Executive summary

There has, in recent times in the manufacturing industries, been a shift in thinking from efficiency of individual organisations - particularly large manufacturers - to whole-supply-chain efficiency. This requires integration of information and manufacturing systems both within and across enterprises.

Given the heterogeneity of existing systems, the continual introduction of new technology and systems, the new ways of transacting business - such as eCommerce, and continuing rapid evolution of the structure of both businesses and supply chains, even large organisations can be unsure about the most appropriate strategy. Many smaller suppliers are simply at sea.

This is a report of a workshop held at the Swan Hotel, Bedford on February 14th & 15th, 2000, with representation from all parts of the manufacturing supply chain in a variety of sectors, together with leading academics. The aim was to seek an understanding of the way in which the present trends will evolve, so as to identify appropriate actions for industry, academics, and government, in order that UK industry might best profit from present and forthcoming changes in technology and business environment.

The focus of the workshop quickly shifted from systems integration per se. The principal message is that there is a trend away from efficiency alone, based upon an assumption of stability (however short-lived), to efficient flexibility. What is needed is the 'disaggregation' of existing systems in a way that supports their flexible and repeated reintegration with the systems of customers and suppliers.

Participants at the workshop made short, medium and long term recommendations to both DTI and EPSRC, addressing many aspects of awareness, communication of good practice, and requirements for research.

A novel feature of these recommendations is that while we must continue to exhort existing industry to change its ways, the focus now should be on encouragement of a new and exciting manufacturing industry, exploiting the Internet and other technological advances.

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