Manufacturing Pros Stay Connected from the Factory Floor Using Social Tools

As we continue to look at how social networking is viewed in the workplace, be sure to check out new videos from Microsoft customers and decision makers at MWH Global, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Nationwide Insurance on how they are utilizing this technology in their own doors. All this and more is on our Enterprise Social Newsroom here.

Today we’ll be looking at trends and findings in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing industries rely on social technology every day to keep their business’ running smoothly, and, according to our survey, manufacturing employees are more likely than other polled sector to use social tools to communicate with vendors.

This can be very important. Imagine you are a remote employee working on an oil rig in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. If an issue arises, you need to nimbly and efficiently contact your numerous colleagues and vendors who may be in offices hundreds of miles away. Social networking tools make this possible and help prevent minor issues from becoming catastrophes.

This same model can be applied to a petrochemical company or a nuclear facility: if an issue comes up onsite, social collaboration tools can help spread the word fast and prevent big problems. Social tools are not only useful for fixing problems in the field quickly. They also can help manufacturers collaborate through the various stages of innovation.

For example, Textron is an American family of companies that includes Bell Helicopter, Cessna Aircraft Company, and Greenlee, among others in the manufacturing and aerospace development industries. It was founded by Royal Little in 1923, and has grown to approximately 32,000 employees in 29 countries. Over the course of the past year, Textron has transformed its approach to employee engagement, collaboration and communications through the use of multiple social tools,including SharePoint 2010, Lync 2010 and proprietary apps powered by Microsoft technologies.

By utilizing these technologies, Textron is seeing employee communication greatly increase. People from across their company are sharing ideas, feedback, and knowledge. Be sure to read more information about how Textron is engaging in enterprise social technologies here.

Textron isn't the only manufacturer to utilize social technologies. Xerox and Tyco are using Yammer internally to increase collaboration and employee communication as well.

Dave Roberts, Regional Director of IT - Europe-Africa & Middle East at MWH Global explains how social technologies help internal employee communication.See the full video here.

The discrete manufacturing industry uses these tools for collaboration, not just within the product development space, but across other key organizations in defining, developing, and producing new products such as sales, marketing, customer service, and supply chain manufacturing.

However, manufacturing employees were the most likely to report getting in trouble for using social tools at work above all other industries, according to the survey. And only 30 percent say their managers embrace the use of social tools in the office.

Enterprise social networking can help manage the ideation process (idea generation, assessment, and selection to move forward), the product development process (sharing product requirements and specs, engineering change requests, bills of materials, build plans, etc.), and the ramp up into production (sharing bills of materials, production plans, supplier information, quality control, materials availability, demand forecasts, etc.).

In each of these processes, people have to work together in both a structured and unstructured fashion. There are formal meetings for things like stage gate reviews, approval processes, and production system build schedules. There are also many unstructured interactions over things like IM chats, ad-hoc meetings, and planning meetings. Social collaboration can be used as the platform to facilitate both types of engagements.

Social tools provide support in facilitating ideas among the work teams, facilitating outreach to subject matter experts who can provide insight into issues the work team is struggling with, and providing access to data (business analytics) that the work team may require to understand the nature and impact of an issue. In fact, 33 percent of manufacturing employees are using social tools to promote work-related initiatives, and 29 percent are using social tools to find an expert or information within their company – numbers that show both industry impact and room for expanded use across the industry.

Stay tuned for more insights this week about other enterprise social network industry trends. In addition, we invite you to take a look at our new Microsoft Business Newsroom for more information on this survey and other business news from the company.

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