Solution Standardization is the Future of Food Manufacturing

The idea that a highly customized software solution will create a competitive edge for a manufacturer is a mirage, each software introduction needs to have a purpose and here is why.

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Between the forecasted recession, prolonged inflation and global crop failures, it’s a challenging time to be a food manufacturer. Uncertainty dominates the market as some food staples like grains and eggs have become more expensive for both buyers and consumers. While food manufacturers are beholden to the external forces that drive the economic, geopolitical and agricultural factors at play, what they can control are their internal operations. Food manufacturers have increasingly turned to technology like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to uplevel their capabilities and meet heightened customer demands.

Both manufacturers and their customers are eager to gain even a marginal advantage over competitors, which is typical for industries experiencing technological revolutions like we’ve seen in manufacturing. When it comes to instrumental software like manufacturing execution systems (MES), some manufacturers have begun leaning into solution customization to differentiate themselves from their competition.

Between the sheer complexity of today’s software solutions and the new realities of customer expectations, solution standardization—not customization—is the future of food manufacturing.

Software solutions are already complex

The idea that a highly customized software solution will create a competitive edge for a manufacturer is a mirage. There’s no denying that it’s beneficial to differentiate oneself from competitors, but not if it means needlessly complicating the underlying technology behind your business.

Implementing an effective MES solution can be complex and requires the collaboration of players from all levels of the operation, from the shop floor to the top floor. Of course, software solutions will be tailored to a food manufacturer’s unique needs like particular ingredient monitoring or bespoke process automation, but it is important not to seek customization for customization’s sake. Tempting though it may be to hop on the bandwagon, business leaders must remain clear-eyed and grounded in the reality that 70% of digital transformations fail to meet their stated goals. Software solutions are complex to begin with, to say nothing of custom solutions that work to satisfy a highly niche purpose.

With a templated software solution, food manufacturers will experience much faster, smoother implementations than their overly customized counterparts. By eschewing intricate, custom tools, businesses can spend less time idling, troubleshooting and falling behind competitors and more time moving forward and meeting their customers' needs head-on.

Customers continue to keep manufacturers on their toes

Even after months of nearly universal supply chain challenges, it has become evident that customers still have little tolerance for any dashed expectations. As many food manufacturers witnessed during the holiday season, food is often a deeply personal and cultural experience. If customers can’t get what they need from their tried-and-true brands, they won’t hesitate to buy from someone else.

When manufacturers introduce unnecessary customization, it could negatively affect production in a variety of ways. First, customization could push a software solution beyond merely “niche” and into the realm of “ineffective,” like a dough that’s been over-kneaded and is now unworkable. Choosing to adopt and implement an MES platform isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it process but rather a dynamic one that evolves alongside customer needs. When choosing to overly customize a solution, however, manufacturers may find themselves forgoing many of the value-adds today’s leading MES providers bake into their platforms like standardized solutions and components that fast-track implementation and ROI leading them to instead grapple with long deployment times, missed deadlines and customer attrition.

With standardized solutions, food manufacturers can deliver what customers really want which is reliable results built on efficient operations. Standardization allows manufacturers to maximize their output and implement processes that create less waste, use fewer resources and better align with growth strategies.

Solution customization certainly can be a value-add if done correctly, but it’s also possible for food manufacturers to customize themselves into a corner.

Closing thoughts

The bottom line is that food manufacturers seek software because they have a problem. What they need is a solution that makes their jobs easier while simultaneously maximizing their impact and efficiency. Solution customization is a slippery slope. With standardized frameworks, not only do manufacturers get an elegant architecture that makes the management of manufacturing as simple as possible they also benefit from a flexible, extensible solution that propels their business into the future.