Helping Manufacturers Create an Ecosystem to Unlock Business Value from their Connected Products

Feb 14, 2023
Manufacturing | 6 min READ
Why is having an Ecosystem critical to Manufacturers?
The Cambridge dictionary defines an ecosystem as any complicated system consisting of many different people, processes, activities, etc., especially relating to technology, and the way that they affect each other. Simply put, it is a strong, connected network of stakeholders and technology that may extend across the value chain. The same holds true for organizations. To succeed, they need a robust, resilient, and dependable ecosystem.
Shamdutt Kamble
Shamdutt Kamble

Global Practice Director

Digital Manufacturing


Rishu Sharma
Rishu Sharma

Practice Director

Digital Evangelist and Storyteller, Digital BU


Broadly, the ecosystem includes vendors, service providers, manufacturers, and customers, and sometimes, may also bring governments and research institutes into its ambit. In this ecosystem, business value is created through enablement and integration with digital technologies such as IoT, across the value chain.
At the forefront of it all is a Connected Product powered by IoT, which enables remote operations, preventative maintenance, product-enabled service, and efficient delivery of content and consumables. Then there is the enhancement of the supply chain with IoT-enabled asset/inventory management and logistics management, which improves visibility, tracking, and resiliency. 
This interplay of stakeholders and the technology aiding them can be termed the manufacturing ecosystem. Generally, these ecosystems can be categorized as Talent, Customer, Production, and Supply chain.
The ecosystem builds a competitive advantage for manufacturers to hold their own in a disruptive landscape. This is achieved by helping them manage market uncertainty by including diverse partners who face different risks and who may be operating in vastly different ways with varied business models.
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The Foundations of an Ideal Ecosystem
Merely having a vendor system or a network of vendors, however, is not equivalent to having a manufacturing ecosystem. A truly beneficial ecosystem is infused with elements of collaboration, co-innovation, and shared goals, adding value to all participants – right from the vendors and providers to the organization’s workforce.

A strong manufacturing ecosystem stands on the following three pillars:
Pillar 1 - Community and Co-innovation
Participants of an ecosystem must align on mutual business objectives and collaborate with a common focus. Collaborative innovation and sharing knowledge and technological capability are key to achieving mutual growth.
For instance, co-innovation would mean an organization creating a product while leveraging on and engaging the complementary skills and knowledge of the ecosystem’s other participants, such as vendors, service providers, etc. Such a product would not only be complete end-to-end, it would have complementary inputs from the ecosystem partners.
Helping Manufacturers Create an Ecosystem to Unlock Business Value from their Connected Products
Pillar 2 – Technology and Infrastructure
It is rare for an organization to have or develop all the technological capabilities needed to embark on its Smart Manufacturing journey from scratch. However, by embracing the mutually complementary technology with ecosystem participants, the organization and other participants stand a better chance of creating successful connected products. Another aspect is the presence of open technology infrastructure and interfaces that can help integrate various technologies.

This is where a partner like Birlasoft can help you get started.
intelliAsset for Silos - For safer RMX Operations, Customer Excellence and Process Efficiency
Birlasoft enabled a Global Building Materials Company to drive customer excellence, optimize operational efficiency, and improve employee health and safety with the IntelliAsset for Silos Solution, developed on an Industrial IoT Platform. A critical part of their supply chain has been automated with this solution – including timely delivery of cement to RMX plants, automated re-ordering, driver behavior tracking, and fleet optimization. The other advantages include the following:
  • Efficient Stock Utilization and Management: Integration with various EBM systems and data collection from the control layer
  • Continuous monitoring of critical sensors, scalable data acquisition, and streaming: high velocity, volume, and a variety of near-to-real-time data
  • Automated cement ordering and tracking: re-ordering based on cement level, weather conditions, lead-time, demand and consumption patterns, etc.
  • Maintenance Scheduling and Monitoring: Monitor maintenance schedule and automatically capture maintenance records for critical equipment
  • Data Analytics and Representation: Monitor cement stock levels, replenishment analytics, and production plant utilization dashboard
  • Health and Safety Improvement: Eliminate operational risks related to unloading material from the truck to iSilo, regardless of the unloading point
  • Machine Learning for Replenishment and Logistics Costs Optimization: ML ‘agent’ using the reinforcement learning technique to order the cement and push as many orders as possible to non-working hours
Solution Impact
Solution Impact
Pillar 3 – Data Sharing
While data is the most valuable asset in an ecosystem, there should be a proper framework to access, use and share data across partners. A system of data governance must be in place to ensure confidentiality, trust, and privacy.
With access to large amounts of data generated through the ecosystem, the organization can extract value from massive real-time data using AI/ML models and draw better insights. Data is extremely important in some cases, such as the Digital Twin, where data inputs from multiple participants of the ecosystem are required.
However, a complete understanding is required of what type of data can be accessed, by whom, and until when, while ensuring that the key Intellectual Property of the participants is protected.
Leveraging Ecosystems to enhance Agility and Flexibility
Having an ecosystem in place can also help manufacturers speed up and scale their Smart Manufacturing initiatives and allow organizations to embark on more innovative and challenging initiatives and transformations. This helps the organization become more agile, flexible, and driven. The presence of an ecosystem with varied participants can also help create diverse solutions to various business cases and gain a broader perspective. Consequently, an organization can also gain new partnerships and insights through the ecosystem and expand organically.
With predictable production and integrated Demand Management powered by an IIoT-driven ecosystem, manufacturers can enhance revenue with a better customer experience and new business models. They can accelerate operations and efficiency with enhanced workplace safety and green energy monitoring while exerting control on asset utilization and uptime for improved reliability and maintenance. Within an ecosystem, manufacturers can also look toward reducing transaction costs and also reduce risk.
A Framework for the Ecosystem Approach
Some points to be considered while building an ecosystem are:
  • A basic analysis to decide what types of ecosystem participants the organization would have to work with in order to create a technology/capability pool that is complementary to the current internal capabilities.
  • Assignment of roles and responsibilities to different participants in the ecosystem and incentives/propositions for their continued support. This may involve creating a roadmap for the journey forward.
  • Expectation setting of what is possible and what is beyond the scope.
  • Striking a balance between knowledge sharing and protecting key IP while creating connected products.
  • A way to ensure that no participant in the ecosystem takes undue advantage of their position. Instead, what is required is holistic growth. However, if the relationship is asymmetric, some conditions need to be agreed upon and implemented.
  • Mutual training and networking between participants to strengthen the ecosystem and network effect.
In conclusion, an ecosystem approach to Smart Manufacturing and beyond can help an organization overcome internal and external barriers with the perspective shift, foster the spirit of co-innovation, and achieve wide-ranging benefits – operational excellence, cost reduction, efficiency, and flexibility.
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