Informed Decisions:  Service centers can leverage advanced analytics and AI to leave the past behind and prepare for the future

Above: BEN MARANS, CEO of CloudForge, a software company tailored to metals industry workflows.

December, 2023-  

Q: Artificial intelligence is reshaping numerous industries, so how do you envision AI helping service centers?

A: Metal service centers, given their unique operational dynamics, have a distinct set of opportunities to harness AI. While many industries have already begun reaping the benefits of AI, metal service centers lag notably behind. Intelligent quoting systems tailored for the metals sector can optimize pricing based on specific market nuances. Predictive analytics can offer finely tuned inventory purchasing recommendations, while AI-driven analysis of sales history can reveal industry-specific buying trends and cycles. Furthermore, enhanced search functionality makes accessing vast databases of metals and alloys more streamlined and accurate. Bringing AI into the fold ensures metal service centers will stay competitive and relevant in a rapidly advancing technological landscape.

Q: As we observe generational shifts, what changes do you see in terms of technology adoption and expectations?

A: We’re noticing a heightened expectation for modern technology. This demand is propelled by the newer entrants—both employees and owners—who have grown up in the digital age and find themselves frustrated by archaic systems that lack the intuitiveness and flexibility they’re accustomed to. The legacy systems, with their outdated user interface (UI) and rigid workflows, stand in stark contrast to the sleek, user-friendly platforms ubiquitous in other industries. It’s high time for metal service centers to acknowledge this gap. Adopting modern workflow software, grounded in current UI principles and designed for adaptability, is no longer a mere luxury—it’s an imperative. This transition isn’t just about appeasing the younger generation; it’s about ensuring the industry’s long-term vitality, competitiveness and appeal. Metal centers must not be left behind in the digital evolution but rather champion the change to future-proof their business.

Q: What are the most pressing needs for improved metal service center software?

A: Service centers must delve into their data to uncover patterns. Imagine discovering that your steel sheets have a commanding 72 percent win rate, significantly outpacing the 55 percent for coils and 60 percent for tubes. Insights like this spur questions about whether money is being left on the table or if there are opportunities to adjust pricing strategies to match market perceptions. Sales teams require robust tools for enhancing order profitability, tracking open quotes and orders, and nurturing relationships. An integrated CRM and quoting tool captures essential customer details and improves profit margins and facilitates tailored interactions. Quoting systems should rapidly generate precise and optimal quotes. They must integrate current inventory, current market rates and prior client transactions to ensure accuracy and speed. An unmonitored quote can lead to a missed deal so your software must actively track quotes and automatically remind teams to follow up, ensuring no opportunities slip through and thereby increasing quote win rates. Rather than just providing data, a software system should actively interpret sales data and market fluctuations. This allows service centers to determine optimal pricing and receive product recommendations based on the software’s analysis. Given the unique sales history and trends associated with each customer and product (often interlinked), proactive pricing suggestions should be tailored accordingly. This ensures they are in tune with the market while maximizing profitability.

Q: How can software connect all facets of the operation?

A: As sales teams confirm quotes and orders, there’s a direct impact on procurement needs. Software solutions should seamlessly interlink these workflows, ensuring that as sales and quotes are made, procurement workflows adjust in real time (e.g., buy-out management), streamlining order fulfillment and preventing misalignments. Additionally, the suite should include the ability to create customer portals to provide real-time order updates, rapid quote response times, and online order placements can drive customer loyalty and boost sales. Real-time inventory visibility ensures timely order fulfillment and optimizes stocking strategies. These platforms should be straightforward for training newcomers, reduce redundant clicks and enhance task simplicity, all while accelerating workflow productivity. 

Q: How can predictive analytics assist service centers?

A: The challenge for service centers is clear—how to forecast volatile metal prices. While the industry grapples with uncertainties about future pricing, a vast reservoir of data, including endmarket indices, real-time pricing and sales information within ERPs, is available but remains untapped. Predictive analytics can be the solution. By aggregating, standardizing and analyzing this data, these tools can offer precise forecasts on metal pricing trends. Tailored to a service center’s unique needs, these insights empower companies to make informed inventory purchasing decisions, optimizing both costs and profits. Furthermore, this data-driven approach reduces the risks of stockouts or overstock scenarios, ensuring service centers are poised to meet market demands. Leveraging these capabilities can enhance operational efficiency and bolster competitive edge, navigating the challenges of a volatile market with confidence. CloudForge:

Software Forged for the Metal Industry,

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