Image: Christian Schnettelker/Flickr Image: Christian Schnettelker/Flickr

Managing the minutiae of a manufacturing business risks losing sight of strategic priorities, discovers IT consulting editor Malcolm Wheatley.

Are Britain’s small and medium-sized manufacturers losing their creative spark? That is one of the key questions to emerge from the latest annual ‘SME Barometer’’ survey from Exact Cloud Solutions, a provider of business software targeted at the needs of just such smaller manufacturers.

According to the research, carried out not just in the UK but also in Europe and the United States, some 41% of manufacturers are complaining about the challenges of designing new products at an ever-faster rate.

And it is, pointed out Gavin Fell, general manager of Exact Cloud Solutions UK, now the third-most pressing business challenge that these manufacturers face—almost as challenging as the drive to find new customers, and the continual pressure on costs.

That said, he adds, other challenges had eased. Customer satisfaction was less of a problem, as were late deliveries. There was evidence, too, that the skills gap was easing, and that technology investments were paying off. In addition, he points out, there were signs that the recent manufacturing education reforms—created to enable more students to easily pursue so-called ‘STEM’ subjects—were having an impact.

“Last year’s study painted quite a bleak picture for UK manufacturers,” he observed. “This year, there are signs that the sector is bouncing back, with a number of clear positives very evident.”

But what to do about those remaining pressing challenges—fast (and better) innovation, developing new customers and new markets, and achieving cost reductions?

The issue here, said Fell, is that too many of Britain’s small and medium-sized manufacturers are overly-focused on time-consuming minutiae, rather than focusing on the bigger strategic picture.

And it’s a particular problem, he adds, for those manufacturers which have eschewed mainstream ERP systems—perhaps on cost or complexity grounds—and instead come to rely on piecemeal applications and manual systems.

“Time and again, when we talk to business owners and directors, they complain that they are spending too much time on fire-fighting and fixing problems, or on reconciling what different systems are telling them,” he summed up. “Instead of innovating or developing new markets and customers, they are swamped by the detail of managing today’s day-to-day challenges.”

And Exact, he explains, eliminates these time-consuming distractions with a suite of affordable cloud-based business software that—literally—is within the grasp of just about any manufacturing business.