IT: Manufacturers' New Best Friend

High performance IT systems are meshing better into industrial products manufacturing.

The smokestacks and blast furnaces that are the guts of industrial products manufacturing have stoked the popular imagination for more than a century. However, in this period of global expansion, infrastructure growth and stretched supply chains, many leaders of these "heavy metal" companies are finding new power and productivity from a much newer player on the scene -- high-performance IT systems.

According to a recent Accenture study of industrial products executives, more than three in four survey respondents report that IT solutions have optimized their supply chains, and nearly half report making IT investments to enhance advanced engineering and collaborative product development. Also growing is the use of marketing analytics to boost product portfolio management and provide service and custom products. Respondents also say they are looking to IT for solutions ranging from strategic procurement to post-merger integration.

Paul Loftus, managing partner with Accenture, notes that companies will be asking even more of IT in the near future. Almost three-quarters (72%) of respondents say their IT units are not performing at a high level in all areas, and nearly 80% report strong aspirations for a fully integrated business enterprise, with only half (49%) enjoying this level of integration today.

Three-quarters of companies have service-oriented architecture on their IT "to-do" list, and although two-thirds of respondents (66%) seek advanced business intelligence, only slightly more than one-quarter (27%) report having this degree of insight today. Similarly, 62% of companies seek to have comprehensive online interactions with consumers across the entire enterprise, more than double the 25% that presently claim this capability.

However, these gaps between "have" and "need" may be shortened in years to come, Loftus says, as "IT continues to evolve from support function into business enabler" to meet business challenges both old and new.

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