SMU Steel Summit

6 takeaways for metals leaders

Tony Barnes
| 9/6/2023
SMU Steel Summit

The SMU Steel Summit 2023 brought together a record number of decision-makers to network and share the latest insights, analyses, and observations from the metals industry. The atmosphere in the conference center was cautiously optimistic, as the metals industry is coming off a year of growth but expecting headwinds in the second half of 2023.

Indicators such as rising borrowing costs, mounting consumer and public debt, a decline in gross domestic product across international markets, and continued labor challenges suggest potential hardships for the industry. To address these concerns, SMU Steel Summit panelists and keynote speakers offered several perspectives – many of which pointed to technology – on how metals leaders can best position themselves in case of a downturn next year.

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6 ways metals leaders can get ahead of future challenges

Although SMU Steel Summit 2023 speakers and panelists acknowledged future challenges the industry likely will encounter, they were also optimistic as they presented proactive solutions and actionable steps for metals leaders.

1. Prioritize innovation and technology investments

The greatest opportunities often occur during times of uncertainty, and steel leaders should move into the future with an innovative and forward-thinking mindset. Now is not the time to scale back and keep things the way they are simply because the economy looks uncertain. In fact, now is the time to lean into innovation and technology to discover new solutions that overcome potential challenges.

As leaders weigh the pros and cons of various technologies, they should think about future needs and challenges and the long-term effects of choices made today. Decision-makers must consider a host of factors, including which systems are nearing obsolescence, a strategy for user adoption, and a plan for continued improvement over time. Finding the right technology solution can be the difference between confidently overcoming challenges and collapsing under the pressure of volatility.

2. Use data for a competitive advantage

Several SMU Steel Summit speakers eagerly shared their insights on the positive effect data can have within the industry.

Data can help strengthen resource allocation, enhance workplace safety, and identify best practices – and patterns of inefficiency. A clear understanding of data can give metals leaders a competitive advantage and help strengthen their process optimization, quality control, supply-chain management, market trends, and demand forecasting – all of which helps decision-makers optimize operations, make critical decisions, and accelerate growth.

3. Pay attention to customer needs

Although many are approaching the new year with caution, several positive indicators point to the continued growth of the industry and reasons steel companies can be optimistic going into 2024. Speakers and panelists noted increasing construction of clean energy projects and data centers as well as the effects of major federal investment programs such as the Inflation Reduction Act. Customers with very specific requirements for the types of buildings, vehicles, infrastructure, and steel they need are leading these projects, and metals leaders should pay attention to these needs.

4. Cut costs through automation and inventory

Cutting costs is often where leaders turn during times of uncertainty. The two ways mentioned during the SMU Steel Summit in which metals leaders can realize the greatest cost savings are through investing in automation and more efficiently managing inventory. Metals leaders need to anticipate the needs of their customers and have material on hand rather than chasing demand. Managing inventory is even more important when the cost of capital continues to rise and having something financed at a high rate becomes a company’s most expensive asset, which points back to the importance of having accurate data and forecasting. The right technology can help streamline inventory management and automate administrative and manual tasks, giving metals leaders the cost-effective tools they need.

5. Figure out how to use AI

Gene Marks, author and speaker specializing in business and economics, gave his signature advice: “Get involved with AI before it kills us all.” Jokes aside, he urged leaders to start using artificial intelligence (AI) if they have not already.

Tools such as Microsoft Dynamics 365™ Copilot could soon unlock exciting opportunities for metals leaders. Dynamics 365 Copilot can instantly provide feedback to a procurement team on downstream impacts when it receives delivery date updates from a supplier. Metals companies can take advantage of the power of AI today with accounts payable automation to streamline cash management and demand forecasting to improve customer service while keeping costs low.

6. Start with people

Throughout the SME Steel Summit, steel leaders pointed to the importance of investing in people and the challenges of attracting and retaining the next generation of metals workers. As companies invest in technology to create innovative solutions that address problems and move the industry forward, it’s critical to be aware of how employees interact with new systems. While technology provides tools to enhance operations, increase efficiency, and minimize time spent on tedious tasks, people use the technology to power innovation. Implementing user-friendly systems and employee feedback loops are two ways leaders can support workers and realize the full benefits technology can offer.

Plan for 2024 with confidence

This year’s SMU Steel Summit was an insightful look at the exciting opportunities and challenges the industry is presented with, and we enjoyed connecting with so many leaders in the industry.

As you consider the next steps in your digital transformation journey, know that our team at Crowe is here to support you. For more than a decade, we’ve been helping metals companies in their digital transformation journeys through consulting services and industry-specific technology tools like Crowe Metals Accelerator. Our team of specialists is here to help answer any questions you might have. Don’t hesitate to reach out.

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Tony Barnes
Tony Barnes
Principal, Microsoft Cloud Solutions Leader