Driven by emerging manufacturing markets and younger, more tech-savvy executives, experts predict that 2013 will be a year of renewed IT spending. More manufacturers will adopt technologies that have long been of interest but were not feasible investments, such as enterprise mobile apps, cloud computing, "big data" and social media.
Bob Parker, group vice president at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC Manufacturing Insights, noted that manufacturers showed an increased willingness to make new tech investments in 2012 and believes this trend will grow more prevalent in 2013. Parker and IDC laid out their predictions in a recent
"2013 is a staging year," he said. "All the forces are lining up post-stimulus for positive investment, and many of those investments are very tech-centric." Parker attributes much of this new interest in investments to a generational change among lower management. "Post-recession, while many CEOs and chief financial officers are in their 60s, we're also now seeing many execs in their 40s. When there's a lot of money and young execs, there's opportunity -- and a tremendous motivation to get that cash to work," he said.
Manufacturing technology investments will expand beyond software to hardware as well, especially on the shop floor, Parker said. Newer technological advancements that will see growth in 2013 include 3-D printing -- also known as "additive manufacturing" -- and smarter, more flexible robots that will appear throughout the factory, he said.
However, Parker stressed that this upcoming wave of manufacturing IT productivity won't just be focused on the factory, but will also include investments in big data and social media. "This is not your father's productivity investment," he said. "You should be able to use [business intelligence] and big data tools to make your management twice as effective in five years as they are today using what we call the "House of Productivity" -- that is, big data, cloud, mobile and social."
Enterprise mobile apps will go mainstream
Most experts agree that the adoption of enterprise mobility, which has increased steadily in recent years, will become even more common in 2013. This will be driven in part by the availability of more factory-floor-friendly, "ruggedized" devices, according to Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research Group. Mobile adoption will also be encouraged by an increase in manufacturing-specific apps, he added. "Mobile is the key interface, but it has to be shop-floor-ready, and that's starting to happen everywhere," Wang said.
While enterprise mobile apps are not a new development, Cindy Jutras, principal of Windham, N.H.-based Mint Jutras, believes that consumers are starting to take a more serious interest in these apps. "The audience is finally catching up to the vendors," she said. "Now that people are carrying more tablets and smartphones, I've been seeing more awareness of what can be done with enterprise data on the mobile device. The number of people who view it as necessary for business is growing."
According to data from a recent Mint Jutras survey of 300 businesses -- more than half of which were manufacturers -- 27% of respondents consider access to ERP data on mobile devices to be a "must-have," while 38% consider it "important." This shows a significant increase from last year's numbers, which were 19% and 28%, respectively.
Cloud computing will reach new heights
In 2013, manufacturers will become more comfortable than ever with putting their data in the cloud, predicted Wang. Most will explore a combination of public and private cloud services to suit their needs. "The hybrid cloud will play a key role in innovation," Wang said. "Manufacturers will invest more in integration to support the connection to newer and more innovative solutions."
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When it comes to selecting single- or multi-tenant cloud platforms, Jutras believes most consumers in 2013 just won't be that concerned. "Most users don't know the difference between multi- and single-tenant, and they don't care," she said. "They just want to know if they need to go from on-premises systems to cloud and vice versa. There's a lot of interest in that."
Manufacturers, often stereotyped as slow to adopt new technology, will lead the charge in adopting Software as a Service (SaaS) and other cloud models, Jutras predicted. "People think manufacturers lag in these new developments, but I'm finding that they are actually more willing to consider SaaS than other groups," she said. "They are pragmatic and willing to let experts go in and decide which tech is best."
Big data will get bigger, more manufacturers will explore social
Big data will be an area to watch in 2013, according to Wang. From quality metrics to sales and operation planning and supplier costs, he predicts that more manufacturers will make the "transition from data to decisions" in the coming year. "It's now about taking data and converting it to information -- gleaning the insights and making the right decisions throughout the organization," he said.
Wang also suggested that manufacturers will keep an eye on social media usage, a small but ever-growing technology area. He believes that social media could play a large role in improving relationships between suppliers, partners and customers. "Suppliers and partners will take advantage of social tools to improve collaboration on product design and production," Wang said. "Social will be used to address customer service, as well as shape future requirements-gathering in the innovation process."
Emerging manufacturing markets will set the pace
According to Luis Anavitarte, research vice president at Gartner, the biggest manufacturing IT trend of 2013 will not be what technology is adopted, but where. In a recent Gartner report, Anavitarte and other analysts outlined the expected growth of emerging manufacturing markets, particularly in China, Russia, Mexico, India and Central and South America.
The report found that by 2015, at least 25% of vendors' mobile device sales will come from online retailers in the "BRIMC countries" -- that is, Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico and China. And by 2016, the local communications service providers and device vendors combined will have more than a 60% share of the personal cloud market in emerging markets.
One of the factors that will determine the IT development of emerging markets is the growth of their supply chains, Anavitarte said. "You see a lot of manufacturing of IT products in emerging economies," he said. "The supply chain for any product has to be state-of-the-art in order to compete." Anavitarte added that the expansion of broadband and wireless connectivity in emerging markets will result in greater interest and adoption of cloud computing services.
"IT continues to expand in these economies, while the growth of IT spending is degrading in established markets," he noted. "There is a large, new middle class emerging in many of these countries. This is huge, because all these people have the same aspirations as middle-class people as far as IT goes: They want a smartphone; they want a tablet. This consumer market is really pushing the whole IT landscape."
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This was first published in January 2013