Small and medium-sized manufacturing has typically not taken to Microsoft Azure and Office 365, and I have often wondered why, as the savings can be huge. Take, for example, a fictional B2C company that makes log homes, with office and manufacturing hours of 8am – 5pm EST M-F, sales times of 8am – 8pm EST, M-Sa, and a B2C website. How can Microsoft save them money?
Microsoft Office 365 (O365)
By moving from on-premise Exchange to O365, you start to see the advantages of the Cloud. You no longer have to worry about your servers being up all the time, and spam and malware are automatically scanned for you. Everyone can receive email no matter where they are, what device they are using, or the state of the connection to the office.
Word, Excel and all the other Office programs are either Cloud-based or click-to-run on any device, and are also upgraded without any input or extra effort from your IT department.
Skype for Business (S4B)
Utilizing Skype for Business puts your phone system in the Cloud. Your 800 and other phone numbers are migrated to Skype PSTN numbers, and can still use an auto-attendant with call routing. You can also use video calling within your organization. On top of this, calls can be routed to people’s normal cell phones, so you never miss a sales call. And again, this does not require any connection back to the office, so it works anywhere and no matter what happens with the main office.
Now we move into Azure.
Migrating your back-end systems into Azure can reduce expenses greatly. Not only can you right-size your systems, and only pay a regular price for them, but they can easily be upgraded or downgraded with a simple reboot. This means that most of the time you can run on a smaller system, but for month or year-end, as well as inventory time, you can upgrade them to handle the extra loads. No longer do you have to buy a bigger-then-needed system for once-in-a-while situations, and pay for them over 5 years.
To add to the cost savings, you can also turn off the servers at night and the weekends, when no-one is using them, and turn them back on automatically before business starts. This can save you lots of money, as Azure only charges you while the machine is consuming resources, which means you are now only paying for 180 hours / month instead of 720.
If your company uses a web-based sales system, you can now move this into Azure, too, by either migrating your server as a VM or using Azure web applications. Either way, your sales team can now access sales information no matter where they are, and sales can continue even if a storm knocks out your head office.
For sales reporting, you can take advantage of Power BI, which is part of Office 365, and the other services available in Azure. This includes deep sales analysis and customer engagement systems like chat-bots and social media integration, so you can interact with the customer while they are still on your webpage.
What about manufacturing?
The logs for log homes can be cut using either the latest machines in automation, or reliable machines from the 50’s. Either way, you can find out more information about what is being produced and how they are running by connecting to Azure.
With modern machines, connecting to Azure is as simple as interfacing with the computer controller running the machine, which can send all the data to Azure for analysis with Machine Learning or by simply running it into a database.
If you are using a machine from the 1950s, a group of Raspberry Pi systems running Windows 10 IoT can be connected to almost any sensor you can imagine, enabling real-time performance reporting into the same database your other, more modern machines are reporting to. And you can also add new features to either machines, such as adding cameras to the Raspberry Pi systems and using Microsoft Azure’s image processing applications, so now you can see if the logs are the right type, or if a log must be rejected because of a split or other quality control reason.
Using all this new-found data will give you a complete picture into your manufacturing systems, with which you can use Power BI to view and to optimize your processes. And since you only run your machines Monday through Friday, you can save a lot of money by turning them off at nights and over the weekend, and resizing them up or down, as needed.
Migrating it all
If you think migrating all your systems to Azure is time consuming and costly, you would be wrong. Microsoft’s Fast Track can be used to migrate to Office 365 cheaply and quickly, with savings being realized within a short amount of time. Azure Site Recovery can also be used to migrate your servers to Azure Virtual Machines with only minutes of downtime, even if you currently have physical, VMWare or Hyper-V servers, and your Windows licenses can be migrated over as well, saving you even more.
With Office265 and Azure, your company can reduce the need for expensive MPLS connections, and can change all offices to more economic Internet-only lines. Your phone system and email are protected from any disaster, so your sales team can always be reached by a new customer. All your sales teams use tablets and cell phones, and are converting more social media contacts into sales, and accounting is as happy as you are only paying for right-sized systems and only while they are being used.
Manufacturing is excited as they can now have full visibility into even their oldest machines, and quality control and inventory are more accurate than ever.
Welcome to the Cloud.