How Tech Innovations Are Reshaping the Management of Operations

Megan Stacy Deane

Posted: April 26, 2024

Table of Contents

Operations managers are in high demand in South Africa, with over 3000 jobs being advertised on Glassdoor during March alone. Production/operations management is also currently on Business Tech’s Critical Skills List for South Africa, which means many employers will be looking overseas for suitable candidates if they can’t find them at home. 

But what exactly does an operations manager do? According to Investopedia, operations management (OM) is “The administration of business practices to create the highest level of efficiency possible within an organisation.” Basically, it’s a cross-functional job that includes responsibilities such as formulating strategy, procuring material and resources, improving performance, and securing compliance, all while remaining aligned with company goals.

It’s a tall order, and one that’s become taller in recent years primarily due to the impact technology has had on the workplace. In a recent McKinsey article, they predict that rapid digitisation, the rise of contactless operations, workforce “virtualisation,” and recruitment innovations are revolutionising how managers configure their operations.

According to McKinsey, after upskilling and reskilling employees, changing the operating model (read: embracing tech) is now the most important action companies must take if they want to remain competitive and stay ahead.

Digital transformations in management of operations

While the basic functions of OM remain unchanged and share many of those performed by project managers — albeit on a larger scale — the chief goal is to manage and improve operational management systems, processes, and best practices. However, the arrival of new technologies has impacted how each core responsibility is performed. Let’s take a look. 

Product or service quality 

The operations manager is responsible for quality management processes that ensure a product or service consistently meets customer needs. While some operation managers still use a manual checklist to measure product or service quality, they can now use artificial intelligence (AI) systems to do the work. 

This includes employing machine learning algorithms to improve quality control, especially in manufacturing processes. When machines check machines (through AI-powered computer vision systems, e.g.), it reduces product defects, ensuring higher consistency in quality.

Other technologies, such as predictive analytics, can anticipate and prevent equipment failures by detecting anomalies or deviations from normal operating conditions. If deviations from quality standards are found, automated alerts are generated, allowing operators to quickly take corrective action. By analysing data, operations managers can review the production process to ensure efficiency for the next creation.

Customer service and retention

As product and service sales increasingly move online, operation managers have a host of tech tools to ensure a seamless customer journey while learning how audiences perceive their product or service. 

Whether it’s data from website visits, user engagement with ads, or simply handling complaints, being able to track and respond to your customers in real time has become central to operation managers’ role.

For example, AI virtual assistants can offer customer service around the clock and enable instant resolutions and personalised interactions. Other new tech innovations include customer support ticketing systems, customer relationship management (CRM) software, augmented and virtual reality, self-service, and data analytics and reporting tools, which increasingly streamline the work of the operations manager.

Employee management

Whether employees are on-site or remote, businesses need new technologies that enable people to collaborate and share information easily, regardless of where they are.

Communication and document-sharing platforms allow employees to collaborate easily, while virtual-conferencing software lets employees work together anywhere in the world. AI can optimise the allocation of resources, such as workforce scheduling and task assignment, which can significantly reduce operational costs.

Technology has also revolutionised recruitment, training, and onboarding processes, allowing for more efficient processes and shortening the time it takes for a new hire to become productive. 

Planning and organisation

Strategic planning prevents lapses in production and ensures goods or services are delivered on time. When strategising operations, the operations manager works cross-functionally, meaning they work closely with other departments — from finance to human resources, accounting, legal, and marketing. To streamline information gathering and sharing, operations management platforms bring data together, enabling better planning and decision-making. 

The operations manager is also responsible for inventory management. They can manage this with AI-based demand forecasting, which reduces the risk of out-of-stock or overstock scenarios. AI can also analyse historical data, extract insights, and give you the information needed to streamline production planning and supply chain operations. 

Planning also involves developing information, documents, and schedules for organisational systems to run smoothly. Tech tools allow this to be continuously assessed and refined, resulting in greater efficiency and a well-organised work environment.

What it takes to become an operations manager

An operations manager needs to be a jack of all trades. They not only work with people but also have to stay abreast of new technologies, production processes, and project management, as well as have solid business finance knowledge. 

The top skills an operation manager should have or should learn:

  • Technical proficiency in managing and implementing production automation and using software to access project data and design processes.
  • Data analysis skills to track financials, production, supply and demand, and resource allocation. 
  • Risk analysis and mitigation skills to initiate new projects and product development plans.
  • Strategic thinking skills to interpret input and information necessary for making decisions about business processes.
  • Business finance and math skills to track costs and incoming revenue and forecast future production costs and profit.
  • Strong leadership skills to ensure large teams are working towards a common goal and have the tools to do it.
  • Problem-solving skills to find solutions to obstacles and bottlenecks.

Upskilling in operations management

Understanding an operations manager’s new roles and responsibilities will help you excel at this exciting, in-demand profession.

The MasterStart Operations Manager online short course takes you to the heart of the functions you need to master to succeed in this career in the digital age, regardless of your industry. 

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