Do we need yet another service provider’s cloud..?

No! Too many service portals are making business more complicated for machine users: let’s have more software connectivity and open standards instead, says Maarten Hummelen.

Focusing on what customers actually value separates the best companies from the rest. Vendors channel their resources into providing products, services or activities that give some kind of competitive advantage – while eliminating those non-value items that are purchased reluctantly.

‘What are my customers buying from me?’ is a fundamental – if not existential – reality check for businesses. With mobile phones, Apple was the first to recognize that it was convenience, simplicity, productivity – an experience, not just a device to make calls with a keyboard. They knew what satisfied the customer and it changed the face of the industry, literally.

Machine suppliers may tell you it’s faster throughput, optimum operational efficiency or the ability to get innovations to market first, and so on.

But where does the service portal fit into your product offering? I’m not questioning the reassurance that a single portal brings, with its real-time information, online ordering possibilities and fast, remote problem-solving. But should every machine, equipment and software vendor offer one?

Rather than created by demand, they appear to be pushed, unsolicited, on machine users. And collectively, all these portals are making business more complicated, not less.

Consider packaging and label printing, where production lines comprise many integrated processes, to deliver a finished product in a single pass. There are numerous co-suppliers involved, providing complementary processes like screen printing, slitting and rewinding, ancillary equipment like anilox rolls, ink dispensing and supply systems – not to mention package design software and ERP systems.

You can see the problem, if all of these have their own service portals – every one with a separate interface for ordering spare parts and making service calls. IT systems slow down as many tabs have to be open at the same time; operators lose excess time logging in an out, or hopping from one screen to the next – instead of focusing on the work their customers are paying them for.

Connectivity – the missing link?
At GSE, we think building our own service cloud would only make converters’ existing processes more complicated. Instead, we’ve given our ink management software the capability to connect with the co-supplier clouds. So far, we’ve successfully integrated GSE Ink manager with portals of several ink manufacturers, to simplify colour matching or ink logistics. We are always looking out for more opportunities to connect with other supplier portals – and software.

The time has come for the package converting industry to work together more and help reduce the IT burden. Perhaps co-develop a single umbrella portal, that integrates all vendor support services. Or create an open standard, so all portals can communicate with each other – taking inspiration from the common standard for USB chargers (preventing the phenomenon of cable spaghetti!)

But, in the new age of servitization, where the machine builder is owner, should the user be burdened with a portal at all? This very question led a systems supplier I met recently at a Dutch manufacturer’s conference to mothball their own portal.

Strictly speaking, from a ‘Lean’ value creation perspective, a stand-alone service portal is waste, like the phone keyboard. So please, machine builders, get your heads out of the clouds – and help us defragment.

This blog was based on an opinion piece in Link Magazine (October 2022 edition), a journal for machine manufacturers in the Netherlands and Belgium. See: