UK manufacturers risk falling behind global competitors

It’s in UK manufacturers’ hands not to get left behind when it comes to digitisation.

Professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has conducted research into UK manufacturers’ adoption of new technologies.

The Strategy& study, ‘Digital Champions: How industry leaders build integrated operations ecosystems to deliver end-to-end customer solutions’, reveals that UK manufacturers currently demonstrate a sound level of digital ecosystem maturity with adoption of technologies from predictive maintenance and manufacturing execution systems to connectivity and the industrial internet of things.

However, the report also suggests manufacturers must do more to avoid being further outmanoeuvred by global competitors who are fast becoming ‘digital champions’.

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Only 1% of UK firms have attained digital champion status compared to 19% of Asian companies and 11% of businesses in the Americas.

Over 1,155 executives at global manufacturing companies in 26 countries, including 72 in the UK, were asked about their views on Industry 4.0 and digital operations. The survey concluded that digital champions are those firms already investing and focusing more on digital operations as well as digital product and service offerings. This collaboration ranges along the end-to-end value chain both within the organisation and with strategic partners and reportedly delivers significant additional value through a range of integrated ecosystems from customer service to digital solutions.

The surveyed companies expect rewards by investing in digital operations and digital product and service offerings. UK manufacturers expect an average 10.8% revenue boost and 9.3% increase in cost efficiencies over the next 5 years, as well as an increase in productivity. This is in contrast to more ambitious Asian companies eyeing up digital revenue growth of almost 17%, with EMEA peers anticipating growth of 12.7%.

UK firms believe in their digital product and service offering, expecting to double income from digital content, services and solutions by 2023 (6% to 12%) with traditional products and services falling by 7% to 73%.

When asked how their corporate culture and organisational structures enable digital transformation, 32% of UK firms stated their employees have the required qualifications for a digital future compared to just 23% of EMEA manufacturers.

UK respondents also matched global peers with regards to their focus on providing a digital customer experience throughout the customer journey (35%), ahead of their EMEA counterparts (30%). It seems that the UK has the required ingredients – but PwC questioned whether it is setting the right focus.

Darren Jukes, PwC UK’s industrial manufacturing and services leader and Industry 4.0 champion, said: “While the UK’s industrial strategy reinforces the huge potential technology can offer, making radical shifts across the manufacturing process or supply chain is neither quick nor easy to implement. As this report shows, there is also a risk that if UK companies don’t pick up the pace, they could find themselves outmanoeuvred by digital champions in other territories.

“Employees are a crucial cog in this digital evolution – they enable and support the efforts of a company’s strategic direction, solutions, performance and operations. As they navigate this transformational road ahead, firms must not only assess the status quo of their workforce – advancing the best and brightest and most digitally-oriented existing talent while training others to match these skills – but inject new talent into the organisation where gaps in people’s skill sets and capabilities are revealed.”

Across the Industry 4.0 spectrum, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a key area of divergence. While one-third of digital champions have adopted AI across major functions, primarily for automating manual and cognitive tasks, 98% of digital novices have no AI activities at all. Asian companies are at the forefront with AI, with 15% implementing significant AI solutions, compared to just 5% across EMEA.

In the UK, AI sits at the bottom of the implementation chart with manufacturing business leaders more uncertain about the return on investment, the maturity of technologies and the reliability of data than their global counterparts.

Dr. Reinhard Geissbauer, partner at PwC Germany and co-author of the report, said: “Asian companies are far outmanoeuvring their Western counterparts because they have the advantage of setting up robust digital operations from essentially a blank slate in terms of factory automation, workforce and even organisation information technology networks. Therefore they don’t have numerous complex legacy systems and facilities to upgrade, integrate or discard.

“In addition, Asian companies appear to be keener to try new business models and develop innovative products and services.”

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