Drew Locher is the President of Change Management Associates, a leading consultancy dedicated to developing and delivering programs to enhance the skills and knowledge of organizations, and a faculty member of the Lean Enterprise Institute. We recently sat down with him to discuss how technology and lean principles are having an impact on the ability of small businesses to expand internationally.
Exact: How have manufacturing challenges changed over the past fifteen years?
Drew: I wouldn’t necessarily say that the challenges have changed, but that the rise of technology has altered how businesses address certain challenges. Take competition for example – it’s always been a challenge in business but now small companies can take advantage of new technologies to compete on a global scale. Today every business has the ability to grow internationally to increase revenue and find new customers. The rise of new emerging markets will only continue to generate more opportunity.
It’s gotten to the point where companies don’t have to be housed in the countries they’re doing business in. Just last week I was meeting with a defense contractor that’s conducting business with the U.S. government, but they’re based out of the U.K. That’s certainly something we’d never see without the rapid proliferation of technology.
Exact: How can small manufacturers use lean principles to expand internationally?
Drew: Small businesses, especially manufacturers, will need to get creative when expanding internationally as new customers in emerging markets are already being targeted by large multi-nationals with a local presence. The first thing they can do is partner with other local small business to share programs – this will cut down on costly overhead. The next thing is to increase focus on customer service by offering a more personal approach to purchasing process. That’s the key to winning the hearts of new customers – by providing a personalized service model small businesses can steer revenue away from larger companies because customers want a user experience alongside their services. Lastly, don’t take a one size fits all approach to adopting technology. Be honest with what you need, but more importantly, what you can afford. Only use what makes sense for you.
Exact: How should small manufacturers take advantage of technology to help grow their businesses?
Drew: Historically I’ve always tried to advise clients to limit their dependencies on technology; but that’s changed slightly since the introduction of the cloud. The cloud allows businesses to take a much more tailored approach to how it uses technology so it’s no longer the “one size fits all” model I talked about earlier. Simply put, the cloud allows businesses to be agile and flexible in a globalized economy.
One of the major areas I’ve seen technology adoption help is with small manufacturers. With small businesses, collaboration is huge. Technology now allows engineers to virtually attend meetings with prospects and the sales team to answer questions in real-time. The agility that small businesses need to deliver specific products is also made easier with the cloud. Now sales representatives and the customers themselves have the ability to fine tune orders and design specifications with the touch of a few buttons; this allows for orders to be quickly customized, ultimately reducing manufacturing backlogs. It’s real-time and efficient customer relations.
But, with anything, technology upgrades need to be adopted with discipline and at a pace that’s right for your business and not viewed as a quick fix where other long-term solutions are required.