As vice president of strategy, I have to keep an eye on the future. It’s not enough to know what’s working well now—it’s critical to anticipate what’s coming next, determine if it provides value to the company’s customers and, if so, plan for how to integrate it into our current technology.


The challenge is not just compiling and accessing a great deal of data, but also deriving meaningful intelligence from it.


Perhaps the most disruptive trend in technology is the transition from on-premise technology to a cloud-based transaction.


Companies reluctant to embrace change are quickly overcome by their more nimble and savvy competitors.

From my perspective, there are five primary trends affecting the manufacturing enterprise:

  • Quality management
  • Business Intelligence
  • Bring your own device (BYOD)
  • Mobility
  • Cloud-based application adoption
  • Quality is Key

Quality performance has gone from a market differentiator to an absolute requirement to attract and keep business. A company simply cannot get by, let alone thrive, without a rigorous quality improvement process.

The days of winning business because you claim to be good are gone. You can’t win new business without proving that adequate systems are in place to monitor quality. Customers expect a system that monitors quality, and many choose to share the quality data with their suppliers and customers.

Sharing data in that fashion would have been unthinkable in previous generations. In fact, that information was closely held and seldom shared internally—and certainly not with vendors. The willingness of companies to share data is a welcome trend and is aligned with the strategic imperative to conduct business in as transparent a fashion as possible.

A trend we see in manufacturing is to automatically capture as much data as possible during the production process. This not only helps produce higher quality parts with less scrap but also creates faster, specifically targeted product information that can be invaluable in a product recall. Increasingly, quality measurements are part of regulatory compliance and provide a valuable resource in litigation avoidance.

Quality reports contain unique part number identifiers that are tracked in a simple, automated transaction. There is no separation between quality and manufacturing metrics.

Manufacturers quickly learned years ago that quality is not a cost, it’s an investment. The money spent is less than the savings generated through improved operational efficiencies. With the volume and speed of today’s manufacturers, it is truer now than it has ever been.

It’s Not Just Big Data, It’s Analytics

Much like quality has become an expected part of any technology solution for manufacturers, the ability to capture data and extract meaning from it via business intelligence (BI) tools is becoming an expected and critical component. BI leads the adoption priority list in 2013 for both existing applications and new implementations according to a recent report from Forrester Research titled “Ten Myths and Realities of the Software Market In 2013.”

It’s tremendously beneficial to capture data at the point of origin in your business. For manufacturers, that means the plant floor. However, you can have a veritable mountain of data but if you can’t transform that data into knowledge that is accessible, meaningful, useful and actionable, it lacks value.

Today’s BI tools allow even those without the technical skills of a programmer to capture relevant data and extract meaningful conclusions.

Report-building tools can reveal hidden trends and inefficiencies within the manufacturing processes in real time. This can help establish benchmark standards and measure performance against key indicators.

The challenge is not just compiling and accessing a great deal of data—manufacturing, in particular, generates immense amounts of data that is captured on the shop floor—but also deriving meaningful intelligence from the data.

It’s really difficult to break out of data silos and even tougher to bring the information together. A good BI tool can transform the rich data within a cloud ERP system into powerful reports and dashboards that help visualize complex information, making informed decision-making the proverbial no-brainer.

BYOD is Here to Stay

Reports generated by BI tools are increasingly delivered to mobile devices of all sizes—devices that are frequently part of the growing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend.

In March, ZDNet predicted that the size of the BYOD market in 2013 will double that of 2012. A reasonable question is: Can the business enterprise manage the BYOD trend without compromising data integrity and security?

It’s critical that businesses adopt a strict mobile device management (MDM) strategy that consists of protocols and policies mandated to protect the digital assets of the organization. The importance of ensuring mobile security was identified early as a critical consideration for business. The Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 was developed specifically to strengthen information system security.

BYOD promises to enable staff to access business applications with devices of their own choice; companies can ensure security is maintained by adhering to strict security protocols that can be managed remotely in a seamless, unobtrusive manner.

The result of BYOD with a well-informed MDM is a win for both the business enterprise and the individuals working within it.

The Cloud is Unseen and Everywhere

Perhaps the most disruptive trend in technology is the transition from on-premise technology that is located within the physical infrastructure of a company to a cloud-based transaction provided as a Software as a Service (SaaS).

I maintain that the trend to the cloud is the most revolutionary and potentially disruptive trend of them all.

Although only a recent phenomenon, it is rapidly gaining momentum with new converts. Initial resistance to embrace the cloud because of security, questionable uptime rates or just a reluctance to trust the company data to a third party have all been overcome.

According to Gartner Inc., global spending on public cloud services is expected to grow from $76.9 billion in 2010 to $210 billion in 2016. Gartner is projecting the SaaS market will grow at a steady compound annual growth rate of 19.5% through 2016.

The move to the cloud has been pervasive, persistent and is steadily gaining momentum. There are many reasons why the cloud provides an attractive option for companies contemplating replacing aging technology systems. Because SaaS solutions are offered as a subscription-based product, there isn’t the initially expensive investment in software and hardware, typically followed by costly consultants that ensure the technology works with the unique configurations of various manufacturers.

With a cloud deployment, all that’s required is access to an Internet-enabled browser. All of the data is stored and accessed from a remote data center. This model eliminates the necessity not only of the IT infrastructure but also the IT staff that is required to install and maintain the system, apply security patches, and test and install new versions of the software.

There is a critical mass in the manufacturing industry evaluating ERP systems, as many technology solutions are nearing the effective end of their life span. While the Y2K scare forced many businesses to update their enterprise software and either upgrade existing applications or transition to new ones, we are now approaching another era of evaluation and, in many cases, the argument to transition to a cloud-based solution is more compelling than ever.

One thing I’ve learned serving as a strategist in the technology industry for decades is that change is inevitable, and companies reluctant to embrace change are quickly overcome by their more nimble and savvy competitors.

Perhaps the most enduring trend is the speed at which technology can transform entire industries and have a far-reaching impact throughout the world.