The enormous potential of automation

Published on by NTS-Group

Theo Geenen started working as logistic planner at NTS directly after he had finished his business study 35 years ago. At that moment IT was still in its infancy but Theo directly recognized its enormous possibilities and potential and made his profession out of it. In his role as IT Manager at NTS he was the driving force behind essential improvements and increase in efficiency. Currently, as Manager Information Systems,  his focus mainly is on CRM, ERP, Business Intelligence and Electronic Data Interchange. By now companies cannot even imagine running a business without business automation. A clever IT strategy can even be the competitive advantage a company has compared to its competition.

“When I started at NTS, that then still was Nebato, we planned the complete production processes ourselves, “Theo explains. “An intermediate survey we held, showed us that only 20 percent of our products were delivered in time. In two years’ time we were able to increase timely deliveries up to 90 per cent. That was a very challenging time and the appreciation we got was great. At the same time the number of customers increased, also outside our country’s borders.”

High quality standards for optimal process design because of customer

“One of these customers worked with extremely high-quality standards and suppliers needed to meet these same ISO standards. The customer included us in their ideas about optimal process design. We learned a lot from this and we received several awards for it. We tried to continuously improve our processes to meet the demands and we have been able to raise our quality to a very high level.”

Various interesting IT-developments for the future

“At the moment we work with Microsoft Dynamics NAV to support our business processes. It is the most flexible version of the Microsoft ERP package and that flexibility is very nice for its users. At the moment there are 530 users. Furthermore, we see a lot of new IT-developments that could be interesting to us in the future. In this it is essential to keep a good balance between standardisation and customisation and to ensure the different systems remain interconnected.”

Customer portals for optimising order processes

“An example of a future development NTS is currently working on, are portals or customer portals. These portals among others offer customers the possibility to order their products in a different way. You can completely automate the order process including logistics, billing and confirmation. This requires the companies involved to be able to mutually exchange data and basically speak the same language. As the number of companies that have matching system increases, the more accessible it is to work with a portal. This we call Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). EDI will eventually lead to an acceleration in order acceptation, a decrease in error probability and less manual administrative actions. I expect the latter to disappear completely within ten years. Certainly, at larger companies.” 

Gain strategic advantage with IT

“Another development towards the future is a paperless office. For now, that is still one bridge too far. Engineers still like to work with models on paper but I expect this eventually will also change. We live in an era of extreme transition. Developments are now moving faster than ever before. That is why companies are forced to have IT take centre stage in order to achieve strategic advantages. When we are able to connect each random customer to our systems without too much efforts, we have a large competitive advantage compared to our competition. Moreover, a company cannot afford having more employees than is strictly necessary. Then you will be elbowed out of the market.”

Automation when it has added value

“This does not mean that you need to automate everything that can be automated. You need to have a solid business case, it needs to have added value and its needs to be supported by employees. When people cannot or do not want work with certain systems, automation is pointless. When automation is the result of a bottom-up demand chances for it to succeed are highest. On a regular basis colleagues approach us because they see possibilities to structure processes in a more efficient way.”

Optimising primary business processes

“At the moment we are mainly busy optimising primary business processes with the help of ERP. NTS has thirteen companies and the processes vary per company. The possibilities for improvement depend of several aspects such as the company’s maturity level, the company’s culture, the type of customer and the country’s culture. Factories in China and the Czech Republic both demand a different approach. It is very important to regularly visit these factories. That is why I travel to the Czech Republic and Asia once or twice a year.

EDI and dashboards offering management information

“Besides this we, as I mentioned before, are looking into the possibility of applying Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) (the matching customer portals) and we are exploring Business Intelligence options in order for the management to dispose of a dashboard containing real time management information. The developments concerning EDI are evolving quickly, the first portal is about to go live within two weeks.”

Agreements on EDI with other high-tech companies

“EDI in a sense is a language that customers and suppliers agree on and that needs to be coordinated. There are a lot of different languages and the challenge is realising more synergy in this field. To make sure all companies speak the same language, we work together with other high-tech companies and organisations and Brainport Industries in a Smart Industry fieldlab. What we do in this fieldlab is pretty trailblazing for this industry.”

Progress for NTS and our customers

“Altogether NTS’ investments in IT have been extremely fruitful for NTS and for our customers. Over the last few years we have succeeds in shortening handling time and speeding up the time-to-market of parts and products. Moreover, the probability of failure has decreased and that saves costs both for NTS as its customers. Furthermore, automation has led to an increase in transparency which results in less discussions which makes it possible to focus on what is truly important. That is what I call progress.”

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