for DTI & EPSRC
A recurrent theme in discussion of how the vision of the future will be realised and maybe even accelerated was the need to engage the 'tail' of smaller suppliers - those not yet either aware of or capable of participating in that vision. Various remedies were suggested, and some follow here - awareness campaigns, subsidised advice, assisted technology transfer, and so on.
But there was consensus that 'government' telling the smaller suppliers what they ought to do will not work. These companies need to be engaged with their customers and peers - with 'pull' from their customers and mutual confidence-building support among their peers. An SME will listen to an important customer more readily than a Business Link consultant, an academic, a government official, or a vendor.
Moreover. there was a realisation that in talking of 'these companies' our mindset had been that of the leading companies trying to drag the 'tail' of their supply chain with them into the future.
But the changes which we envisage are exciting. The internet and its effects will bring exciting prospects for exciting companies run by excited - and exciting - people. This is not the audience with which we had been concerned. Hence the major first recommendation ..
A new manufacturing base
Let us not put most of our effort into trying to teach old dogs new tricks. Let us not keep trying to revive the existing manufacturing base: let us create a new manufacturing base. Let us encourage entrepreneurial manufacturers and enthuse others to join them in a new, exciting, manufacturing era.
How do we do that? We have already indicated that Government 'push' won't work. What will?
Manufacturing Business Network
This is actually a network of networks. Participants at the workshop suggested a variety of types of network - local clusters, supply-chain clusters, self-help networks, learning networks, regional networks - perhaps associated with chambers of commerce, clusters around major 'mother-ship' manufacturers, and so on.
The suggestion here is that these should all be part of a major network designed to enthuse and educate entrepreneurial manufacturers. This would then be a vehicle for delivery of a broad spectrum of support and information, and an agent for stimulating additional local and sectoral activity - sectoral, so that people would believe that information they received applies to them; and local, to attract small companies who would not be prepared to travel long distances, especially if not sure of the pay-off.
In this way, a coherent picture could be presented to the target audience, rather than a multiplicity of initiatives. There would still be a multiplicity of services and types of support, and even networks, but in the first instance, potential members would perceive a single entry to this maze.
The network should, however, refrain from general awareness activities in favour of targeted trials and demonstration activities, as exemplars, which concentrate on the business benefits rather than technical features.
The aim should be for the network to be self-financing from subscriptions (with various grades of membership offered a variety of packages) and charges for information, advice and participation in events. There are examples of other networks and clubs as models.
Working with others
There are many existing organisations intended to help small businesses, including manufacturing businesses. There are also other networks already in existence. It will be important to work with these and support them, to get greater yield from co-operation, rather than try to supplant them.
In particular, such a network should work with local organisations:
and with national organisations, such as:
The framework of a Manufacturing Business Network could accommodate a wide variety of mechanisms. Some of those suggested at the workshop follow. Some of these will require further study, outside the immediate scope of the network, but nevertheless, the network should be the primary means for delivery of the results of such studies, so as to maintain a coherent presentation to the community.
Moreover, whether one 'project' (unlikely) or several, they should be presented to the manufacturing community, via the proposed Manufacturing Business Network, as a coherent package of activities.
These should involve SMEs, trade associations, business links, local chambers of commerce, prime contractors. Their aim would be to understand the needs of SMEs and their state of readiness. An alternative - or complementary approach - could be:
'Learning self-help groups'
Like some 'Best Practice Clubs' which already exist, in which members get together to address common issues and share experience around supply chain and systems integration. A kind of confession group - "I'm X, I'm from an SME, and I have this problem" (Note that there is research on learning networks to draw on, such as that at CENTRIM.) Invite guest speakers from customers' organisations and academia to augment the contributions from members.
Stimulate and support clustering - the virtual SME, etc. Promote case studies of more formal collective working practices beyond the informal network, especially those involving 'horizontal' relationships.
Access to information..
... on tools, processes, benchmarking, reports, strategy, analyses, best practice, products, product reviews and comparisons, exemplars, case studies, directories of services, consultants, ...
The list is limited only by our imagination. The primary mechanism should be the ..
MakeNow Web site
.. or, more suggestively, the Web portal for manufacturing.
Establish a benchmark process so that companies can compare themselves with their peers in their sector, and so that the community as a whole (and DTI and EPSRC) can gain an understanding of sectoral (and regional?) differences.
Tool-box of ideas
Define, develop and make available an eCommerce starter kit for sector based SMEs to include:
Establish training needs for manufacturers and facilitate appropriate training provision - courses, etc.
Access to IT
Care must be taken when promoting products. Vendors are well placed to present the case, but, of course, less likely to be persuasive, given scepticism of potential purchasers. Hence the importance of independent reviews and comparisons.
Some prime contractors are already providing access to their own IT tools so as to ensure supplier compatibility. This concept might be encouraged and extended. Perhaps group (cluster) purchase might be facilitated - especially, if, though the proposed network, bulk discounts could be brokered (with the possibility of first-line support being taken on by the network).
In addition, another option is emerging whereby third-party service suppliers provide 'pay for what you use' access for smaller suppliers (see TradeStar box) A study of this emerging market could inform its development and identify ways in which it might be facilitated
We must be careful to avoid market-distorting subsidies, but consideration should be give to the possibility of pilot 'change' projects, in which support might be provided in return for wide dissemination of the approach and the results, as an example to others. (Cf. the 'Software Best Practice' programme in Framework IV.) The support could be for initial benchmarking, consultancy and advice on alternative strategies and implementation plans, training in any new technology or techniques, and the dissemination itself.
Facilitate secondments from companies with experience of the new ways of working ('on-loan players') and exchanges between primes and SMEs.
Under the auspices of the proposed Manufacturing Business Network, establish a programme of liaison between academia and industry, so that academic work can be 'well grounded' while any tentative results have a good industrial sounding board.
Having recommended that the emphasis should be more on 'hands-on' persuasion and guidance than 'this is good for you' awareness campaigns, there is nevertheless an important place for promotion of the Manufacturing Business Network, should it be established, and of the issues addressed in this report even should such a network not be established.
This should be done through existing manufacturing-oriented channels such as TA-Net, but given the intention to transform the manufacturing base, a much larger population should be addressed. It is recommended that the possibility of television programme or series be explored - perhaps a special edition of the Money Programme.
The preceding suggested activities could all be performed by, or in conjunction with, the proposed Manufacturing Business Network. Other recommendations include:
Although the need for a secure communications infrastructure is undoubtedly being addressed in many other areas, it is important to at least ascertain whether the infrastructure will support the specific needs of electronic data interchange envisaged between manufacturers (and customers) in the future.
A secure communications infrastructure in which companies can have confidence, or ways in which the existing infrastructure can be used securely, must be established as soon as possible. Leading companies are proclaiming their use of the internet for business transactions: leading gurus of the IT security community are saying that it is foolish to trust the internet. At the very least this engenders doubt. The government's PKI initiative might, for instance, be accelerated. This is security as a business enabler, rather than as inhibitor.
Less obviously, other government departments and local authorities should be encouraged to communicate with companies electronically. This will encourage them to get started. Possible vehicles might be electronic transfer of such things as VAT returns, National Insurance and tax payments and returns, and employment information. In short, government should be trying to establish a culture in which such forms of communication are commonplace.
It is recognised that some government departments (including HM Customs & Excise) are already moving in this direction, and that the Information Society Initiative is already reaching out to small businesses (e.g. ISI Business Infoline) with easily assimilated advice supported by case studies. Appropriate interfaces to these initiatives should be established so that the manufacturing business knows where these initiatives reach, and where more specific manufacturing requirements are addressed. (Another role for the Manufacturing Business Network.)
The subjects for research identified here do not by any means define the whole research agenda for systems integration. It is the set of topics arising from this workshop which should be added to and maybe supplant some of those already identified in the Systems Integration Initiative.
The emphasis should be on low-cost, highly flexible systems and high productivity.
Although research should seek deep understanding - theory, even - this needs to be grounded in the realities of the manufacturing world. Some of the topics identified below, such as those concerned with business process change, might best be addressed via 'action based research' and explanatory case studies in SME's including trials, pilots and best-practice applications in different sectors.
Topics for investigation
Research into industrial change
In addition to the technical challenges of the preceding topics, more general research into innovation, best practice diffusion, and technology transfer could be focussed on the specific concerns of manufacturing.
If manufacturing companies really must work at the speed of the internet, then Foresight is not sufficient. We need to understand not just which way we are heading in the long run, but how we can best make changes in the short term. We need to understand better the way in which best practice is diffused through the supply chain, and at how the supply chain adopts next-generation technologies.
Some countries (particularly the USA) are much more entrepreneurial than others. Why? What are the characteristics of ..
.. that make them more entrepreneurial? How could we instil these characteristics in people and companies in the UK?
Falling between promotion of our current understanding of best practice and research into future practices lies fact-finding on emerging leading edge techniques. It is recommended that such studies should be undertaken in at least two areas:
In each case the intention should be to try to establish easily assimilated approaches which SME's might be able to adopt.
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