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When it comes to growth in metals, IT is what it is


 Make no mistake, technology is the secret—and often not-so-secret—weapon in the arsenal of every metals company. Employing the latest technology is woven into the very fiber of the metals industry.

Don’t discount information technology (IT), either. IT is essential to growth, efficiency and maintaining a competitive edge. But despite an ever-growing availability of hardware, software, systems analysis mechanisms and data analysis tools to help metal companies make better decisions, some are reluctant to embrace these solutions.

Investments in IT systems can be expensive and cumbersome, and choosing the right one can be tricky. And perhaps in part because of this, there is a strong sense among metal industry analysts, as well as suppliers of IT solutions, that the sector drags its feet more than most other industries. But with each passing year, a greater number of metal executives believe that innovation and new technology—including IT—are critical or somewhat important to their long-term strategies. So maybe the message is being received.

When it comes to advances in production and manufacturing processes, for decades most metal producers have exhibited a consistent pattern of implementing and using the latest developments. Whether it’s advanced high-strength steel or titanium powder processes or aluminum alloys, company leaders have been bold and decisive—and remain so.

But in the area of IT, which has become just as crucial to competitiveness and corporate financial health, the opposite can be true. To be sure, nearly all companies now have a chief technology officer or director of technology, and these professionals have taken their tasks to heart. Still, while most companies have embraced at least some IT-driven solutions, such as enterprise resource planning and enterprise risk management systems, many have yet to come on board.

The challenge is that changes come at a fast and furious pace. For example, cloud computing and smart machining are emerging as major breakthroughs. For a company to accept such IT answers, the impetus must come from the chief executive officer, chief financial officer or others at the top and then make its way down the ladder. While it’s true that immediate and short-term priorities need attention, especially in today’s still-struggling economic climate, ignoring IT developments is a long-term strategic error. The companies that will not only survive but thrive will find ways to include IT investments in their planning and budgeting.

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