Manufacturers constantly face challenges and uncertainties. The most prominent at present? Brexit. But, leaders need to be disseminating and seamlessly integrating the ways in which they can capitalise on these obstacles.
Brexit is a huge source of anxiety and confusion amongst the industrial sector. Its impact on skills, complex supply chains and trade relationships. But, this is not news to manufacturers. Yet, they remain in a Brexit induced limbo. What should they do?
Business leaders need to adopt strategies to overcome the challenges and capitalise on opportunities Brexit brings — like they do for any other hurdle.
Utilising emerging technologies, embracing an agile business model and digital reinvention, could enable companies to remain highly competitive across global markets.
The Manufacturer’s latest Director’s Forum Dinner, hosted by IBM and MD at Hennik Research, Henry Anson, brought together a dozen manufacturing executives representing businesses operating in a wide cross-section of sectors to discuss this.
Utilising Brexit’s opportunities
The evening’s discussion kicked off by acknowledging that yes, an awful lot of effort has been spent exploring the potential outcomes of Brexit, and the cost of uncertainty.
However, business’ investment decisions are made on much longer time scales than the EU referendum, and realistically leaders face obstacles to overcome every day.
This resonated with the room full of manufacturers who must now look to exploit advantages Brexit and other uncertainties bring.
A Director at a consumer goods manufacturer, explained how they are looking to increase their global competitiveness.
“We are trying to understand how a consumer will want a product in years to come. If you look at products, say coffee, now manufacturers are selling coffee equipment to customers, the relationship has completely transformed. That is what we must look to do now.”
James Petherbridge, Executive Partner for Aerospace & Defence at IBM, began a lively debate about how businesses constantly overcome uncertainties and problems. “Across many of the topics we discuss, there is an element of survival of the nimblest. Brexit along with any other shock, trade disputes or war, happen all the time in a global economy.”
The conversation continued by understanding that all businesses must adapt and be flexible to manage such obstacles. But, how can you build agility and flexibility into a business to deal with these barriers?
Businesses who succeed and lead in industry will be those that can change and transform rapidly, and those who struggle will be ones who can’t, post-Brexit or otherwise. He said: “It’s creating that flexibility in a business model to cope with Brexit as being just one more shock in a life-cycle.”
A guest from a leading materials manufacturer said of how they are introducing a more agile business model. “For us, we are very deep into supply chains. We lose a lot of value in our supply chain to our customers. Now, we need to look at how we can monetise our end-user by offering different and more direct services to them.”
Integrating emerging technologies
Data collected in manufacturing operations is a resource and could be further maximised by integrating advanced and emerging technologies. Enhancing the customer and user experience with data analytics and understanding data patterns and predictions, is crucial for manufacturers.
The room heard that combining data with other 4IR technology such as blockchain, automation and IoT technologies, although complex, could be key to realising full efficiency potential, overcoming productivity puzzles and traceability issues.
Petherbridge said: “The business problem is though, that there is a lack of trust in a complex business ecosystem. Underneath that there are common technologies that can solve issues. For example, blockchain is a solution that can create trust and security in the supply chain. But, these technologies need to be integrated correctly, otherwise they are irrelevant.”
An IT leader at an international automotive manufacturer, stressed that blockchain, data and other emerging tech is extremely important to use from a traceability and efficiency point of view. But, he added: “It’s vital businesses think about what employees need to carry out their job, technology is your tool set. Yes, sometimes a more advanced tool is needed, so it is finding that appropriate technology.”
Digital reinvention is a must
If UK manufacturing is to remain globally competitive then digital reinvention is not a want, it is a must. But how to engage the workforce? How to seamlessly integrate digital reinvention and complex technologies so it is normality?
Petherbridge said: “Someone can create the perfect solution to an issue, but actually how do you scale that across multiple manufacturing plants? Do you need to? It circles back to IT, what’s the role of IT function? There is no simple answer, but clearly there are different people taking different approaches.”
A senior decision-maker at a global aerospace company responded, “Blue collar operators will ask what is in it for me? They don’t consider decades down the line, they think about their next shift, the task in hand. How do you interact with them in a way that encourages them to embrace something different, something digital?”
The evening concluded that the workforce who operate processes need to be engaged. Although extremely different to previous strategies, they are the ones who should define and design the future of user interface. This will enable businesses to seamlessly introduce digital reinvention, become ‘agile’, stay globally competitive and overcome “shocks” like Brexit.