Monday, June 17, 2024
AgricultureBusinessFood + Hospitality

Food Manufacturers Must Lean into Standardization

By Nic Azad, TrakSYS Communications Lead at Parsec Automation Corp

Picture this: you’re a server at a restaurant renowned for its cheeseburgers. One of your customers says they want the house special with just a few substitutions. Their order: house cheeseburger with no bun, cheese, ketchup, or mustard; substitute the ground beef with a black bean patty, and the pickles for microgreens; and swap the bib lettuce for a side of kale, the beefsteak tomato for a side of fruit, and the french fries for a sweet potato mash. As you deliver their meal—which arrives after everyone else’s meal in their party because it took the kitchen so long to prepare—you can’t help but wonder: Sure, this meets their specifications, but why did they order the house special if they wanted something completely different? 

Regardless of their preferences for sweet potato mash, food manufacturers may find themselves in a similar situation when it comes to selecting operations management software for their business. When perusing the menu of available options, it may be tempting to opt for a solution that can be tailored to all the unique layers in the production process. But manufacturers must ask themselves whether such a degree of customization is truly necessary, cost-effective, and—to carry the food analogy a little further along—palatable in providing the right blend of software “flavors” that work well together. Will such customization truly make a meaningful difference? Could a standardized solution meet their needs? Is the hunger for an immediate fix obscuring their judgment? All of these are important questions to ask on the road to solution selection.

Solution customization is not the silver bullet it’s touted to be

It can be all too easy to fall victim to the belief that customization will necessarily make a solution more successful in the marketplace, but this is not the case. It’s true: software solutions should accommodate customer needs. However, a solution that only becomes viable after unfettered customization is—as the food-forward analogy above alluded to—not as viable (or impactful, for that matter) as one that is tried, tested, and able to provide proven, goal-specific ROI in a standardized package.

Even the most straightforward software solutions can require meticulous implementation and testing, to say nothing of deliberately complex configurations that stretch far beyond their intended purpose. When manufacturers opt for heavy customization, they also inadvertently sign up for lengthier implementation times, longer time to ROI, and more fragile frameworks that can fall apart at the slightest re-adjustment. Extensive customization is not a vehicle to revolutionize businesses—it is an obstacle that will stand in the way of meaningful progress.

On the other hand, when manufacturers forgo unnecessary customization and instead opt for a standardized/templatized software solution, they find themselves very quickly reaping the benefits. Without the self-imposed customization hurdles, manufacturers will see their implementations streamlined and will find their teams substantially less bogged down by things like troubleshooting and solution configuration. Standardized or templated software solutions are designed to launch relatively quickly; introducing hyper-customization directly impedes that momentum. By opting for a templated platform, food manufacturers minimize downtime and can focus on meeting customer needs and driving results.

Customer demands are loftier than ever

In addition to being a boon for internal operations, standardized solutions can also help food manufacturers address ever-evolving customer expectations. If the past few years have given us anything, it’s a newfound appreciation for the supply chain—something that most consumers likely had never considered when making everyday purchases. But now it seems as though everyone is hyper-aware of the negative impact of a dysfunctional supply chain. In an ideal world, insight into supply chain complexities would make consumers more empathetic when businesses suffer operational challenges. In our reality, however, even the most enlightened customers still expect to obtain the products they want when they want them.

Food manufacturers now face ever-heightened pressure from customers to reliably fulfill orders on time and within budget. Indeed, it appears as though reliability is a new priority for customers making purchasing decisions. A 2022 study from Harvard and Mastercard found that 78% of respondents wouldn’t trust unreliable brands, and 45% of respondents said they expected businesses to “do it right” every time. To align with today’s customer expectations, food manufacturers must ensure they have the right tools to get the job done.

If food manufacturers are banking on a heavily customized solution to be the secret sauce that curries favor with customers, they must re-examine their line of thinking. Unnecessary customization could push a solution beyond the tipping point and neutralize many of the benefits that made it appealing in the first place. In many cases, customizing a software solution takes time and resources to format highly specific processes—time and resources that could be better spent ensuring customer needs are being met.

Standardized, templatized software solutions are specifically designed to be reliable and trustworthy. They are designed and proven to yield the results businesses may find themselves looking for in the first place. For many of today’s food manufacturers, the name of the game is no longer “edge out the competition at all cost,” but rather “show up consistently for customers every single day.” The reliable, durable frameworks of standardized solutions can help food manufacturers drive efficiency, achieve ROI, and meet evolving customer demands.

Final thoughts

Vetting and selecting manufacturing software is no small feat, and decision-makers should remind themselves of why they wanted a solution in the first place. Presumably, it was because they were experiencing a problem or shortcoming that needed to be addressed. When it comes to software, customization can be a value-add, but manufacturers should tread very lightly if they hope to maximize solution impact and gain a competitive edge. In many cases, food manufacturers will find solution customization to be a lot like iceberg lettuce—it may feel right in the moment with the promise of its satisfying crunch, but ultimately, it’s disappointingly light on substantive, lasting benefits.

As the TrakSYS Communications Lead, Nic Azad works with Parsec’s Product and Marketing departments to write and create content that is equal parts engaging and informative. With content ranging from articles to infographics and educational webinars, Nic consistently endeavors to showcase TrakSYS (and the company behind it) in new and impactful ways.

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