Complication and complexity

Posted on 23 May 2011 by The Manufacturer

At The Manufacturer’s ERP Connect event on Thursday, May 19, industry expert Pierfrancesco Manenti of IDC Manufacturing Insights, led discussion on the future of ERP technology in manufacturing. Approaches to mastering complexity were a focal point for debate, TM’s Jane Gray talks to the Manenti to find out why.

Speaking to TM before the latest of TM’s ERP Connect events (events which help manufacturers identify their requirements in relation to ERP technology and streamline their vendor selection process) Mr Manenti, gave me some insight into the issues surrounding complexity and what it means for manufacturing operations.

Manenti is a veteran of industry research with a wealth of experience in the EMEA region and a special interest in the impact of IT systems on manufacturing networks. He has spoken at TM’s flagship event, |The Manufacturer Director’s Conference and frequently contributes with guidance on developing themes in EME manufacturing.
Manenti identifies a major problem with manufacturers’ understanding of the term ‘complexity’ saying that: “They will tend to confuse the term complex with the word complicated, and this limits their ability to deal with complexity effectively.” Manenti is hardly the first to say so – at Lean Management Connect, held in March this year, the event chairmen Jeff McGowan of Johnson & Johnson LifeScan identified the same problem.

Manenti explains that strategies which focus on eliminating complexity would also limit the ability of companies to compete effectively in the modern marketplace and that, for manufacturers this was often a difficult concept to accept because: “It brings some conflict with lean principles and the elimination of variation.”

Manenti is clear that manufacturers should continue to leverage lean thinking to reduce complication in their systems, including IT systems, internal production processes and supply chain networks. “Complication is frequently generated by inefficient IT infrastructures, internal processes, organizational silos,” he told me.

At ERP Connect Manenti challenged attendees to consider ways in which they might bring complexity within their control, mastering it and using it to broaden their reach to customers? Helping attendees understand the challenges and opportunities here Manenti highlighted collaboration across supply networks as a key area for development.

While IT systems will help to enable this Manenti also told TM that there was much more that might be done by manufacturers to innovate in the way they managed supply chain relationships.
All this still sounds very amorphous though with little in the way of practical and structured action being referred to directly. Manenti will however be speaking on the issue of supply chain complexity, and how to leverage it for competitive benefit, at the NG Manufacturing EU Summit being held in Vienna this September. It awaits to be seen whether this event will produce more in the way of action points for manufacturers.

For those hoping to learn more on this issue in a shorter time scale I would highly recommend getting hold of the IDC Manufacturing Insights recent white paper Beating Complexity, achieving operational excellence which is available to download for free on the website of sponsoring organisation and ERP vendor, Infor.