Kevin Parker: Gauging the changing nature of change

Given a constant interplay between ruling management concepts—such as lean production or globalization—and an information technology (IT) infrastructure integral to the business process, manufacturing systems are always changing. This is a good thing, as evidenced by productivity statistics, which reveal the very real gains in productivity growth experienced in the manufacturing i...
By Kevin Parker, editorial director February 1, 2008

Given a constant interplay between ruling management concepts—such as lean production or globalization—and an information technology (IT) infrastructure integral to the business process, manufacturing systems are always changing.

This is a good thing, as evidenced by productivity statistics, which reveal the very real gains in productivity growth experienced in the manufacturing industries the last 15 years, and especially since 1995, and resulting largely from the convergence of automation and information technology.

Change can also, however, be a difficult thing to manage. Moreover, there is abundant evidence that in recent years the pace of “change” itself has accelerated.

With continuing globalization of both the manufacturing industries and the markets they serve, manufacturing systems—which extend from product ideation through product distribution, and even product obsolescence—will continue to change. The question is what will the nature of the change be?

Consider the following:

  • In 1913, there were about 500 automobiles in the U.S. By 1995, there were 46 million registered vehicles.

  • In 1945, at the end of WW II, three-fifths of all industrial production was U.S.-based. Today, the U.S. must compete with strong economies in Europe and Asia to maintain industrial leadership.

  • In 1980, computer-aided design (CAD), enterprise resources planning (ERP), and even programmable logic controllers (PLCs)—not to mention word processing programs and those ubiquitous spreadsheets—were virtually unknown. Today, these and other systems are the base infrastructure for manufacturing business processes.

    • In the 21st century, we’ll see comparable levels of change as the developing world races to enter the developed, as increasingly complex products are introduced to sophisticated consumers, and as competition for resources increases.

      It’s not surprising therefore that change, or managing change, has itself become an important management concept. It’s increasingly clear that today—whether you’re an executive, manager, knowledge worker, or other type professional—one of your most important tasks is managing change in an ever-more complex world.

      To deal with it all, manufacturers achieve affordable flexibility using computers as communication devices that automate coordination. In fact, today’s application solutions typically feature some type engine—for transactions, or a data model—around which the means for collaboration is provided.

      Supply chain management systems, for example, provide visibility across multiple enterprise systems and the means for intra-company collaboration. Product life-cycle management systems are a collaboration platform that extends from product ideation to obsolescence. From email to portals, exchanges, and networking sites, even the commercial applications being applied in the B2B world reflect this emphasis on collaboration amidst accelerating change.

      In fact, it could be said that coordination—the goal of collaboration—has gone from being a pernicious task to be gotten out of the way as quickly as possible to become the central task of the manufacturing system.