In recent times, the global supply chain has been repeatedly disrupted. When this happens, flexibility becomes the aim of the game for manufacturers, focusing on agility and being able to adjust to customer needs. But the amount of time required by the procurement process doesn’t always lend itself to flexibility.
Protecting your margins & keeping the supply chain flexible
“At all times, the main goal for manufacturers is maintaining your margin. The majority of manufacturing businesses work to tight margins at high volume, where a 1% difference in cost can completely erode profit,” Borisov says.
In a high inflation economy - especially with B2C products - the domestic demand is often lacking, therefore cost control and spend visibility becomes key because pricing is naturally subdued. Generic spend control becomes even more important, whether that’s across subsidiaries, subscriptions or recurring costs.
Borisov says that to try and avoid the worst effects of inflation (particularly if your goods are being sold by resellers and retailers) it’s important to make sure that pricing is linked to inflation in your contracts.
“A lot of the focus is going to be on keeping costs low, rather than big price increases,” he says. “Obviously, flexibility of the supply chain is important to be able to negotiate discounts. The focus should be on balance - being flexible to get the lowest cost whilst maintaining quality.”
Using financial technology to gain a greater understanding of spending
In the current market, companies are spending more on tech and software which frequently comes with subscription based models. The controls and governance needed for their management is very different from when manufacturers initially built their systems.
“In the past, it meant managing credit limits, compliance of the supplier, supply chain, deliverables, service-level agreements (SLAs),” says Borisov. “However, now all these very common management of supplier techniques don’t work so well for subscriptions because the risks are so different. In subscriptions, the risks lie in duplicates, particularly in relation to bulk-buying and cost creep.”
Bulk buying is very typical in manufacturing, to achieve a lower unit cost. This can be done with subscriptions too - if a manufacturer identifies all the licences across the company, they can negotiate one global licence.
“But you first need to have visibility over all the costs, which is something that a lot of companies don’t have,” says Borisov.
The other risk is cost creep. Subscription models often go up in price - year one might have an introductory offer, then in year two the price goes up. Therefore Borisov says that it is essential to have visibility over time and usage data on how the subscription is being used.
“It’s a very different type of control and governance than a lot of manufacturing companies are used to, but this is where additional technology can be used to gain a great understanding of spending.”
Using technology to prioritise efficient spending
Although investing in technology can be expensive, it may be more cost-effective than additional staffing because of the associated salary or wage costs in a high inflationary market. Updating financial systems and continuing to invest in tech could also save costs in the long run.
“Looking ahead, there’s also a huge potential for benefitting from automation across the finance function, using AI to automate manual processes,” says Borisov. “Not to say that this removes the need for accounting staff because ultimately, the goal should be to upskill staff by investing in training so that they can focus on value-add activities. Right now there are a lot of people doing transactional work, because there are a lot of transactions in manufacturing.”
Borisov knows that by automating these processes, manufacturing staff can be better employed in analysing information and communicating data to stakeholders, to be able to make better business decisions.
“Automation yields the opportunity for people to take on more value-add activities, which ultimately drive further efficiency and commercial growth.”
Investing in User Experience to benefit your finance team
Across manufacturing, inventory management systems are often linked into an ERP (enterprise resource planning), the fundamental pieces of software that drive the business management. Ultimately the process of managing inventory varies from sector to sector, depending on what type of inventory you have, but the challenge that some ERP systems have is that they don’t necessarily have in-built, user-friendly ways to support spend management before any expenses hit accounting
“There are many modern spend management solutions (including cards, spend control, categorisation, and automatic data capture) on the market, which if they integrate well with an ERP, enable the user to create business expenses and reconcile them seamlessly in real time. Open APIs offer greater synergy and opportunity for connecting systems, and a company can benefit from more latitude and flexibility in the technology stack. The process remains fundamentally the same, but what changes is how people interact with it, giving the day-to-day finance manager an easier experience,” explains Borisov.
This seamless, connected view over spend is a generational change which not many systems can achieve on their own. By adopting software with an easier user-experience, the finance team will spend less time chasing expenses and manually reconciling, and more time doing strategic work, like forecasting or stakeholder engagement.
“This can also have a huge effect on employee turnover - a fulfilled staff member who feels like their day-to-day work has real impact and avoids the stresses of manual chasing is far more likely to stay in post.”
Managing risk and governance in manufacturing
Manufacturing is a more established industry sector, so naturally it has a lot more regulation than others. Incorporating new regulation, whether that relates to health and safety, environmental responsibilities or others, there is a cost attached to rolling out change. Having access to short term capital is essential, and especially having options in how you do this.
“These days it’s no longer necessary to go to the bank for a credit card or loan facility, with this new industry in fintech that offers neo-banking service which safeguards funding. Many manufacturing companies might have capital or long term financing loans, in which case a company credit card can be very useful for optimising cash flow,” says Borisov. “Most modern solutions like Payhawk are protected under an EMI scheme which means any funds using Payhawk as a debit solution is safeguarded and can’t be used for any other purposes.”