4 takeaways from our annual metals technology survey

3/21/2021
4 takeaways from our annual metals technology survey

AI, ERP, and more: See which technology investments other metals company leaders are making in the wake of COVID-19.

One of the most interesting findings from the 2020 "Crowe Technology in the Metals Industry" survey was that a majority of metals companies planned to maintain their pre-COVID-19 levels of investment in new technology.

Crowe conducted its annual survey of metals industry executives on technology and data trends during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the time since then, we’ve seen many metals companies accelerate their technology investments, not just maintain them.

The reason? After a year of disruption, many metals company leaders are asking themselves, “What can I do to get further ahead of any future disruptions?” In many cases, the answer to that question starts with finding ways to improve the organization’s technology systems and data analytics environment.

Here’s a quick rundown of additional trends identified by the 300-plus metals executives who participated in our metals technology survey.

1. Adoption of advanced technologies is increasingly common

For the past few years, metals executives have reported relatively modest yet consistent increases in the importance of advanced technology to their business strategy. The most popular technologies in this category include artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, internet of things (IoT), and additive manufacturing.

Those increases add up over time: Over the past four years, survey respondents who rate investments in these technologies as important to their business strategy went from 39% to 66%. And nearly 85% said they would be making new investments in advanced technologies within the next five years.

New technology investments are very important

Overall, the metals industry’s view on these technologies is moving past the “pilot” or “test” program phase and into multiple applications across all parts of the business. All of those technologies have one thing in common: They’re ultimately applied in service of getting better data – whether private and proprietary, or publicly available – and analyzing that data to reveal deeper insights.

2. Integration and standardization of data is becoming more critical

According to 2020 survey participants, their three biggest business intelligence and data analysis challenges were standardization of data (33%), identifying the best metrics and key performance indicators (21%), and the lack of a unified organizational data strategy (19%). 

As companies invest in more technologies that generate more data, they need to have an established data management plan from the beginning – as well as a willingness to modify that plan in response to unexpected challenges.

Formulating a data strategy starts with determining what questions you are trying to answer when you analyze your data and figuring out what information is most critical for your business. It also entails figuring out the best way to bring all that information, quickly, into a single, centralized place and then determining the best ways to present and share that information in different ways for different audiences.

Metals leaders: Share your thoughts on tech trends

3. ERP solutions are getting more focused

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and other core technology solutions still make up a big part of metals companies’ overall technology investment. But the trend line from our metals technology surveys over the past few years shows spending in this area is leveling off. For instance, only 52% of respondents to the most recent survey reported plans to make ERP upgrades or implementations in 2020, a moderate decline from prior years.

Two trends are driving this. First, within the metals industry, many companies’ leaders have started to think about ERP as more of a continuous improvement initiative. When ERP systems live in the cloud and operate on a software-as-a-service model, they’re continually being updated.

The other trend is playing out among the providers of ERP solutions. Some of these large software companies are now thinking of the technology not so much as “ERP” but rather as a collection of applications, each of which addresses specific business processes. Essentially, developers are now trying to think of and build their solutions in terms of what the end users actually do, such as sales, supply chain, finance, and customer service, rather than creating a comprehensive software platform that might have a lot of features users don’t need.

4. E-commerce is becoming a must-have

Offering customers online platforms for ordering and purchasing is no longer a means of differentiation. Increasingly, it’s just the cost of doing business.

Right now, though, a lot of metals companies are still in the early phases of e-commerce. Many are just now getting a customer portal online, for instance. In the 2020 survey, almost half of respondents said they were either already offering direct online sales or were planning to do so sometime within the next three years.

Metals companies that are leading the way in this space will continue exploring how they can grow their existing customer relationships and build new customer relationships through these online and digital channels. To do that, they won’t just replicate the previous experience in an online platform. They’ll improve upon that by asking questions like, “How can this experience be new and better?” and “What does the digital technology enable you to do that you can’t do when you’re on the phone with customers?”

Take part in our 10th annual metals industry technology survey

Participate in our 10th annual metals technology survey

Please take 10 minutes to answer questions about this year’s most important technology trends. In return, you’ll receive a copy of the post-survey report.

Technology strategies for metals companies

Want to improve your organization’s technology environment but aren’t sure where to begin? Our experienced metals industry specialists can help you invest in technology that facilitates future growth. Contact us to learn more.
Tony Barnes
Tony Barnes
Managing Principal, Metals