Whilst the concept of digital companions has been around for many years, implementation and use cases have generally been restricted to gaming and consumer services. A number of trends are now opening this up to new industries.
For manufacturers of all sizes, that sweet spot in time when technology, price and accessibility all converge means that the possibilities afforded by offering their own digital companions is now a reality.
With smartphones now ubiquitous and manufacturers products more than likely being operated well away from a desk, the most obvious and valuable digital companion takes the form of a mobile app.
Manufacturing leaders are forging ahead
There is already a growing base of manufacturing enterprises, such as Liebherr, Bosch, JCB and Dewalt, who have struck out early with, in some cases, multiple apps on the app stores and are gaining considerable competitive advantage.
These leaders are providing dedicated digital companion apps to offer a range of digital tools and services to support and enhance their products. They are providing them for their sales teams & engineers, their dealer advisors & technicians, and their ultimate end-users/operators.
The JCB Operator App is fantastic companion app example which allows daily checks and inspection documents to be submitted digitally, via a smartphone. This was part of a $6 million investment in to customer support and shows how serious digital product and service innovation has now become.
A new way to solve multiple pains
The value for manufacturers, and demand from dealers and customers is strong, and for good reason when seen as solving some of the industry’s toughest challenges:
- Decreasing customers’ cost through operator proficiency and productivity
- Speeding up repairs by equipping technicians with expert knowledge
- Preventing downtime by solving the last mile IoT challenge
- Plugging the skills gap with on-demand training & continuous learning
- Driving sales by empowering dealers to become trusted advisors
- Engaging with users to drive break-through product design
- Enhancing products with app based machine control and feedback
- Increase ROI of exhibitions with real-time product information for visitors
Although at first glance these use cases can seem varied, in all scenarios manufacturers need to maximise the success and productivity of their customers. And they achieve this by providing users with access to the right digital tools and information, anywhere and at anytime, with context, in their language and surfaced in simple and fast to use interfaces.
Switching challenges to opportunities
When set against the key industry trends the challenges are even more glaring and urgent:
- The lack of skilled operators
- Increasing product complexity
- Increasing product criticality to customers operations
- Customer experience joining product and price as a key purchasing factor
- The move to zero downtime / preventative maintenance model
- Transition to a more service and up-time based revenue model (servitisation)
So the near-term future for many manufacturers will be that a digital companion app will be offered (read required) as standard with each of their products. For the leaders already adopting and deploying these technologies they will come to form more and more a core part of their product and service offering, further differentiating themselves from the competition in their customers perception and productivity.
And in a classic virtuous cycle, they will be provided the feedback to create even more advanced products & companions that meet the needs, and drive value, to their customers.