Technology is changing the way manufacturing businesses operate by enabling terrific improvements in efficiency, productivity and quality while continuously driving down costs, as well as material and energy consumption. However, not every business has benefited from technology’s transformative power. Most large, well-resourced businesses have made investments in process technology, particularly information technology, and built a robust infrastructure to support every aspect of their operations, from inventory control and production planning, to logistics and transportation.

The “technology gap” between large companies and SMBs (small- to medium-sized businesses) has historically been substantial. Most SMBs have not had the resources to compete and the playing field has been tilted in favor of large, resource-rich companies. Larger companies have had both a capital and an intellectual property advantage by being able to attract top technology talent.

For SMBs to be competitive, they must take steps to close the technology gap. Fortunately, in terms of technology costs and capabilities, this is a unique time for SMBs to reimagine and recreate their capabilities. The maturing of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry, availability of vast amounts of data, predictive analytics, cloud storage and other technologies have made it possible for SMBs to compete with and even outpace larger businesses. Critical technologies are now much more widely available and highly affordable.

Industry-specific Technology Changes the Game

One of the most significant changes has been the development of software and enterprise-wide technology that is designed to specifically meet the needs of particular industries. This has multiple advantages. The technology doesn’t have to be “over-configured” to be functional; the functionality is built in. It can also be deployed quickly and cost-effectively, with less effort and less risk.

Clearly, technology can be transformative. To help harness its power, SMBs in the manufacturing and industrial sectors may want to explore the three main avenues described in the sections below.