Why manufacturing firms need to embrace IT and online business tools for growth

Posted on 9 Apr 2014 by The Manufacturer

Manufacturing companies need to make more of innovative business tools in order to support internal processes and increase growth, writes Michael Richards, owner of expenses management firm webexpenses.

Why manufacturing firms need to embrace IT and online business tools for growth
Michael Richards, webexpenses.

According to a number of industry experts, 2014 is a year of recovery for the UK manufacturing industry. What’s more, speaking at this year’s World Economic Forum in Switzerland, David Cameron has again reinforced the vital role the industry will play in boosting UK economic growth over the coming years.

Of course, the prospect of a return to growth is much welcomed news for industry, having faced numerous challenges since the recession began. However, as we come into an upturn, the UK’s manufacturing sector needs to be asking – is my business prepared for it? Do we have the right tools in place to grab sector growth with both hands?

The importance of IT when investing

Naturally, investment in plant and machinery and the automation of production lines are always going to be up there on the list of priorities for manufacturers. However, organisations should not overlook the importance of their IT infrastructure and internal business processes, particularly when it comes to things like financial and project management. By updating and addressing ‘backroom’ processes, manufacturers can help to streamline operations by simplifying and consolidating processes.

Investment in business tools for those departments that are not necessarily directly involved in the ‘making’ processes should be considered just as vital to a manufacturers’ success as investment in machinery and equipment. But how should manufacturers go about implementing and upgrading their business technology? Where is the best place to start?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that when reviewing the many business tools and software packages on the market, there is very rarely a one size fits all solution. Remember to keep focused on the value you want to bring to your business or department. For example, some of the main areas you might want to consider could include increasing the efficiency of your company or the speed at which your department can deliver insightful business data.

Once you’ve identified the areas you want to focus on, ensure you work collaboratively with your procurement, HR and finance departments in order to identify exactly what needs improving in those areas, and how technology may be able to support existing systems. For example, is your finance department able to collate and harvest financial data quickly and effectively in order to spot trends and issues in your business? By drawing up a list of the processes that could be more effective and efficient, you can then look to adopt a number of solutions.

Coming from a HR and expenses management background, I am an advocate for any technology that can make the running of business processes smoother. I understand the value that technology has brought to finance departments across the UK. For instance, the software and business tools that operate via cloud platforms have revolutionised the way in which finance teams can now put together vital business reports.

There are many benefits to using cloud based tools. Not only do they allow a simple and functional way of collating and processing financial data, they also enable whole organisations to contribute data to a database that can be continually updated, giving up-to-the-minute forecasts and projections.

The right software gives finance teams an intuitive and easy-to-use way of tracking expenses, streamlining processes and allowing for easy detection of any irregular claims within the business.

The potential of cloud

A key advantage of cloud technology is the wide and cost-effective accessibility.  Anyone with a web-browser and internet access can use the system.  For the manufacturing sector, this is a huge advantage, especially when you consider that many organisations are split out over a number of operating sites and even across international boundaries. From the point of view of a finance or procurement department, this can mean real-time access to the crucial data of multiple departments at the touch of a button. With this in mind, teams can become more reactive and flexible in their reporting and allow directors to see where opportunities to improve their margins and output may exist.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the latest software tools available at the minute, expenses management systems are just the beginning and there are many options out there that can help manufacturers and their internal infrastructure.

Tools such as Basecamp and Trello are the leaders in task management and business processes and these programmes can be used to great effect in all departments of a business. This includes helping business managers to plan, organise, and regulate resources on a daily basis, even supporting budget planning and cost control.

With growth for the manufacturing sector just around the corner, now is the time to not only consider those larger investments in new production equipment, but to invest in the improvement of those older and more inbuilt internal processes. Having the right IT infrastructure in place for your business puts you in the ideal position to expand and will give you the crucial business insight you need for long term business planning.