Cause for concern: Efficient information management is needed to improve UK plcs competitiveness

Stellent survey finds major lack in efficiency in information management in manufacturing firms. IT staff spend too much time fire fighting data and information issues.

Manufacturing organisations today face significant market pressures, as increasing competition and the global marketplace require continuing improvement to maintain and grow market share. Both process and discrete manufacturers worldwide are finding they have a growing need to cut costs and time to market, as well as react quickly to market changes. There is also a fundamental drive to improve information sharing throughout the enterprise and gain control of manufacturing information through secure access. New technology in the sector is also bringing about an urgent need for organisations to be able to truly support lean manufacturing and similar process initiatives.

Processes and systems throughout the manufacturing enterprise seek to provide these benefits in many different ways. Many of these systems, such as ERP and CRM have become critical to todays manufacturing enterprise. Yet all these systems, and the processes they support, depend on volumes of critical document content ranging from CAD drawings to product specifications, and from change orders to user documentation. Most of this information is used, perhaps in different forms, in multiple stages throughout the product life cycle. In fact, manufacturing generates more inter-related content than nearly any other industry. However, the results of a comprehensive study into IT managers experiences of information management within the manufacturing industry clearly show that badly-managed information is already a major cause for concern for many of those surveyed.

The survey found that three-quarters (75 per cent) believe that currently information is not shared as efficiently as it should be across their organisation. Seventy per cent also feel that it would be useful if information management systems worked together more smoothly, while the same number indicated that more training needs to happen for staff to be able to manage information more effectively. The impact on business is clear: more than two-thirds (70 per cent) of IT managers within the manufacturing industry think that too much time and money is spent on managing and searching for information.

With the amount of information held by manufacturing sector organisations said to be growing at 40 per cent every year, IT managers are often at the sharp end of ensuring that information is stored and managed effectively. And the managers questioned voiced some very serious concerns about the potential damage being caused by poor information management. A staggering 85 per cent worry that information is not always up-to-date or accurate, while a further 65 per cent are concerned about the implications for compliance. The cost and the amount of resources information management takes up are other key concerns (35 per cent each).

These issues are not due to lack of attention by the IT department however. More than one in three of those surveyed within the manufacturing sector (35 per cent) claim to spend 10 to 50 per cent of their time dealing with information-management related systems such as document or web content management systems. It is clear from these results that the IT department is drowning in the information it is expected to manage, causing a culture of firefighting that takes IT staff away from the strategic aim of realising value for the business from its information assets, and wasting valuable IT manpower.

Despite a massive surge in recent years in the implementation of information management systems, the survey shows that worryingly, a significant number of large manufacturing businesses do not even have the basic technology systems in place to deal with this information. While almost two thirds (65 per cent) have a document management solution in place to aid the storage and retrieval of documents, only 55 per cent have web content management for their internet-based collateral, and only half (50 per cent) have records management. Incredibly for such large firms, only 45 per cent have a collaboration solution for team-based content, and just 20 per cent have digital asset management to organise media such as video and photography. Without the correct systems in place it is no surprise that IT managers within the sector are feeling swamped by the growing amounts of information they are expected to manage.

Even when the systems are in place, nearly half those surveyed (45 per cent) stated that integration between these systems is either not reliable or too costly to be efficient, while nearly one in three (30 per cent) believe they are too complex, and five per cent feel they are not scalable.

These results show what many have suspected for a long time that IT managers within the manufacturing industry simply do not have the systems and resources that they need if they are to handle the massive volumes of information they are now receiving, in an efficient way. Even in the largest manufacturing companies IT managers are having to firefight, which in turn is taking their focus away from more important activities and leaving businesses open to unnecessary costs and problems with compliance.

Businesses have to wake up to the fact that the amount and complexity of information they have to deal with is only going to increase and if they are going to do it properly they need to take a more strategic look at how they best utilise the technical resources available. Rather than the pick and mix approach to technology so far adopted by many businesses within the manufacturing industry, which has led to the inflexible and unwieldy systems IT managers are now having to contend with, companies need to take a unified, scalable approach to information management that allows different components to work together across the enterprise - and particularly for the manufacturing sector, between customers, suppliers and vendors - to really make the best use of the information they hold.

Ultimately, manufacturers benefit from leveraging all of their product-based intellectual capital throughout their organisations business processes and systems, and an effective information management system provides huge savings in terms of time and money. Applications within these systems can also offer numerous other benefits across the organisation, including dealer and distributor extranets, repositories for critical safety and quality data and engineering drawings and product and parts catalogues. They can address compliance needs and provide regulatory report management, as well as support customer service infobases and globalisation and localisation processes.

With all these benefits lined up against the clear difficulties experienced by the IT managers surveyed, when it comes to information management it seems that facing the problem head on is the only viable way forward for the manufacturing industry. If UK plc wants to continue to compete globally it is going to have to learn from its mistakes, and with the technology available there is no reason why manufacturing businesses shouldnt be among the first to reap the benefits of the efficient and effective storage, retrieval and management of their information.

David Macey is responsible for Stellent's Europe, Middle East and Africa Operations. He joined Stellent in May, 1995 and has held numerous positions within Stellent in his over nine years of experience including: director of services and support, director of worldwide technical sales, vice president of enterprise sales and vice president of product marketing. Prior to joining Stellent, he was the chairman and chief technology officer of Millennium Communications Corporation, a regional US Internet services provider he founded in 1992.

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