Manufacturers Expect Rising Complexity

Manufacturing complexity has increased in the last five years, and is expected to continue to rise over the next three years, according to a global survey of 378 manufacturers in the automotive, aerospace, high-tech electronics, and industrial equipment industries, undertaken by IDC Manufacturing Insights and sponsored by Infor. The research paper, In Pursuit of Operational Excellence: Accelerating Business Change through Next Generation ERP, highlights the need for manufacturers to not only confront the complexity challenge but to embrace the opportunity presented by rapid innovation to secure competitive advantage. However, manufacturers across all industries and all regions claim that they are not equipped with adequate tools to achieve this goal.

According to the research, manufacturers recognize and acknowledge the increase in complexity and strategies to manage it vary widely across industry sectors according to their unique industry challenges. Automotive and aerospace look toward improved demand planning (60 percent and 57 percent, respectively) to improve operational efficiencies; while high-tech electronics opts for increased sourcing from lower cost countries (49 percent) and better alignment of IT with the business (49 percent). Meanwhile, the industrial machinery sector is seeking to adopt strategies focused mostly on improved customer fulfilment (53 percent). However, the common denominator, according to two-thirds of manufacturers, is that business processes and IT systems fall short of dealing with current levels of complexity.

The research was conducted in October 2011 among manufacturers in the United States, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Australia, China, India, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Russia.

The majority of manufacturers (57 percent) claim that complexity will continue to rise over the next three years. The remainder expect complexity levels to remain the same, with none anticipating it to reduce.

All industry sectors anticipate complexity to grow fastest in their respective markets, closely followed by their internal processes. Aerospace, industrial machinery and high-tech electronics rank technology as the third area likely to become more complex, while automotive companies put increased supply chain complexity third.

Looking to business strategies to embrace complexity over the next three years, automotive and aerospace companies point to improved demand planning and forecasting (60 percent and 57 percent respectively), and customer fulfilment (49 percent and 50 percent), followed by lean/six sigma programs (45 percent) as their top initiatives. Industrial machinery companies mirror this trend, but rank customer fulfilment (53 percent) higher than improved demand planning (51 percent), while high-tech electronics companies favor increased sourcing from lower cost countries (49 percent) as their primary initiative in harnessing complexity, along with better alignment of IT with the business (49 percent) and improved customer fulfilment (44 percent) third.

When asked about barriers to harnessing complexity and improving operational excellence, findings point to a lack of agility in adapting business processes to change (66 percent), and ineffective or inadequate IT systems (61 percent).

Additional weaknesses of IT systems include poor integration with existing applications (44 percent), limited operational capabilities (28 percent) and complexity and expense in upgrading (24 percent).

“Companies must directly address key challenges such as harnessing and embracing the complexity that surrounds their operations while reducing internal complications by having consistent processes, better informed people, and open lines of communication.” said Pierfrancesco Manenti, head of IDC Manufacturing Insights, Europe, Middle East & Africa.

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