Future-proofing in a digital age

The debate over whether to invest is over. It’s now time to think about next steps
HENRY ANSON Managing director of Hennik Group, publisher of The Manufacturer magazine.

Over the next few years manufacturers will be hit by a near-perfect storm. Only the companies that seize the opportunities, and harness the technologies creating this typhoon, will succeed.

To help the sector get ready we have collected in this report a brains trust that includes some of the most innovative companies in the UK. Their responses to digital transformation reflect the specific challenges they face, but taken together important themes emerge.

First, adoption is imperative, not an option. I am delighted to report that working on The Manufacturer’s annual manufacturing report, a parallel project, showed me that this argument has been won. What is now important is how
companies take the next step – and when. Our experts in this report offer very clear guidance to manufacturers thinking about how to take that next vital step.

Another recurring theme is that these technologies enable manufacturers to not only say they put the customer at the heart of everything they do, but make it reality. By connecting data flowing from the manufacturing plant with data flowing from customer activities, all then mediated through connected technologies, crunched in the cloud and fed back into manufacturers’ systems, a virtuous data loop is formed that enables manufacturers to achieve unprecedented customer service.

The insight this technology delivers is a powerful tool to ensure the smoothest possible delivery of products and services.

It is also important to recognise that technological advances allow for the constant evolution of manufacturing systems. To what extent will artificial intelligence begin to inform manufacturers’ decision-making? It is obvious that the power being developed by programmers, and woven into existing products through upgrades, will create intriguing new opportunities. Software that breaks down data silos means that we are getting closer to that Holy Grail in any business – a single version of the truth.

While it is tremendously exciting to consider how these technologies will affect operations in the years covered by Manufacturing 2020, it is important to remember that no technology will ever replace the fundamentals of management. It is as true today as it ever was: the only way to ensure
success is to have a strategic plan and stick to it. It is a timely reminder that there is no substitute for wisdom in business, but equally it is a reminder that, amid the storm, that for leaders with vision these technologies are the key to a bright, prosperous future for UK manufacturers.