Saturday, 27 July 2013

Is it too late to 'bring manufacturing homer'?

Both the US and the UK are experiencing a mini-revival in manufacturing with firms re-locating manufacturing processes from offshore to back home.

Well, that;s what the media  - and the companies involved - would have us believe.

However in most cases, 'manufacturing' means 'assembly'.  The production - or sourcing - of components is still outsourced .. only final assembly takes  place at 'home'.

Take the position of a firm making complex, engineered products. If they need a new type or size of screw for  a new product , then in Shenhzen, China they can get a prototype made within 24 hours and production ramped up into the thousands within a few days.  Back 'home', those support services went when manufacturing was outsourced.  It takes many years to build up this kind of supply chain flexibility but a very short time to destroy it.  So outsourcing of components is almost bound to remain outsourced.

The horse has not only bolted.  we have locked the stable and thrown away the key.

Of course it is good to see the current moves to home assembly (even if in some cases, it seems to be as much about PR as operational efficiency).   But don't expect either the UK or the US to suddenly revert to the manufacturing powerhouses they once were.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Seen through PRISM

The recent revelations that Western Governments (particularly the US and UK?) are involved in widespread monitoring of digital communications challenges what many think of as the' right' to privacy.

Many of us are moderately happy to give up data to google and Facebook in return for free services.

What do we get from the government in return for our lack of privacy? They would argue we get security.

However, with Google and Facebook, we can read their privacy policies and take a rational decision to be bound by it or opt out.  With the government we get no such option.

Why am I writing this in a blog about productivity?  Because some firms might be put off doing business in countries that 'snoop' excessively.  There might be long-term issues for online trading.  We have uncovered something which will have unintended consequences. Only time will tell what those consequences are.  But 'down the line' we might all suffer from those consequences.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Are you a pragmatist?

I want to return to the subject of Europe.

The EU is one of the world's largest trading blocs  - yet too often we view it as a collection of nation states, in competition with each other rather than collaborating with each other to create a truly competitive European economy.

Europe generally has very liberal and progressive attitudes to social partnership, to health and well-being at work, to workplace innovation. Sometimes these are seen as being a drag on competitiveness because they 'cost money'.

However, well-cared for, safe, empowered employees aree more likely to be 'good' employees, capable of effective participation in continuous improvement programmes.

Europe should be proud of its social innovations and, indeed, should build on them to create innovative, flexible, responsive organisations that can exceed the 'value' created by low wage, low participation economies.

Yet at this time we are seeing a fall in the popularity of social democratic political parties.  In 'tough' times, the weak seem to want to act tough - to break down the social structures that could be the building blocks of a new European competitiveness.

In tough times, it often pays to keep your nerve and maintain your values.  Let's hope 'Europe' can do so.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Big Ideas ... little actions

We know there are some big questions to ask (and answer) to solve some of the current world problems - poverty, food security, energy capacity and so on. It seems however, that we have known about these problems for quite s while.  The energy issue is being addressed by companies who have a vested (financial) interest.

We all have an interest in the other issues - but on-one seems to have enough of a financial interest to drive action.

Time is getting short. if I act, will you?