Chicago — As business is increasingly conducted via digital platforms, the ability to build trust with customers will be critical to a business's success, says Proto Labs Inc. President and CEO Vicki Holt.
As a manufacturer of custom parts for prototyping and short-run production, Proto Labs works with product developers around the world, using a system that automates the front-end engineering process. Developers upload a CAD design to Proto Labs' website, where their software analyzes the data to generate a quote. The actual part can be produced in as little as a day.
That kind of connection demands transparency, Holt said in a presentation at Plastics News' Women Breaking the Mold Networking Forum in Chicago.
"You've got to trust in that digital thread, and you've got to trust that your data is going to be held safely, and you've got to trust a manufacturer that you've never seen, they've never sat down across the desk from you, but you're going to buy over the internet," she said. "I strongly believe that in a digital world, the connections are even more important."
Leaders are pivotal in helping others embrace technology, she added, and time and energy should be committed to understanding how different technologies can have an impact.
Holt also noted the importance of understanding not only customers, but also the full network of connections that deliver value to a business.
"Don't forget your suppliers," she said. "Don't forget the companies in your ecosystem that aren't just supplying hard products, but maybe software. Understanding that ecosystem and that big picture, that's what's going to give you the ideas ... of how you can employ this technology to bring value to your business."
Technology is reconfiguring how people and businesses connect to each other, Holt said, and leaders that can establish trust in a manufacturing environment driven by automation and data exchange will have a competitive advantage.
"I truly believe that we're at the cusp of something really exciting in manufacturing," she said.