Manufacturing has a great deal to gain from increased connectivity and the data such an ecosystem produces, but what are the risks regarding data ownership and security? The Manufactuer explores the issue.
Manufacturers have been successfully digitising their operations for decades, but it has predominately been on a micro-scale, benefiting individual production cells or machines. It’s only more recently that industry has reached a tipping point where digitisation can be amplified to truly optimise entire ecosystems.
Manufacturing has a great deal to gain from increased connectivity and the data produced, as well as to risk by opting for inertia. They are the producers, the suppliers, the maintainers; they are increasingly looking to own every stage of a product’s lifecycle and leverage the insights to better inform subsequent product iterations and their wider organisations.
However, a business which spans every stage of a lifecycle raises some profound, yet largely unanswered questions about data ownership. The ecosystem of one of the world’s large automotive manufacturers, for example, comprises dozens of Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, third-party logistics providers and subcontractors, a network of dealerships and thousands of end-users.
Who owns the data at any given stage is up for debate, with several parties understandably eager to stake a claim. Though still largely unresolved, it’s a conundrum worth solving as doing so could result in substantial benefits and growth opportunities for all factions involved.
There is a growing consensus that many of the challenges facing manufacturers – productivity, skills, optimisation, growth, innovation – will only be solved through greater levels of collaboration and traceability.
An executive representing a global aerospace manufacturer recently explained to The Manufacturer, “We have started to connect production cell data to the work our service technicians are performing, linking that to our wider manufacturing data and to that of our supply chain, and we are already seeing huge benefits resulting from a more optimised supply chain. There are really exciting times ahead for us.”
What typifies industry in the UK is the high complexity and skill involved in what is being designed and manufactured. Consider the nation’s global prestige in automotive, aerospace, defence and pharmaceutical, for example.
As such there’s an inherent value to the knowledge about how a product is made or performs, proprietary knowledge companies are understandably keen to hold on to.
There are two primary reasons why manufacturers are currently undergoing or considering a digital transformation: optimising operations and improving customer experience. These are high-priority objectives for any manufacturer, regardless of whether it is a subcontractor, a Tier 1 supplier or an OEM.
It’s worth reinforcing that those companies realising the greatest and swiftest results are those with a proactive approach to connecting their ecosystem and sharing relevant intelligence with appropriate partners, a tangible embodiment of a rising tide lifting all ships.
This level of intelligence sharing, however, remains a source of anxiety for many. It’s one thing to share insights and data internally, but opening your organisation to external parties is still viewed as putting competitive advantage and IP protection at risk, not to mention the potential “regulatory minefield” involved in doing so.
Too often manufacturers are described as ‘risk adverse’, yet The Manufacturer’s experience reveals manufacturers as being more ‘risk proactive’ – assessing various factors to make informed decisions.
If this is truly the case, then any latent fears which persist around IP security, cloud computing, off-site data storage and compliance can be dispelled through engagement and education – an area where technology vendors have an important, active role to play.
There is no universal answer, and indeed some aspects will require globally agreed legislation, but the landscape is changing. The need for competitive differentiation is greater than ever and is being realised via a connected ecosystem, data gathering, service contracts and real-time insight – all of which are predicated on a digital backbone.
This article is taken from the recent white paper, Enabling a Connected Ecosystem, based on research conducted by both The Manufacturer and Microsoft, and the insights gained from two exclusive roundtable events which brought together senior leaders from across UK manufacturing.
What the past 18 months have clearly demonstrated is that those most likely to succeed in the modern connected business environment are those eager to engage customers, empower employees, and successfully leverage these new digital technologies.
The full white paper – co-created by The Manufacturer and Microsoft – explores digital transformation and connectivity in the most practical sense.
If your business has already made the first step towards a connected ecosystem, or is considering taking one, this is vital reading for you and your business’ decision-makers to question your existing processes and get the most out of your connectivity journey.