• 05/01/2013
    1:14 PM
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How To Innovate In A Low-Tech Industry

IT manager at family-owned Bremen Castings discusses how the firm capitalizes on new technology in the old-fashioned foundry business.

The developers behind Bremen's ERP system worked closely with Bremen to develop specific user interfaces and other features for positions on the production line, for instance. IT also recently began using Citrix's GoToAssist to provide real-time support to users on the plant floor.

The same holds true for Bremen's nationally distributed sales force. "This helps us reach out to those clients without 'sneakernetting' it out to the individual users and going out into the environment," Sweet said. "Every minute helps when you're dealing with this environment."

It helps, too, when you can generate multiple benefits from the same investments. Large monitors, for example, aren't just a good fit for the foundry floor. They're also productivity and efficiency drivers. Similar screens are posted in all common areas, displaying data and workflows from the ERP system to keep everyone informed of production scheduling, upcoming jobs and tracking how well teams are doing on particular jobs. "Everyone sees those numbers, so it also adds to accountability throughout the entire infrastructure," Sweet said.

Not everyone gets to work for owners and executives who "get it" when it comes to IT. But that doesn't mean you can't stay ahead of the curve rather than constantly playing catch-up or the patch-and-maintenance game. For Bremen, IT strategy is an ongoing process, not a large, long-term project followed by stasis until it's time for the next major tech refresh. "We're always looking for new and improved ways to complete our business processes and workflow," Sweet said.

The Bremen team also completes significant research before deploying new technologies. This minimizes unpleasant surprises and headaches; Sweet said Bremen hasn't had any IT projects roll out in the last couple of years that he would call a failure. "Do your research," Sweet advised. "Talk to other people that have already implemented the technology."

Given its ongoing approach to IT projects, the team works closely with end users to minimize disruption, offer training, and solicit feedback. That cuts down on the grumbling on deployment day, among other upsides.

"We have regular meetings, lunch-and-learns, send out training videos, links to YouTube videos -- we do whatever it takes to get information out to the end users," Sweet explained. "It's very important that they don't become stagnant as well. You keep them in a mode of constant learning, constant change, and the users tend to be a lot more receptive."

In other words, Bremen doesn't do anything simply because it's the way it's always been done. "What works for you today might not work for you tomorrow. You always have to keep an open mind," Sweet said. "That's the biggest hurdle that most companies have to get over: They keep using something out of habit and that's just not going to work in today's world."


re: How To Innovate In A Low-Tech Industry

Hi Kevin,
Great case study about how innovation can change any business. I've shared it with the BizSugar community because I think it's instructive to any small business owner or manager. Innovation can change (and improve) your operations no matter what kind of company you run. Thanks for posting!

re: How To Innovate In A Low-Tech Industry

Thanks, Heather. I appreciate the note/share,

-Kevin Casey