(Second in a series of Microsoft Blog posts about the cloud in specific industries. Today: Manufacturing.)

These days, manufacturers have their heads in the cloud. Cloud computing promises to drastically improve the ability of companies and their customers to drive modern product design and development.

Collaboration isn’t new to manufacturing — it has long been essential. But it’s no secret that collaborative processes have tended toward the awkward and time-consuming. That’s because of where collaboration takes place: first behind the manufacturer’s firewall, then over e-mail or phone, and occasionally in person.

The cloud can change all of that to create a world of instant, any time collaboration that transcends geography. And manufacturers have been quick to notice that. A recent Microsoft research survey of 3,000 business decision-makers across the United States, for instance, showed those in the manufacturing sector reported the wider prevalence of cloud computing than any other industry. Three out of every five manufacturing business decision-makers reported their company was adopting some form of cloud-based computing. And 30 percent reported their company was ready to move all of its applications to the cloud — now!

I see examples of this urgency all the time. Coca-Cola Enterprises, the bottler and distributor of Coca-Cola beverages, recently deployed a combination of Windows Office Live Meeting, SharePoint Online and cloud services to offer remote and mobile employees direct access to critical information. As a result, the drink bottler is seeing increased productivity, and customer salespeople are able to spend greater time interacting with customers.

Microsoft tools such as SharePoint Online can help facilitate complex, multiparty collaboration. With SharePoint, a company can put data where others can securely access it. And data that currently sits behind the firewall can be transported to the cloud. That removes the huge burden currently placed on the company’s IT resources while also providing secure, authenticated access for a specific group of users. With this approach, companies can quickly respond to changing market conditions. For example, partner companies could share information on the site and jointly work on a new business arrangement without the burden associated with managing the computing resources.

Security and Privacy Concerns Remain
One roadblock to widespread cloud adoption remains: 43 percent of business decision-makers in the manufacturing industry say security is the strongest deterrent to fully embedding cloud computing tools in their day-to-day communication approach. 

That’s an understandable concern. But what many organizations don’t realize is that when they fail to provide employees with a secure, sanctioned collaboration environment, they are likely to find them turning to public social networking sites such as Facebook to share ideas and solicit input. I am sure this happens in all companies today, by some method or another. Fortunately, many companies now see that in a modern organization, employees, partners and customers will find ways to collaborate and communicate online and to protect that communication employees must be given a platform to do so securely.

For example, when Electronic Arts saw that many of its employees were on Facebook, it created a social networking portal with SharePoint that allowed employees to share knowledge and ideas. Almost a year later, the portal has attracted more than one third of the company’s employees and has helped it reduce duplicated efforts and increase knowledge sharing, all in a secure environment.

At Microsoft, we feel a responsibility to remove obstacles that stand in the way of organizations fully reaping the benefits of the cloud. In fact, we’ll take on the burden of managing and securing an organization’s IT resources. In doing so, we will give every manufacturer the opportunity to focus on what they do best — building the next great product. 

Posted by Craig Hodges
INDUSTRY GENERAL MANAGER, MANUFACTURING