LET'S face it, folks. Like it or not, we live in a real-time, wireless world. With our smartphones, tablets and now even internet wristwatches, we can instantly access and monitor everything — from minute-by-minute price fluctuations of the latest initial public offering to the number of steps you're walking, your blood pressure and your heart rate.
Sound like a bit much? For me and most people I know, things are getting a little crazy in the world of "real-time" data access. With the latest move of the Federal Aviation Administration to consider allowing passengers to aimlessly chatter away at 30,000 ft., well, I think you get my point.
With that said, I come to a hard stop when I consider the absolutely essential benefits in business that come with having real-time access to the right information at the right time. In fact, we have reached the tipping point in many industries where not having access to real-time data is more than just a competitive disadvantage; it's a major business risk.
Consider our world of feed manufacturing. Aside from the operational upside of having the precise data you need delivered to your fingertips at the right moment, the competitive advantages are staring you in the face: speed, agility and rapid response, to name just a few.
My journeys have taken me to many feed manufacturing facilities around the world. Upon careful inspection of many "operating systems" within the feed industry, I've found a twisted web of data that either are too complicated to untangle or are summarized based on assumptions rather than facts. Businesses may rely on a complex series of spreadsheets stored on shared drives to manage complex data, such as vital formulation details of the next diet for a customer's group of animals.
Based on the fact that, in our real-time personal lives, we routinely expect to be able to instantly find the closest gas station and the current price of premium, then why should our business expectations be any lower? In fact, for most savvy feed executives, their business data expectations are exactly the same as their personal ones.
Implementing systems to manage these data becomes a critical responsibility for a successful feed company. The goal is to get the information into the hands of the person responsible for each task with as little effort as possible.
Having the right information at the right time results in the order desk running efficiently with product — diet, price and delivery information displayed as the order is inputted into the system. This order then flows to the production floor or warehouse for execution and ultimate delivery to the customer without a hitch.
Some measures to consider include:
* Time — How long does it take to process an order and deliver it to a customer?
* Agility — Can you take advantage of a limited-time ingredient opportunity?
* Responsiveness — When a customer calls with a feed outage, do you know whether you can deliver?
* Efficiency — Is your manufacturing operation running efficiently with low shrink? Is your shrink target right for your mill?
* Process improvement — Is your team comfortable pointing out areas to improve?
In fact, the term "real time" will soon become arcane. Why? Because for most of the developed world, it's simply the reality of how people live and work today. For the feed industry, it's fast becoming a basic expectation of up-to-the-minute status throughout the mill.
Imagine a world in which you see inventory updated and relieved as each ingredient is received and the production run is completed. Consider the benefit of being able to say to your customers with confidence that you can deliver their feed when promised. Or the flexibility of knowing that you can bump out a warehouse stock replenishment order by a day so you can respond to your customer's need without jeopardizing another customer's demands.
With real-time data, you can identify extra charges encountered when receiving ingredients (freight, fuel and labor) and consider these in real time when making product price decisions so you can protect your margin.
At the end of the day, everybody lives in the new world of 24-hour real-time data access — anywhere and everywhere. So, why should the information flowing through the feed industry be any less dynamic?
Rest assured, for feed enterprises seeking to dominate their markets, it won't be for long.
*Brad Guyer is global operations portfolio manager for Feed Management Systems. He focuses on the development and direction of new products, solutions, services and continuous improvement consulting for feed industry manufacturing and operations. Guyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.