I’m a big fan of Mel Brooks and his schticky parodies, such as the 1987 cult film “Spaceballs.” In one classic scene, the Spaceballs character Dark Helmet gets comically hung up trying to understand when is “now now.” Every time I see that clip, I’m reminded how it parallels the challenges of business decision-making and how you could replace the parody with a typical business meeting.

Instead of Dark Helmet and his rambling confusion over “now” and “then” (check out the YouTube clip), you can imagine the same back-and-forth debate among finance, manufacturing, operations, warehousing/shipping and sales leaders as they try to align on customer needs, strategic directions, supplier status, current inventory and strategies for growth.

Whether you’re a manufacturer, a wholesale distributor or an ecommerce company, this thirst for timely, relevant and actionable information drives business and technology decisions. Called MIS, EIS, BI, reporting or analytics, the fundamental business quest is the same—getting access to the most relevant, timely and complete data set to make intelligent decisions.

The manufacturing business used to be run using Henry Ford’s mantra of “They can have it any color, so long as it’s black.” Then in the 1970s with MRP technology, it was “They can have it, when I make it, in the quantities I make.” Surprise, surprise… that no longer works in our uber-competitive and ultra-connected world. Now it’s the customer who calls the shots.

Companies need to listen closely to customers—and that means collecting and analyzing data to support critical business decisions. It’s no longer enough for a wholesale distributor to simply route inventory from manufacturers to end-buyers with no value-add, or for a merchant to stock commodity items (shoes, books, electronics, etc.)  With a few mouse clicks (or taps on a tablet), smart consumers will compare prices and go with a lower-cost supplier or buy directly from a manufacturer.

If the real estate mantra is “location, location, location,” the modern mantra for manufacturers and distributors is “data, data, data”—data that’s timely, relevant and actionable—to serve customers better, source intelligently and grow profitably. Shomit Ghose, a partner at the venture capital firm ONSET Ventures, recently argued in a post for Forbes (“Big Data: The Only Business Model That Tech Has Left”) that data is the last frontier for computing and business. Using all available data appropriately and rapidly to drive the business is fast emerging as a make-or-break factor for success.

What all this means is that you must, as a requirement for your survival and growth, become a data-driven business. You must have a common view of all available data and use it to help you make decisions, serve your customers and collaborate with your suppliers and partners. How to achieve that goal is by choosing a software solution that runs core business operations from finance, sales, order to cash, supply chain, inventory, and customer support and service. You can’t afford to remain in the fragmented world of data silos because “now is now” and you need to move!

-Roman Bukary

GM, Manufacturing and Wholesale Distribution Industries