhance their margins will succeed. To do this, companies must be able to fully drive their front-end business processes, rather than having their processes drive them.