17 May 2011

IT Shortlist 2011

Shortlist 2011 is our annual reference directory of IT systems, software, ICT consultancy and service providers. Our objective in this special issue is to make your task of defining, finding and shortlisting IT suppliers as fast, easy and effective as possible.

We start, however, by taking soundings on the kinds of systems and approaches needed in these changing times. It's not going to be easy, so on page 24 you'll find our examination of what analysts, consultants and your peers in manufacturing believe must be considered, as organisations continue to bear down on costs while also preparing for growth.

One word stands out, and that word is 'agility'. It's a very big word. What some management teams are crying out for is a system simultaneously capable of handling extremes of manufacturing style. Others want a solution designed from the outset for easy reconfiguration to support new opportunities. And others just want functionality to help them resolve unpredictable conflicts – caused by late customer changes, production or supply chain failures.

For the latter, popular solutions today remain APS (advanced planning and scheduling), web-based SCEM (supply chain event management) and production management add-ons. However, when it comes to the former two, you're into the functionality required of core, manufacturing-centric ERP, and the best policy is due diligence.

In essence, however, what most manufacturers want is the ability to deliver better customer fulfilment, whatever happens, without incurring additional cost. That is a tall, but increasingly important order, driven by the increasing complexity of doing business in manufacturing – itself caused by the pressures of global markets, more complex products and relentless competition.

Quite simply, modern IT needs to deliver better results, faster – first, through rock solid automation, and, second, by assisting managers in every aspect of the business, but probably starting with the factory.

Best advice is to look to operational management systems – not just MES (manufacturing execution systems), but often relatively simple alerts, reports and analytics. These are typically the Cinderella suites, yet information from the coal face can be key. Then revisit your ERP, followed by business intelligence, CRM, demand forecasting and supply chain management – and review your engineering PLM (product lifecycle management) and design thinking, with a good dose of lean.

As for shortlisting the products themselves, your first port of call is opposite on page 23: the alpha list by function. Look for the functionality you require to find appropriate suppliers for your shortlist and then go to the pages indicated.

Starting on page 29, you will then find details on key providers of solutions, systems and services. Everything is covered: from providers of ERP systems to supply chain management systems; APS to PLM; and plant and factory controls to shopfloor data capture systems.

Finally, remember the Manufacturing Computer Solutions website at www.mcsolutions.co.uk. It's a key adjunct to the annual in-print Shortlist, providing searchable information access, as well as news and reference material.

Brian Tinham

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