Information Management in 2020

Topics: Retention of records | Data Management | Improve efficiency / productivity | Records management | Risk resilience

Download PDF

What lies ahead for manufacturing

The manufacturing industry in Europe is going through a period of profound and irreversible change. The impact of global economic, technological and environmental trends is transforming forever the way we make things, where we make them, and how. With traditional production increasingly being moved to lower-cost regions, emerging markets such as China rising up to seize market share, and in-country challenges that include ever tighter regulation, higher staffing costs and growing skills gaps, many western European manufacturing firms are struggling to keep going, let alone compete.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Innovation, research and development, creative design and a move into added-value services and support are all helping European manufacturing firms to prosper. These are all knowledge-based activities – and knowledge depends on information.

From the mountains of valuable data generated by testing and modelling in R&D, to design blueprints, Intellectual Property, real-time carbon emissions monitoring and ensuring compliance with the latest legislation – the creation, integration, analysis and ability to extract the full value from information is vital to the successful operation of a manufacturing firm.

How will the business landscape change over the next five to ten years? And what does this mean for information management in the manufacturing sector? This short paper aims to give an insight into the information challenges that lie ahead for manufacturing and what firms can do to address them.

Emerging trends and information challenges

1. Stronger and more complex national, European and global legislation

The manufacturing sector on the whole has a good grasp of industry regulations and, in the main, views compliance as an opportunity to maintain overall standards and secure competitive advantage. However, the rate of change in legislation and its growing complexity – as well as global inconsistency - will prove increasingly stressful for companies trying to manage multi-national operations.

To ensure information management processes keep pace with changing legislation, manufacturers need to take the time to understand and regularly review the regulatory landscape and update policies accordingly.

Retention challenges

The growing confusion and resulting caution will be particularly evident in organisations’ approach to data retention. It is expected that many businesses will continue to operate a “keep everything” policy for all documentation, including paper and digital, structured and unstructured information - just in case the information is needed for the business or demanded by the regulator. With information volumes set to grow exponentially this represents a ticking time bomb for the business in terms of data storage and security.

For example, in the aerospace and defence industry, the majority of records are required to be kept for seven years, but what constitutes a ‘record’ is still up to an individual company to decide in most cases. In the face of conflicting and ever-changing external guidelines, many manufacturers are also starting to stipulate their own retention periods – in some cases up to 15 years – and imposing them on their suppliers, adding further complexity to the issue of what to manage, how to manage it and for how long.

The answer is to have a robust retention schedule built into a records management programme. Taking this approach will help companies to better understand what information they hold, how long they are legally required to keep it, and when it should be securely destroyed.

Digital data

The reach and impact of legislation will increasingly embrace all communications, including email and social media – in a way that is already emerging today. A recent study by AIIM1 found that over a quarter (27 per cent) of firms are still not including emails within their retention policies, suggesting that the retention of social media content and text messages is still a way off – potentially exposing firms to data breach infringements and punitive action.

This is an area of particular significance to the manufacturing sector. Recent research from the Manufacturing Leadership Council2 suggests that social media tools and digital processes will play a big role in the innovation process over the next decade - with 13 per cent of manufacturing executives already planning to digitise their design/production processes and collaborate, a figure that is predicted to rise to more than half (53 per cent) by 2023.

It is important for businesses to implement policies and practises that encompass information in all formats. The longer a business delays in doing so, the harder it will be to catch up when new regulations come into force in years to come.

2. Growing global competition coupled with new market expansion

With many companies already investing overseas and expanding production and sales into new territories, a key concern for many manufacturing firms over the next few years will be on how best to expand, what markets to prioritise, and how to seize market share and keep pace with competition both in and from lower-cost yet also high-potential markets such as Brazil, China and India. Globalisation introduces news challenges for the way in which information needs to be managed, including compliance, security and access issues.

Information access and storage for a global business

A more globally distributed workforce clearly requires a different approach to operations and management. However, it also has far reaching implications for information: with records created and moving among employees scattered across different locations and geographies.

Embracing a paper record digitisation programme – both to reduce dependence on paper and to increase the ability to store and share it – will be of huge benefit in this global scenario. Adopting a ‘paper light’ approach that encompasses off-site storage and document digitisation will enable fast access to documents, save time and space, allow people to work smarter and therefore provide a better service for customers.

With IDC predicting3 that worldwide spending on moving data and applications to the cloud will approach the $100 billion mark by 2016, it is clear that cloud-hosting is seen increasingly as a practical and efficient information solution for firms with multiple locations and complex operations.

However, with a growing number of cloud providers, it is very important that adequate due diligence is applied to ensure data protection and retention regulations are adhered to. For example, different geographies have different rules for information storage – do you know exactly where your cloud-hosted data (including customer records) are kept and under which country’s legal jurisdiction they fall? IP and patent protection may also vary between nations; so make sure your most precious knowledge assets are safe.

Businesses need to understand and accept responsibility for their information, wherever it resides. Cloud storage is attractive in terms of flexibility, access and cost-effectiveness, but it does not replace the need for a comprehensive data protection strategy that includes archiving and back-up plans. For many companies, an approach that combines the benefits of cloud and the offline protection of magnetic tape technology might in fact be the best course of action.

Customer trust and loyalty, like that of partners and suppliers, will be vital in achieving international success. The reputational damage of a data breach could undermine this trust, as much as the loss of valuable research data or a product roadmap.

3. Innovation and speed to market will be the most critical success factors

PwC has stated4 that, “survival in today’s [and tomorrow’s] global market requires organisations to innovate and be able to commercialise successful innovations quickly.” Enabling and protecting this innovation should be at the top of the agenda of every manufacturing firm.

From an information management point of view, innovation can be boosted significantly by ensuring the company is well placed to extract the full value from its information: whether by being able to collect more data and share it more easily, or by being able to mine and cross-reference disparate data sets and historical documents.

Further, with a predicted rise in the use of social media for R&D5, and a trend towards seeking customer feedback to inform future product development; manufacturing businesses that are able to manage and harness the value of the information they hold will gain a competitive edge.

The ability to release the knowledge and insight held within the business must be integrated into every aspect of the information management programme.


The phrase “innovate or die” is particularly apt for the European manufacturing industry of tomorrow. Increased competition, regulatory complexity and global economic uncertainty make it all the more important for businesses to ensure that the underlying information management infrastructure is sound enough to underpin future innovation and growth.

For more information on how to manage the current challenges and plan effectively for the future, please download our e-book “Information management for the manufacturing industry.”

1 Information Governance – records, risks and retention in the litigation age, AIIM Industry Watch, 2013
2 Manufacturing Leadership Council
3 IDC Worldwide and Regional Public IT Cloud Services 2012–2016 Forecast
4 Preparing for growth – Manufacturers adopt new strategies for growth
and competitive edge, PwC report, 2013
5 Manufacturing Leadership Council