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HOW BUSINESSES CAN USE THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE TO AUTOMATE.

By Paul McFadyen, Managing Director of metals4U 

 

The Coronavirus pandemic has dominated our global markets for the first half of 2020 and will continue to impact business for the foreseeable future; it has drastically changed the landscape of how we do business now and will continue to do so for some time.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a growth industry but has largely been overlooked by a huge section of industry and manufacturing – many believing they are not a large enough concern to warrant the initial financial outlay, while others may not see where it can help them. ‘Smart’ technology is not just about robotic production lines, it is about increasing effectiveness across all areas of your organisation, regardless of which business sector you belong to or what size your organisation is.

Now it the perfect time to analyse what your business does, how you do it, and most importantly, what aspects can be upgraded to utilise the possibilities of the IIOT (Industrial Internet of Things) to take your business forward to meet the new demands of post-Covid-19 global markets. The IIOT can be used to monitor, control, and update any aspect of your business.

IIOT sensors can be fitted within new installations or retro fitted into existing systems.  The sensors can monitor and detect changes in offices, warehouses, outside spaces, machines, server rooms, they also detect temperature changes, chemical reactions in manufacturing processes that may have an adverse effect on the end product or machinery, they monitor changes in air pressure, in air conditioning units, lighting levels, lift mechanisms; all this monitoring of space and systems create data that is automatically analysed, stored, and acted on following a set of protocols relevant to that particular environment and data set parameters.

Introducing elements of IIOT into the workplace brings benefits that may have been overlooked for a long time. As industry changes, procedures must be challenged and changed to incorporate savings; these can be financial, or time focussed, but are usually a combination the two as in business they are interwoven. The data created by IIOT installations is usually delivered to the system user via an app featuring real time reports and analytics. These dashboards enable a ‘call to action’ to meet maintenance requirements meaning less unplanned downtime, it can help decrease labour costs, and improve work safety.

Manufacturing is perfect for utilising IIOT and automation as all elements of the process can be led by data. An order can be processed, resources allocated, manufacture time scheduled, and the final product ready for dispatch without a human ever needing to be physically present.

The ability to have an overall view of machinery and resources over a small site can start to build a new generation of more efficient workflow and save valuable resources, of course these systems are scalable for those requiring a global overview of all your sites, personnel, and assets.

Automating elements of workflow within any business, from a small manufacturing business, to a customer service call centre, through to a vast market leading production plant, will make the difference between successfully navigating the changing landscape, and floundering helplessly as success and growth pass them by.

Smart factories utilising data collection technology makes it possible to do great things. Sensors on machinery monitors processes and builds a data fingerprint that can be used to alert staff when equipment needs repair or maintenance. This means you drastically reduce downtime due to broken machinery and save money on expensive repairs. Self-Driving Vehicles (SDV) are another automation option, these are used for picking and moving products during manufacture or logistics operations; they are responsive to employees moving around so are safer than human driven vehicles within an industrial setting. There is less room for human error causing accidents, and no accrual of holiday pay, maximum working hours, or days lost to sickness.

Automation is not about replacing human employees; it is about empowering employees to be more productive and effective. For example, utilising a chat bot for the most basic and frequently asked enquiries means that customer service advisors are more available to deal directly with customers that require deeper information and more personal service, or using an automatic call distribution system will direct callers directly to the most appropriate employee; reducing the number of contact points each enquiry entails saves your organisation time and money while providing your customers with a more meaningful customer journey.

Labour shortage is a commonly reported concern for many manufacturers, the move towards smart factories will create an evolution and even a revolution in the tasks your employees undertake. Automating some or all of your processes frees up time for your workplace talent to embark on more complex projects and elements of the business, the parts that need creativity and originality, while the automated processes complete the repetitive, mundane, or more dangerous elements of your business environment.

Investment in automated infrastructure and systems does require a financial investment that company owners and financial directors may be concerned about committing to now, but this resistance could be the decision that stalls growth and security in the long term. Automation brings many long-term productivity gains and leaves a business less susceptible to financial downturn when the next pandemic strikes, and sooner or later it will, automation is the way forward to future proof your business and preserve the long term health and safety, and financial security, of your employees.

We have all heard about the digital talent gap, and businesses should be taking the opportunity during this time of changing business landscape to invest in training and increase the digital skills set of its employees. Following a period of investment in automation, we need to safeguard new assets and resources to ensure we do not face a shortage of workers with the required skills to work and operate our new automated processes.

Smart Manufacturing Platforms are experiencing a steady growth in demand and now is the time to get proactive in the automation revolution to reap the financial, environmental, and increased productivity rewards.

Crucial to the success of automation is the monitoring of data and harnessing the power that data provides; smart data collection and automation connect the top floor to the factory floor.

 

Business

THE EFFECTS AUTONOMOUS DRIVING WILL HAVE ON THE TRANSPORTATION AND LOGISTICS INDUSTRY

Stefan Spendrup, Vice President of Sales Northern and Western Europe at SOTI 

 

‘Big thinking’ articles on how to disrupt industries from retail to healthcare have been so prolific in recent years that you would be remiss in assuming we have moved forward from the digital transformation era. Rather, it is important to think of these transformations as the natural extension of a technologically driven world, in which companies are constantly adapting to meet ever-evolving market demands and customer needs. As the pace of development in technological capabilities has increased, so too has companies’ access to technology. With this comes an expectation that companies remain current with the latest advancements.

 

Following the mobile-first era, the next stage in the evolution of digital disruption is the move toward robotics through the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI.) Once companies have integrated a comprehensive mobility strategy within their operations, we find them increasingly turning to “what’s next”; solutions that will give them an even greater advantage against competitors and help them stay ahead of the field. Machine learning is poised to meet that market demand.

 

The transportation and logistics (T&L) industry is at the forefront of this trend. An industry that may seem at first to be traditional and unchanged by technology over the past half century, has been among the earliest adopters of disruptive technology.

 

Autonomous trucking is the next frontier for the transportation industry. As larger enterprises move away from traditional practices, smaller organisations can follow and benefit from the mainstream acceptance of autonomous technology. This can be seen in areas such as:

  • Monitoring, information sharing and exchange across remote devices
  • Management of mobile devices, remotely, which can eventually be applied to powering and controlling autonomous devices
  • Remote support
  • Performance data and analysis

 

The numbers make the case. In the UK, 1.44 billion tonnes of goods were shipped via heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) in 2019, which is an increase of 2% when compared to the year before. Global e-commerce sales are set to reach $5 trillion (£3.8 trillion) by 2021, driven largely by lowered consumer costs for online shopping and the ease of ordering online for everything from fruit to furniture. This trend is not likely to decline, especially as many are looking to limit in-store interactions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be difficult for transportation and logistics companies to ignore the financial benefits of automation alone.

 

Evidential benefits of automation within the supply chain and operational practices already exist. This can be explicitly seen in Amazon’s famous robot warehouses. These IoT-enabled robotic devices can sift through packages faster than humans can. They can work anywhere and under pretty much any condition, which is why they have been employed within the supply chain to speed up delivery and enhance the end-customer experience. The Amazon example indicates that as technology advances, adoption is likely to surge.

 

When turning our focus onto delivery services, we are seeing incredible interest in autonomous trucking, which has the potential to deliver faster, more predictable and more reliable service. These benefits do not negate the valuable role humans will need to play in overseeing quality control, providing support and conducting data analytics functions to aid in further innovation.

 

Prior to implementing full-scale autonomous trucking, shippers will need to ensure that the management and assessment of a connected fleet meets jurisdictional and federal legislation in addition to minimising cybersecurity risks. High levels of connectivity often translate into greater security risks, and companies will need to prioritise security to ensure systems are built with cyber resilience capabilities and can respond quickly in the event of a cyber breach.

 

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Business

ACCOUNTANTS HAVE BECOME CRITICAL TO THE SURVIVAL OF BUSINESSES AND THEIR REPUTATIONS DURING COVID-19

Stuart Cobbe, Director of Growth, Europe, MindBridge

 

The opportunity for fraudulent activity to flourish as finance departments operate remotely with less oversight in these extraordinary Covid-19 times is inevitable. Government loans and financial support have been given out with little or no accountability to businesses that are struggling with the change in their trading environment and as a consequence businesses find themselves in financial need.

There is already evidence of corporations handing back furlough grants as HMRC offers a 90-day amnesty, but without rapid data-driven insight and risk stratification, businesses may not know the extent of their exposure. Indeed many businesses face the daunting prospect of repaying loans at the same time as paying deferred VAT early next year in a far from certain trading environment. Stuart Cobbe, Director of Growth, Europe, MindBridge explains that the role of the accountant has now become critical to businesses and their reputations.

 

Unlocking transparency

The Covid-19 landscape is fluid and ever-changing, and businesses require accurate visibility of all aspects of their business in order to plan effectively for the future and to understand their financial position. As the economy continues to recover to a new ‘normal’, companies need to focus on the next 6 months. How many ‘zombie’ businesses are only operating due to deferred VAT payments? How many companies will fail when they cannot repay loans? The role of the accountant is vital in unlocking this transparency to provide data-driven, actionable insights.

After all, there are many questions around how government financing has been used, from grants to loans, furlough payments to VAT deferments. As of the 20th September, the total cost of furlough claims has reached a staggering almost £40 billion, despite 30,000 applications being rejected, with many likely to have been attempts to defraud the taxpayer. Research by economists from Cambridge, Oxford and Zurich universities found that as many as two thirds of furloughed workers continued to work.

For businesses that do not understand the extent of their exposure, they risk facing a HMRC-imposed tax charge equivalent of up to 100% of the grant to which any recipient was not entitled and was not repaid. It is, therefore, interesting to see the number of large organisations now publicly revealing plans to repay all furlough payments. For many, this is an opportunity to boost corporate reputation and demonstrate a commitment to rediscovering business as usual. However, given the huge pressures businesses have been under in recent months, many CFOs and FDs may not have the full visibility they require to effectively manage this without the power of audit.

 

Financial Risks

This is about far more than reputational damage, the potential misuse of furlough is far from the only financial risk. The extraordinary shift in every business’ modus operandi over the past few months has opened the door for opportunistic fraud. New sources of income; staff working from home with limited oversight; the financial pressures – both business and personal – created by the recession. The misappropriation of assets should be a very real concern for businesses of every size.

For organisations that have relied upon grants and loans to survive, an employee exploiting the lack of oversight to syphon funds for personal use could tip the company into failure. Companies must determine how – or whether – deferred VAT payments and loan repayments can be made. Is the company truly solvent or no more than a ‘zombie’ business operating with a balance sheet propped up by short term government finance?

 

Actionable data

Business resilience and reputation is a priority in this era, and CFOs or FDs may be struggling to establish trust across businesses now operating under a whole new range of pressures, from slimmer margins to a disjointed, remote workforce. There is an obvious need for complete visualisation of financial risks, and accountants play a crucial role in unlocking this data.

The rapid identification of mistakes in government support applications, potential fraud and the analysis of which deferred payments and loan repayments can be made and when – whilst ensuring other risk factors do not jeopardise business stability – is essential to futureproof the business, and accountants can assess data to provide this information in a complete and actionable format to lead smarter company decisions. This is the data insight CFOs and FDs need today.

Traditional financial risk assessment models will not be adequate. At best, problems will be revealed months after the fact. Companies need rapid identification of areas of unexpected activity today. This is where accountants and finance departments using sophisticated machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques can deliver real business value by rapidly assessing financial data and surfacing unexpected activity. Armed with this information, finance teams will know where to focus activities, the questions to ask and the remedial action to take. This information will drive departments and remedial action to ensure business success and growth as the nation gets back to its feet.

In short, accountants and finance professionals can provide the answers businesses need today, whilst helping managers to plan for the future effectively, despite the changes in policies and protocols as the pandemic continues to throw curveballs. An audit can quickly identify problems including but not limited to, cash flow, fraud, misuse of grants, loan repayment issues – all whilst offering the guidance and steps to safeguard the business to promote resilience and protect the solvency and reputation.

 

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