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Tech is a key to unlocking future metals successes

Keywords: Tags  Technology, information technology, IT, Crowe Horwath, Tony Barnes, survey, AMM, executives ERP

“The flood gates have opened and they aren’t going to close. Technology and the metals industry’s use of technology to differentiate and improve companies will not stop going forward.”

So says Tony Barnes, Crowe Horwath’s senior manager of manufacturing and distribution industry solutions as he discussed the results of the annual “Information Technology in the Global Metals Industry” survey conducted jointly by Chicago-based accounting and consulting firm Crowe Horwath LLP and AMM.

With serious economic challenges on the domestic and global fronts this may not seem like the right time to make the case for metals makers to spend more on technology. Investments in equipment and IT systems can be expensive and cumbersome, and choosing the right one can be a tricky decision. And perhaps in part because of this, there is a strong sense among analysts of the metals sector as well as among the suppliers of such solutions that the industry drags it feet more than most other businesses.

But technology is a key component to the future of every metals company around the world. Employing the latest in technology breakthroughs is woven into every thread of being of the steel, aluminum, titanium and others metals industries. It is essential to growth, efficiency and maintaining a competitive edge. Despite an ever-growing availability of a range of hardware, software, systems analysis mechanisms and data-analysis tools to help metal companies make better decisions, some reluctance to embrace these solutions remains among metal makers.

As this year’s survey shows, with each passing year, more metals executives are saying that innovation and new technology – including IT – are critical or somewhat important to their long-term strategy. So maybe the message is being received, as Barnes said in analyzing the survey results.

When it comes to advances in production and manufacturing processes, for decades most metals makers have a consistent pattern of implementing and using the latest developments. Whether it’s advanced high strength steel or titanium powder processes or aluminum alloys, metals makers and their leadership have been bold and decisive and continue to be so. And there are still ways to make progress there.

But the area of IT has gradually become just as crucial to competitiveness and corporate financial health. Nearly all companies now have chief technology officers or directors of technology, and these professionals have taken their tasks to heart. Still, while a majority of 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.

At least for the next year or two, Barnes says, he expects the metals industry to continue to step up its IT investments, especially as it becomes more and more comfortable with the solutions.

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