Over the past two or three decades, the explosion of Chinese manufacturing has been a story of eye-popping proportions.
Each week, container ships filled with everything from bikes and personal electronics to cheap clothes and children’s toys sail into the Port of Felixstowe destined for the British high street.
This trend has had a fundamental impact on British industry, with a huge proportion of manufacturing being offshored to the so-called “factory of the world”.
For the UK that brings factory closures and job losses, but ironically it also brings opportunity and innovation.
While the manufacturing output of the UK is significantly lower than it was in the sixties and seventies, the quality of British manufacturing is higher than ever.
UK manufacturers are being forced to innovate and seek out niche opportunities in order to differentiate themselves from the commodity-style manufacturing that the economies of scale of China can provide.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the focus moves away from cost, and the CIOs of British manufacturers must have more of an eye on cost than ever before.
“We can’t do things without having cost at the heart of it,” says Ian Bleazard, CIO of DEK International, a leading provider of printing machines for the electronics industry.
With a background as a financial controller and auditor, Bleazard brings a robust financial approach to the CIO role and weighs up IT expenditure from a variety of angles.
“I’m able to bring the technology side with the business side, so I can make the business case,” he says. “We have to be cost-focused, but the other side of that is that we also have to invest.”
One of the challenges Bleazard faces is one that most manufacturing CIOs would attest to – the cyclical nature of the industry.
DEK enjoys revenues in the region of $300m, but this can sway significantly depending on the company’s order book at any particular point in time.
“We can scale up and down quickly, particularly from a platform-building perspective, so from an IT side we’ve got to be able to deal with that,” explains Bleazard.
“In 2010, we took on an additional 30 per cent of heads within about six to eight months, which created a number of challenges for the business and for IT.