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  • 1. ARTICLE IN PRESS International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 A study of issues relating to information management across engineering SMEs B.J. HicksÃ, S.J. Culley, C.A. McMahon Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre, Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK Abstract The use of information and consequently the development of more effective strategies for its management are widely accepted as being important issues for any organisation. This is particularly the case for engineering SMEs in the Advanced Engineering sector where systematic knowledge resources are critical for achieving and sustaining competitive advantage. However, relatively little empirical work has been undertaken which seeks to explore and understand the barriers to improving information management for this class of organisation. To address this, an in-depth study of issues within 10 engineering SMEs has been undertaken. This paper presents an overview of the research method and describes the process of eliciting and filtering the issues. Using the filtered results a set of core issues is developed that characterises the range of issues currently facing engineering SMEs. An indication of the relative significance of these core issues is obtained by reclassifying the initial empirical data against the core set of issues. It is further argued that in practise many of these core issues are related to one another. To explore these relationships, the dependencies and causalities between core issues are explored. This reveals a set of fundamental issues which may be considered to represent the key barriers to improving information management within engineering SMEs. These barriers and their implications for improving information management are discussed with respect to the information flow in engineering SMEs and a number of important considerations are highlighted. The findings of this study and the understanding gained are critical for improving information management and the development and long-term planning of the information systems strategy. r 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Information management; Engineering SMEs; Fundamental issues; Information systems strategy 1. Introduction In today’s information-dependant industries and organisations, the management of information is an important and necessary activity. Information is central for strategic planning, management, control, tactical planning and daily operation (Curtis & Cobham, 2000; Laudon & Laudon, 1996). In fact, for many organisations information is a prerequisite for the production and delivery of their products or services and is critical for the creation of the next generation of product or service. For these reasons, information management is widely accepted to be one of the key mechanisms by which organisational performance ÃCorresponding author. Tel.: +44 1225 386881; fax: +44 1225 386928. E-mail address: (B.J. Hicks). 0268-4012/$ - see front matter r 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2006.03.006
  • 2. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 268 and operating efficiency can be improved (Chaffey & Wood, 2004; Dietel, 2000; EMC Corporation, 2004; Moran, 1999). From an organisational perspective the definition of information management can be elaborated to include the activities of creating, representing, organising, maintaining, visualising, reusing, manipulating, sharing, communicating, and disposing of information (Larson, 2005; Treasury Board of Canada, 2005). It follows that the objective of information management is to efficiently support these activities to ensure that the value of the information is identified and exploited to its fullest extent (Willpower Information, 2005). To achieve this, organisations implement a variety of tools, techniques, standards, languages, processes, methods and hardware that improve the various activities of information management. Many of these are embodied in, or form part of, an information system or information management system. These terms are often used interchangeably and represent both paper based and computer-based systems. In the work reported in this paper, all these various elements are considered to represent what can be thought of as the information systems (IS) infrastructure. In general, the elements of the infrastructure are implemented to support specific business processes or the activities of a particular group within the organisation. This is highlighted by the fact that strategies for improved information management tend to deal with the development and application of techniques and tools for a given process or activity. Examples include Customer Relations Management tools, Product Data Management systems, Records and Database Management tools, Accounting tools and Payroll systems. Furthermore, many domain specific information management systems have been researched. These include systems for laboratory information in food processing factories (Cagindi & Otles, 2004), design and manufacture of electronics assembly (Tirpack, 2000), industrial environmental assessment (Carlson & Palsson, 2001) and web-based project management (Stewart & Mohamed, 2004). The consequence of these process specific systems is that many elements are not well aligned to the overall organisation and the collection of processes and activities which it undertakes (Duhan, Levy, & Powell, 2001). For example, in engineering organisations Computer-Aided Design (CAD) systems and associated software modules have been developed by software vendors concerned particularly with the specific needs of the engineer. Whilst accounting and finance software have been driven by statutory requirements necessary to govern the financial stewardship and financial operation of a commercial entity. In practise, representatives from both finance and design departments require information from each others systems, including for example cost information and part codes. The activity of information management has been, and continues to be, widely researched by both industry and academia, although much of the work is often classified as knowledge management (Davenport & Marchand, 2001). The distinction between information and knowledge management is somewhat fuzzy if only because they often utilise similar terminology, technologies and tools, and the fact that many knowledge management projects possess a significant element of information management. This includes the need to identify where relevant knowledge resides and transform it into interpretable forms of information in order to communicate it and share it. For the purpose of this work, information management is considered to involve the organisation and regulation or control (Allen, 1990) of the various forms of information being considered. In contrast, knowledge management is considered to involve the two key elements of; facilitating the codification of knowledge and managing the way people share and apply it, and this not dealt with in this work (Davenport & Marchand, 2001). From the aforementioned description of the activities and objectives of information management two critical dimensions become apparent. These are the IS themselves and the information that is entered and managed by the systems. These dimensions involve a range of technical, systems and behavioural considerations which need to be addressed by an organisation in order to successfully implement their IS infrastructure. In addition to these two dimensions the importance of effectively specifying, implementing and managing a collection of IS to support the organisation as a whole has also been previously highlighted and is recognised by a number of authors (Earl, 1998; Galliers, Leidner, & Baker, 1999). For example, Duhan et al (2001) conclude that ‘‘It is the use and management of IS that confer advantage not their mere existence’’. This therefore leads to a third dimension of information management and that is the overall management of the infrastructure. These three dimensions: information, IS and overall management are discussed in the subsequent sections with particular reference to engineering organisations.
  • 3. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 269 1.1. Information systems Since the 1980s, considerable advances have been made in information communication and technology (ICT) and in particular handling electronic information. For these reasons, the majority of new information management systems are computer based whilst many existing paper-based systems are being converted to equivalent computer-based systems in order to benefit from automated processing. In fact, the combined spending on IS and information technology (IT) can now command a considerable proportion of an organisations annual budget between 1% and 4% for manufacturing organisations (Hicks, Culley, & McMahon, 2005; Industry Week, 2003). Manufacturing organisations have been shown to possess between seven and 12 different IS. These range from Job Management systems, Product Data Management to CAD systems, Payroll and Reporting systems (Hicks et al., 2005). Each of these addresses a specific functional requirement which may support a particular process, department or group and manage a variety of types of information. Furthermore, relevant information frequently needs to be managed across an entire organisation and over numerous departments, often requiring information from other processes and hence other IS. However, the ability of individual IS to obtain or exchange information with other systems is frequently frustrated by the fact that these systems have been acquired and implemented overtime, on an ad hoc basis often driven by necessity rather than long-term planning. As a result systems are very often built on top of one another (Irani & Love, 2001), and the overall function of a particular information system is generally difficult to identify. Furthermore, systems are also frequently built on different technologies, standards and underlying architectures which make information exchange and any level of integration very difficult. For these reasons the overall system that forms the total IS infrastructure can be a complex network of overlapping, duplicating, conflicting, disjointed and often isolated elements. As a consequence, a significant amount of information held by an organisation may be inaccessible, incomplete, obsolete and unusable. As a result of these problems, intervention is frequently required to translate, refine, complete, qualify or verify the information. In this work, it has been observed that this intervention may be process led, computer based or operator based and is typically undertaken to overcome or replace elements which either do not fully satisfy current requirements, are themselves out of date or underperforming, or unable to function as part of the whole. Importantly, such interventions are often only able to address specific areas and particular elements, and may themselves bring new problems. This is supported by the work of Forrester (2002) which reveals that 42% of companies maintain overlapping technologies such as databases, 33% of staff perform duplicate work and 48% of companies maintain IS that do not talk to each other. In an attempt to address some of the aforementioned issues many organisations expend considerable resource on supporting their information management strategies (Curtis & Cobham, 2000; Laudon & Laudon, 1996). This typically manifests itself through the acquisition of new software, hardware and process(es). These are targeted at what are perceived to be the critical needs of the various departments or sections. Many of these systems may at best only displace an existing problem to create a new less well-understood problem in other areas (Irani & Love, 2001). 1.2. Information Over the last decade the amount of information that is created, stored and accessed within an organisation has risen exponentially and continues to rise. In fact in 2002, 69% more information was recorded than in 1999, with about 800 MB of recorded information being produced per individual each year (SIMS, 2003). This ever-increasing volume of information is driven by the variety, diversity and numbers of sources and tools for generating and accessing information, which are themselves rising in number. Examples of these include analysis tools, modelling software, databases, web crawlers, search engines, customer and supplier extranets and messaging services (Boston, 1998; Hicks, Culley, Allen, & Mullineux, 2002; Ward, 2001). The consequences of this impact not only on the amount of information that needs to be managed, which in itself contributes to information overload (Edmunds & Morris, 2000; Fortune, 1994), but also on the provision necessary to manage the many different classes of information. In the case of engineering organisations the various classes of information include lists, reports, letters, sketches, meeting minutes, video footage, computer models, audio files, design notes and logbooks, all of which possess particular characteristics and
  • 4. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 270 hence impose different requirements for their management. This volume and variety is necessary because engineering companies not only require large amounts of information for the critical business processes but also a wealth of additional information for the activities of design, manufacture and support for a product over its lifetime (Christian & Seering, 1995; Pahl & Beitz, 1996; Pugh, 1990; Ullman, 1992). In addition to the increase in volume and diversity of information handled by an organisation, the frequency of its exchange has also escalated dramatically. For example information is exchanged by e-mail, instant messaging services and the Internet, as well as the non-electronic methods of the telephone and paper- based mediums with an ever-increasing frequency. In the case of e-mails, the total number of e-mails exchanged each day has risen from 5 billion in 1999 to a staggering 31 billion in 2002 (SIMS, 2003). For engineering organisations information is exchanged across multiple sites and between industrial partners, complex supply chains and an increasing number of customers from different countries. 1.3. Overall management In general, the entire IS infrastructure of an organisation consists of a large number of IS which are accessed by various individuals, groups, departments and processes distributed across the entire organisation, and increasingly multiple sites. This complex system of interrelated elements ultimately needs to function as a whole in order to properly support the core competencies of the organisation (Duhan et al, 2001). The need for a unified or integrated information system infrastructure is highlighted in a number of texts (Brittain, 1992; BSi, 2005; Curtis & Cobham, 2000; Laudon & Laudon, 1996). However, the design and implementation of a single unified system is rarely undertaken as it is generally too complex and requires considerable resources. Achieving this is further frustrated by the often-dynamic nature of organisations and their environments. Notwithstanding this, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems can support a large number of core business processes and are perhaps the closest commercially available single unified system. However, these systems can be very costly to implement requiring either significant business process realignment or bespoke customisation. There are also a variety of implementation issues associated with such systems (Kumar, Maheshwari, & Kumar, 2003; Mandal & Gunasekaran, 2003; Rockford Consulting Group, 2005), which for SMEs can seriously impact on organisational performance. For these reasons it is generally more effective and efficient for an organisation, and in particular an SME, to improve the management of their existing systems in accordance with long-term strategies aligned to the organisation and its core business activities. More specifically, this includes consideration of the existing elements of the IS infrastructure, business strategy, particular internal processes, technology, environment, employees, level of innovation and resources, rather than purely organisation structure and IT as has been the practise in the past (Kanellis, Lycett, & Paul, 1999). The first step to developing an integrated IS infrastructure is to evaluate existing systems and processes across the entire organisation. However, this is generally ineffectively carried out or not undertaken at all; as managers consider it takes too long and perceive little or no added-value arising from the process (Irani & Love, 2001). Assessing the benefits of IS/IT is also difficult due to the often long-term intangible benefits (Mylonopoulos, Doukidis, & Giaglis, 1995). Furthermore, until recently, the investigation and formulation of IS/IT strategies has not been the subject of much detailed empirical research (Irani & Love, 2001). This is particularly the case for small medium-sized engineering organisations where previous work has dealt with only individual elements, such as CAD, Product Data Management, Electronic Catalogues and Scheduling systems. For these reasons, it is often difficult for organisations to formulate a holistic strategy that would support and complement the needs of the organisation for the future. To begin to address some of these issues, some research has been undertaken across a variety of different business sectors which deals with the assessment and evaluation of IS (Delone & Van de Van, 1992; Kanellis et al, 1999). These techniques generally focus on post-implementation analysis and produce recommendations for corrective action. Although some work (Kanellis et al, 1999) has resulted in a framework which supports the formulation of a strategy based on the business strategy and core competencies, it is arguable that prior to developing a strategic information management plan it is firstly necessary to understand the key elements of the existing IS infrastructure and its limitations. Recent work has dealt with some of these factors and includes the establishment of a generic model of IS (Hicks et al., 2005), a practical guide to understanding the
  • 5. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 271 information flow (Hibberd & Evatt, 2004), and an understanding of information processes for automotive manufacturers and their supply chains (Howard, Vidgen, & Powell, 2003). However, little work has been undertaken which attempts to identify and understand the limits of existing systems for a specific organisation or class of organisation. It is argued that this fundamental understanding of the existing infrastructure is critical for the effective specification and implementation of additional elements of the infrastructure to improve information management. It is also a prerequisite for the effective long-term management and development of the IS infrastructure. 1.4. Knowledge-based engineering SMEs As has been previously stated information management is critical to the operation and ultimately the long- term commercial success of any organisation. The development of improved information management is of particular importance for engineering organisations, and addressing these needs posses a significant challenge. If only because of the substantial amount and wide variety of information necessary to support design, manufacture and a product over its lifetime. For example, within engineering organisations information relating to, or represented by, CAD files, documents, e-mails, correspondence, suppliers literature, analysis models, service reports, meeting records, manufacturing schedules, lead time, procurement information and attendance all need to be managed. Some of this information is highly structured and may be held in formal structured IS. This may include product data management (PDM) or customer relations management (CRM) systems. In contrast, much of the information may be less structured and less formal, and reside in sources such as log books, spreadsheets and service reports. This is particularly the case for machinery manufacturers operating in the advanced engineering (SWRDA, 2005) sectors (processing, packaging, pharmaceutical, food technology and measurement) who frequently deal with a large number of individual customers and a wide variety of suppliers. These organisations are therefore highly dependant upon systematic knowledge-based resources to achieve and sustain competitive advantage (Advantage West Midlands, 2002). Such organisations may therefore be described as knowledge-based engineering SMEs. The development and implementation of more effective information management strategies has been undertaken by many of the larger global manufacturing organisations. These approaches typically require large invest in enterprise wide information management systems and PDM systems that are supported by the latest hardware technologies and software architectures (Peoplesoft, 2005; SAP, 2005). However, due to their limited resources many SMEs cannot implement and manage these new solutions. 1.5. Research focus For the reasons discussed in the previous sections this research focuses on information management within the context of knowledge based medium-sized engineering organisations operating in the advanced engineering sectors. In particular the research aims to identify, understand and characterise the core issues faced by these organisations and elaborate the key barriers to improving information management within this class of organisation. To address this need the results of a detailed study of the issues within 10 engineering SMEs are presented. Firstly, the research methodology and the sample population are described. The results of the study are then discussed, and a classification of the core issues relating to information management is developed. The implications of this classification are discussed with respect to three key facets of information management; information, IS and their overall management. Furthermore, dependencies and causalities between core issues are explored and a set of fundamental issues is elaborated. The implications of the findings are then discussed with respect to an abstracted model of the information flow in an engineering SME. 2. Research methodology In order to understand the current issues relating to information management across knowledge-based engineering organisations, and in particular small medium-sized machinery manufacturers, empirical research
  • 6. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 272 is required to identify and characterise these various issues. Importantly, the scope of the issues studied should not be limited to specific technologies, particular hardware or software systems but all the various facets of information management across the entire organisation. In order to investigate this full range of issues, the research method used in this study aims to minimise interviewer bias during data collection whilst still providing sufficient direction so as to elicit the issues associated with information management rather than the general operation of the organisation. In order to reduce the effects of interviewer bias unstructured interviews were conducted with participants at each organisation. However, a structured introduction was provided in the form of an information sheet. This sheet ensures a minimum level of understanding of information management and the various dimensions dealt with in this study. The interviews were all conducted at the participants’ organisation and included director(s), representatives from technical departments, IT departments and finance. In the majority of cases the participants from each organisation were interviewed collectively in groups of up to three participants. This enabled a consensus for the organisation and reduced the level of direction required to focus the discussion. As previously stated participants were introduced to the study and its definition by virtue of an information sheet that presented: (1) A summary of the objectives and principle activities of information management, and the key dimensions of information, IS and their overall management. (2) A range of considerations for information management in engineering SMEs. (3) A discussion of the variety and types of information used in engineering organisations. (4) A definition of IS, their purpose and their various forms. The dependence on IT was also acknowledged but it was emphasised that this dimension was not explicitly dealt with in this study. The information sheets were presented to the participants at the beginning of the interviews alongside a short introductory presentation. Following which, participants were asked to highlight various issues relating to information management and its three dimensions. Participants were encouraged to each suggest key issues which either they or the organisation are currently facing, or have recently faced. Throughout the interviews, the focus was maintained on the information sheets and the activities of design, manufacture, and support for the product lifecycle and business processes of the particular organisation. During the interviews all data was transcribed and individual responses were only followed up to clarify the nature of particular issues and understand their impact. This methodology has been developed to deal with the particular requirements of the research programme. However, it follows common interview techniques and standard assessments methods such as those discussed by Coolican (1999). 2.1. The engineering SMEs In total, 10 engineering SMEs were investigated during the first two quarters of 2004. These organisations are generally large enough to encompass separate departments with a workforce of up to 250 employees and/ or a turnover of less than £28 million (Europa, 2004). All organisations were UK based and located in the South West and West Midlands. More specifically, the sample population was selected to provide a range of organisations distributed over the bounds of the criteria that define an SME. The spread of organisations over this range is shown in Fig. 1. Despite the use of what can be considered ‘focused’ unstructured interviews, a large amount of data was collected which represented issues that were beyond the scope of this study. In order to remove these, the data from each interview was firstly filtered and then pruned. These processes and their impact on the results are shown schematically in Fig. 2 and described in the following sections. In addition to this, the various phases of the analysis process are also highlighted. This includes the development of a classification of information management issues and the investigation of dependencies and causalities between issues. These are discussed in Sections 3–5.
  • 7. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 273 400 H 350 300 No. of employees 250 200 C JB G D 150 100 F E 50 K A 0 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 Turnover (£000,000s) Fig. 1. Organisational profile and geographical location of the sample population. Phase 1 - Filtering and pruning of empirical data >200 issues 180 issues 109 specific issues Pruning to Specific issues Issues recorded remove issues outside Initial filter relating to information during unstructured the scope of the definition of to eliminate issues management in interviews unrelated to the information management and engineering SMEs its 3 dimensions study Phase 2 – A classification of information management issues 18 core issues Eighteen core issues Comparison, Reclassification Ranking of core that represent the grouping and analysis of specific issues issues according to scope of information of 109 specific issues to against core issues to their relative management issues elaborate a set of core evaluate their relative significance within engineering SMEs issues significance Phase 3 – Investigation of the dependencies and causalities between core issues 9 fundamental issues Implications for engineering SMEs Evaluation of the implications for Nine fundamental issues Assessment improving information management in which represent the key of the relationships and engineering SMEs and summary of barriers to improving causalities between core key considerations for the information management in issues development of the information engineering SMES management infrastructure Fig. 2. Schematic representation of research methodology and analysis process.
  • 8. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 274 2.2. Filtering The filtering stage removed those issues which were considered to be outside the scope of the study. These are issues that are either unrelated to, or unrepresentative of, organisations operating in the advanced engineering sector. More specifically, issues were removed which did not relate to aspects of information management; including information, IT and IS, or the business and operational processes of engineering organisations; including design, manufacture and the product lifecycle. This filtering process eliminated over 20 issues and reduced the number of specific issues to 180. 2.3. Pruning The pruning stage was undertaken to separate issues relating to information management and those relating to other business and operational aspects of engineering SMEs. This was achieved by referring once again to the information sheets and the three dimensions of information management highlighted in Section 2. The pruning stage resulted in the removal of 71 issues leaving a total of 109 specific issues. The spread of issues between the different organisations was relatively well distributed with individual organisations contributing between 8 and 17 specific issues giving an average of just under 11 issues from each organisation. The filtering and pruning procedures are important elements in the overall analysis and ensure that the issues dealt with in the subsequent analysis share a common focus and can ultimately be used to inform a generalised and representative perspective of the industry sector considered. 2.4. Terms This paper uses four terms to represent the various levels of classified issues. These terms are shown in Fig. 2 and defined below. (1) Recorded issues—all issues recorded during interviews (4200). (2) Specific issues—a subset of the recorded issues that relate to information management (109). (3) Core issues—a generalised set of high level issues that represent the specific issues (18). (4) Fundamental issues—a superset of core issues which are either independent issues or casual issues. Casual issues can be considered to contribute to or cause other dependant issues (9). 3. A classification of information management issues By virtue of the filtering and pruning processes described in the previous section a total of 109 issues specifically concerning information management in small medium-sized engineering organisations are identified. The next stage of the analysis involves comparing, grouping and classifying the various specific issues in order to identify and develop characteristic classes of issue. In this work, these classes are referred to as core issues and are considered to represent a generalised view of issues. This stage of analysis reveals eighteen core issues against which the various 109 specific issues may be exclusively classified. Of particular interest is the fact that these core issues cover many different areas or topics that are associated with a wide variety of different disciplines and scientific fields. These include information science, computing science, management and engineering domains. This diversity highlights the dependency of all aspects of the organisation and organisational processes on information management. It also highlights the wide variety of stakeholders and requirements which drive the IS infrastructure and probably explains why the systems have developed in an ad hoc manner. 3.1. Core issues The following sections define the 18 core issues and provide a general description with a number of specific examples. This is intended to provide the reader with a feel for what the participants were concerned about.
  • 9. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 275 3.1.1. Information exchange Issues concerning information exchange were cited 12 times by eight different organisations making this issue one of the most frequently cited (11%). In particular this class relates to the inability or difficulties of exchange of information between different computer-based systems. These include Product Data Management (PDM) and Materials Resource Planning (MRP), MRP and CAD, MRP and CRM, and the PDM and product configurator. In addition to the process and software limitations, difficulties concerning information exchange were also prevalent where different standards were adopted. This includes the exchange of CAD/CAM data between different sites and also with customers, and where different part numbering conventions were used for Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) systems and CAD components. Furthermore, in two cases different internal numbering systems for part codes were used by purchasing and the design department. 3.1.2. Manual systems and data entry This class of issue represents 11% of the total issues and in part arises as a direct consequence of the issues associated with exchange information. In fact six of the 12 cited issues can be attributed to the inability to automatically exchange information between different systems. Reasons for this include hardware and software issues and also implementation issues. In contrast to this, in some cases data is manually entered to overcome limitations of a new system. For example, one organisation maintained a legacy system to enter data purely because the user can ‘tab’ across entries rather than ‘mouse click’. The latter of which is far more time consuming when entering large amounts of numerical data. In addition to this, one organisation implements a manual procedure for data transfer between the design office and the MRP system, and use this as an important element of their quality control system. 3.1.3. Monitoring, control and costing This class of issue was widely cited by over half the organisations and a total of 10 related issues were identified (9% of the total). In general these focused on the inability to accurately cost projects for quotation purposes, undertake variance analysis for completed projects, and the inability to monitor time, work in progress and processes on the shop floor. The latter of which has a significant impact on the ability to effectively schedule manufacturing operations and evaluate current capacity and capabilities. 3.1.4. Information flow from customer and sales Issues relating to the supply of customer and sales-related information represented over 7% of all issues and were cited a total of eight times by seven different organisations. In the majority of cases this related to poor information flow and in particular the information supplied to the organisation by their sales representatives. One of the organisations also identified that their sales process was not well formalised. Furthermore, the lack of information relating to current capabilities and product range was also cited as one reason which frequently contributed to the sales team not being well informed. To overcome this, one organisation were considering partnering sales with members of the engineering team to overcome some of the information flow issues. 3.1.5. Functionality of IS The failure of computer-based IS to deliver the required functionality was cited eight times by four different organisations each of which identified two distinct issues. These issues relate to the inability of their MRP system to manage costing and contact data and the failure of their PDM systems to handle drawing files created within different CAE systems. This latter aspect is particularly common given the requirement for organisations to manage legacy 2D drawings for spares and support of existing customers. It also compounds the issues concerning the numbering and traceability of machines, assemblies and components. 3.1.6. Information storage Issues relating to the storage of information were cited seven times (6%) by seven different organisations. These relate to the cost of keeping legacy information, and particular scanning and archiving. This includes hardware, software licences and the physical space. In addition to this, a number of citations related to the increased amount of information that needs to be managed in order for the organisation to conform to the
  • 10. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 276 ISO 9000/2 quality standard. One organisation maintains two archive rooms full of files for this purpose which are rarely used. 3.1.7. Bespoke office applications This class of issue relates to the widespread utilisation of bespoke office applications. These include spreadsheets, databases and linked documents which are used in addition to, or instead of, certain elements of the core IS. Specific issues characterised by this class were cited by over half the organisations and represents almost 6% of the total issues. In general, desktop or office applications were used to supplement the MRP system, PDM and Sales/CRM systems. Reasons for this are likely to be a combination of costly local customisation of the core IS and the high level of functionality and relatively small costs of the latest generation of office applications. 3.1.8. IS use and maintenance Issues relating to the use and maintenance of the IS were cited five times (4% of the total) by four different organisations and fall into two categories; integration and training. Integration issues relate to the often considerable timescales necessary in order to fully implement, commission and accept a new IS and in particular the MRP system. Training issues relate to the significant cost necessary to train one or more individuals. For these reasons, there are often only a few users capable of proficiently operating a given system and effectively act as Gatekeepers. This can pose a significant problem when individuals are either unavailable or leave. Furthermore, the lack of resources for training may well contribute to the lengthy periods of time necessary for full implementation. 3.1.9. Numbering and traceability of machines, assemblies and parts Issues concerning the numbering of machine parts were highlighted five times (E5%) by four of the organisations. These issues focussed on two distinct areas. The first of these concerns the best practise and associated strategies for part numbering which supports the transition of organisations as they move from legacy 2D drafting systems to 3D modelling environments. In particular, conventions need to be adopted which enable systems, assemblies and individual components to be managed within the 3D modelling environment, and also support the large number of legacy drawings and part codes associated with the 2D drafting systems. The second area relates to the ability to track small design changes and add-ons frequently necessary during the commissioning and development activities undertaken by machinery manufacturers. 3.1.10. Information availability and accessibility This class of issue represents almost 5% of the total issues cited and was cited by four different organisations. The issues specifically focused on the need to make information collected by technical departments and service engineers available to the entire organisation and in particular sales. The importance of this information to support and inform the new product introduction process was also recognised. In addition to this, the requirement for a centralised approach to the management of all electronic files and documents across the entire organisation was observed by one organisation. In fact, this organisation is currently implementing a programme to manage a large proportion of its documents and correspondence on a corporate Intranet. The organisation no longer distribute the full content of a document to each employee rather a hyperlink to the referenced document on the Intranet is distributed by e-mail. 3.1.11. Implementation and customisation of IS Issues concerning the customisation of core IS were highlighted by five different organisations (5%). All of these issues related to the need for considerable local customisation of the MRP system and as previously mentioned may also be one of the reasons why MS office applications are now being more widely used. In fact three of the organisations that cited an issue relating to customisation also highlighted the increasing use of bespoke office applications instead of elements of the core information system.
  • 11. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 277 3.1.12. Information identification, location and organisation This class of issue represents almost 5% of the total issues and was cited by four different organisations. In general, the issues focused on the ability to identify, locate and organise documents, correspondence and files across various workstations and also user file space on the servers. Clearly the inability to identify business critical information has serious implications for the organisation. It also frustrates the ability to backup systems and migrate existing file systems across to new PCs and servers. In fact many organisations actually migrate the entire file system, even where users have left, because of the fear of losing one or more potentially important files. The distributed nature of files across departments and different PCs also frustrates the ability to construct electronic manuals, which are now expected by many customers. 3.1.13. Information completeness and accuracy This class of issue relates to the completeness or accuracy of information managed by an organisation. This is generally internal information and in most cases arises because information has either been partially entered or an error occurred during transfer. This not only arises because of manual data transfer between systems but also at the original point of entry. These issues were cited four times and whilst this contributes to only 4% of the total issues, the impact of these errors can be significant and costly. Particularly where production is 24/7 and parts containing errors may be produced in large numbers. To address this issue, one organisation is now employing what they call an information quality officer. The role of the information quality officer is similar to the function provided by the information/knowledge officers normally employed in larger organisations (Korn Ferry International, 1998). In the context of the engineering SME the information quality officer ensures that all information relating to a specific project is complete prior to the commitment of design efforts and production of tooling and change parts. This quality control also addresses in part some of the issues concerning information flow from customers and sales. Although it only identifies a shortfall in information, which then requires corrective action, rather than ensuring the elicitation of all the necessary information in the first instance. 3.1.14. Implementation and operation of quality systems Issue relating to quality systems were highlighted four times by four different organisations. More specifically the issues related to problems during implementation and the resources required to implement a quality system. In addition, the large amounts of information that are produced as a result of achieving and maintaining ISO 9000/2 certification was also cited as a significant barrier and contributor to issues concerning information storage. 3.1.15. Information duplication Issues concerning information duplication are also indirectly related to the inability to automatically exchange and reconcile information and directly related to manual data entry. The latter of which always results in multiple instances of information. Furthermore, where manual processes are implemented there is frequently a delay which also impacts on information currency. This class of issue represents a total of four citations (E4%). In all cases an additional instance of information was being held within the MRP system. This can be a particular problem with Bills Of Materials (BOMs) for products which are largely bespoke and frequently commissioned at the customers’ premises. If separate instances of the BOM are held in the MRP and PDM systems it can be difficult to determine which is current given that small changes are frequently made by machinery manufacturers during commission. 3.1.16. Information currency Data currency although related to information quality (completeness) was cited three times (3%) by different organisations and specifically related to the fact that design changes, spares and machine alterations were not automatically uploaded to other IS (product configurators Bills Of Materials). This means that up- to-date builds were difficult to identify which has implications not only for sales but also spare parts and maintenance.
  • 12. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 278 The remaining specific issues relate to the widespread utilisation of manual timesheets to record activities of employees. This not only results in a considerable financial overhead but also frustrates the ability to accurately cost projects and monitor their progress in real or pseudo real-time. 3.1.17. Paper-based systems Issues concerning the continued use of paper-based systems were highlighted by three organisations (3%). In all the cases, the paper systems are used to provide a master record of either drawings or part numbers. In two of the cases the organisations had returned to a paper-based system after experiencing problems with their computer-based systems. This class of issue may therefore be considered to be directly related to the failure of computer-based IS to deliver the required functionality. 3.1.18. IS strategy and planning This class of issue was cited three times by three different organisations and relates to the decision-making process and corresponding IS planning. In each case there was a feeling that the strategy had and is still largely driven by accounting requirements and those individuals ultimately responsible for the financial stewardship of the organisation. It was observed that few organisations appeared to have a formal long-term IS strategy other than for specific departments. Although, the MRP system was frequently cited as the organisations long- term IS strategy. 3.2. Discussion The identification and characterisation of a set of core issues provides a more informed view of the scope of the issues facing engineering SMEs. A greater understanding and insight into the relative significance of these core issues is provided by summing the number of specific issues classified under each core issue. Fig. 3 shows the relative spread of cited issues against the core classes of issues and highlights the nine most prevalent classes. Table 1 also presents the core issues ranked according to their relative prevalence. Furthermore, Table 1 highlights the number of organisations citing specific issues within each of the core issues. In particular, the results highlight the significance of information exchange; manual systems and data entry; monitoring, control and costing; information flow from customers; the failure of IS to deliver functionality Information systems use Implementation and operation 8 and maintenance of quality systems Information flow from customers and sales 4 Implementation and customization of information systems Information completeness Bespoke office applications 7 Information currency Paper based systems Information exchange 1 Functionality of 5 information system Manual systems and data entry 2 , onitoring control M 3 and costing Information duplication Information systems Numbering and traceability of strategy and planning , 9 m/cs, assemblies and parts Information Information identification storage Information availability 6 location and organisation and accessibility Fig. 3. Relative distribution of specific issues over the 18 core classes of issue.
  • 13. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 279 Table 1 Relative prevalence of core issues Core issue Relative No of specific % of total cited No. of organisations prevalence issues issues citing issues (out of 10) 1 Information exchange 1 12 11 8 2 Manual systems and data entry 1 12 11 8 3 Monitoring, control and costing 3 10 9.2 6 4 Information flow from 4 8 7.2 6 customers and sales 5 Functionality of information 4 8 7.2 4 systems 6 Information storage 6 7 6.4 5 7 Bespoke office applications 7 6 5.5 6 8 Information systems use and 8 5 4.6 4 maintenance 9 Numbering and traceability of 8 5 4.6 3 machines, assemblies and parts 10 Information availability and 8 5 4.6 5 accessibility 11 Implementation and 8 5 4.6 5 customisation of information systems 12 Information identification, 8 5 4.6 4 location and organisation 13 Information completeness and 13 4 3.7 3 accuracy 14 Implementation and operation 13 4 3.7 4 of quality systems 15 Information duplication 13 4 3.7 4 16 Information currency 16 3 2.8 3 17 Paper based systems 16 3 2.8 3 18 Information systems strategy 16 3 2.8 3 and planning Total 109 and information storage (Fig. 3). These six core issues represent over half of the specific issues and as such provide an indication of the important areas or issues that need to be addressed to improve the information management infrastructure. 4. Distribution of core issues against the three dimensions of information management As previously stated in section 2, a critical element in the analysis of the empirical data was to consider the three dimensions of information management. In particular, the definitions were used to refine the wide range of cited issues to 109 specific issues that relate to information management. As a consequence of this, it is possible to categorise the 18 core issues against the three dimensions of information management. This provides further insight into the fundamental cause or effects of the issues. That is to say, whether they can be attributed to or impact upon information, IS or their overall management. The core issues and the dimensions of information management are shown in Table 2. In the analysis of the core issues against these dimensions only 14 of the 18 issues could be uniquely categorised. Thus, it was necessary to create compound groups; information and IS, and IS and management. Once classified, the number of specific issues associated with each of the core issues was aggregated over the three dimensions to reveal the relative spread of issues and provide some indication of the significance of particular dimensions. In the case of the compound groups, citations were split equally into the parent groups. The relative spread of issues is shown as a percentage of total cited issues in the right-hand side of Table 2 and in Fig. 4.
  • 14. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 280 Table 2 Relative spread of cited issues over the three dimensions of information management Dimensions of information Core issues (see Table1) Relative spread of cited issues management % total cited issues (Table 1) % total cited issues (aggregated) 4, 13 11 Information 15 9, 16 7 Information systems 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 15, 17 57 67 3, 8 14 Overall management 18 12, 14, 18 11 Information Systems Information Management Fig. 4. Relative distribution of core issues over the three dimensions of information management. This aggregation of cited issues against the three dimensions of information management reveals that nearly two-thirds of the issues within engineering SMEs can be attributed to or arise from the IS themselves. In contrast to this, issues related to information and overall management represent only one-third of the issues. Whilst this does not necessarily demonstrate a relative importance for these dimensions it does suggest that a greater number of benefits could be realised by addressing the issues associated with IS. However, as previously stated addressing a range of issues relating to a few specific elements of the IS infrastructure or a particular dimension of information management may serve only to bring new less well understood problems or further exacerbate other issues. It is therefore necessary to deal with specific areas of focus which together may address the greatest number of issues and realise the maximum improvement. To support this it is necessary to examine the dependencies and causalities between core issues to establish the fundamental issues and hence the key barriers to improving information management. 5. Investigation of dependencies and causalities between core issues In order to provide a more informed understanding of the information management issues within engineering SMEs, the dependencies and causalities between the core issues have been further explored. The focus of this exploration was to identify those core issues which are dependant upon, or may be considered to be significantly influenced by, other core issues. For the purpose of this work, only significant dependencies and causalities have been highlighted. These are dependencies which are either self evident between core issues or represented by one or more related specific issues. In the latter case the 109 specific issues were re-evaluated to consider cause and effect. In the case of a number of core issues there was some level of mutual dependency between two or more other issues. Where this occurred and for the purpose of evaluating the relative
  • 15. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 281 significance of causal or independent issues the number of specific issues within each core issues was aggregated across both parent classes. 5.1. Fundamental issues This phase of the investigation reveals a superset of core issues which are either independent or are the primary cause of other core issues. This superset is particularly important and can be considered to characterise a set of fundamental issues. It is arguable that this set of issues represents the key barriers to improving information management and if addressed collectively could deal with the greatest number of specific issues and hence realise the greatest benefit. The set of fundamental issues comprises nine classes. A generalised description of these is presented in the following sections. 5.1.1. Information exchange Information exchange and in particular the automatic exchange of information between computer-based IS is one of the most significant issues. The inability to automatically exchange information frequently results in the need for manual intervention which in turn has implications for information completeness and accuracy, affects information currency, and results in information duplication. As a result of this, almost one third of the total issues cited may be related to or arise from the fundamental issue of information exchange. 5.1.2. Implementation and customisation of IS Implementation and customisation of IS and in particular the completeness and effectiveness of the implementation ultimately has a significant impact on the functionality, use and maintenance. A deficit in functionality, poor training and lack of acceptance of an implementation all contribute to the use of paper- based systems over the computer-based alternatives and the increasingly widespread use of bespoke Microsoft Office applications. This large number of dependant core issues highlights this issue as one of the top fundamental issues representing almost one quarter of total cited issues. 5.1.3. Monitoring, control and costing Monitoring, control and costing is an independent issue which is not in itself significantly related to any of the other core issues. This may well be due to the fact that many of the individual issues highlighted in the study arise because of the current inability of many organisations to automatically monitor production and associated processes. This is frequently because the infrastructure necessary to undertake this has yet to be acquired and implemented. Notwithstanding this, monitoring, control and costing is the third most widely cited fundamental issue. 5.1.4. Information flow from customers and sales Information flow from customers and sales is particularly important for manufacturing organisations. If only because this information is a prerequisite for effectively undertaking the design and manufacturing processes. As a consequence, it significantly impacts upon information completeness and accuracy of information held within many IS within the organisation. In total, information flow issues can be considered to characterize almost 10% of total cited issues. 5.1.5. Information identification, location and organisation Information identification, location and organisation and the inability to effectively undertake these activities have a significant impact upon information storage. In general, large amounts of duplicate and unnecessary information are stored which is costly both in terms of physical storage and also the time necessary for employees to navigate through large amounts of information. 5.1.6. Implementation and operation of quality systems Implementation and operation of quality systems again impact on information storage requiring many organisations to maintain large amounts of information which in many cases may not add value. This may be
  • 16. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 282 because the information itself is of limited potential value or mechanisms are not in place where value may be generated from the information. 5.1.7. Numbering and traceability of machines, assemblies and parts Numbering and traceability of machines, assemblies and parts is within the context of this study largely independent of any other core issues and as a consequence may be considered a fundamental issue. 5.1.8. Information availability and accessibility Information availability and accessibility is also considered to be independent from all other core issues and is hence also identified as a fundamental issue. 5.1.9. Information systems strategy and planning Information systems strategy and planning is the last of the fundamental issues and represents only 3% of cited issues. Ironically, whilst it is difficult to explicitly relate this issue to other core issues it is perhaps as a result of poor strategy and planning that many of the other fundamental issues arise. 5.2. Discussion The dependant core issues and the aggregated percentage of total specific cited issues are shown in Table 3. This shows that automated information exchange and IS implementation and customisation Table 3 Relative spread of cited issues over the nine fundamental issues Fundamental issue % total Dependant core issues % total % total Dimension of cited cited citations information issues issues (aggregated) management 1 Automatic information 11 Manual systems and data 11 30.3 Information exchange between entry systems computer based systems Information completeness 1.9 and accuracy Information duplication 3.7 Information currency 2.8 2 Implementation and 4.6 Functionality 7.2 24.7 Information customization of systems information systems Paper 2.8 Bespoke 5.5 Information 4.6 3 Monitoring, control and 9.2 — — 9.2 Overall costing management/ information systems 4 Information flow from 7.2 Information completeness 1.9 9.1 Information customers and sales and accuracy 5 Information identification, 4.6 Information storage 3.2 7.8 Overall location and organisation management 6 Implementation and 3.7 Information storage 3.2 6.9 Overall operation of quality management systems 7 Numbering and 4.6 — — 4.6 Information traceability of machines, assemblies and parts 8 Information availability 4.6 — — 4.6 Information and accessibility systems 9 Information systems 2.8 — — 2.8 Overall strategy and planning management
  • 17. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 283 represent the greatest proportion of total cited issues (55%) and over 30% and 24%, respectively. This supports the findings of Section 4 which identify IS and related issues as the major contributor of informa- tion management issues in engineering SMEs. The next three most prevalent issues; monitoring control and costing, information flow, and information identification, location and organisation represent 30% of the total cited issues and can be considered to be primarily related to information and overall manage- ment dimensions of information management. The remaining 20% of cited issues are associated with quality, traceability, information access and overall planning, which relate to all three dimensions of information management. 6. A taxonomy of information management issues The previous sections explore the issues relating to information management within engineering SMEs. In particular, 18 cores issues are developed and categorised against the three dimensions of information management. Furthermore, because it is unlikely that the various core issues are independent of each other, the dependencies and causalities between the core issues are explored and a set of fundamental issues elaborated. Using all of these results it is possible to construct an overall taxonomy of information management issues within engineering SMEs. This is shown in detail Fig. 5. The first level of the taxonomy defines the three dimensions of information management; information, IS and overall management. The relative spread of specific issues associated with each of these dimensions is also shown alongside each element. This reveals that nearly two-thirds of the issues faced by engineering SMEs can be attributed to, or may arise as a result of, the IS themselves. Fig. 5. Taxonomy of information management issues within engineering SMEs.
  • 18. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 284 The second level of the taxonomy identifies the 18 cores issues and relates them to the three dimensions of information management. The relative prevalence of specific issues across the core issues is shown below each as a percentage of the total cited issues. The core issues are also ranked according to their significance in the form Ci, where i ¼ 1–18. This ranking highlights the exchange, input and flow of information as particularly significant issues (C1, C2 and C3, respectively). The third level of the taxonomy presents a range of examples for each core issue. These examples highlight how the various issues might manifest themselves within an engineering SME and include some typical causes and their implications. In addition to defining the relationships between these three levels, the taxonomy also represents the dependencies between the various core issues. These are highlighted by the dashed arrows. The directions of these arrows represent the dependant issues. By combining dependant issues into the causal issues a set of fundamental issues are developed. These fundamental issues are represented in the taxonomy by a heavy border. In a similar manner to the ranking of the core issues these fundamental issues are also ranked according to the relative prevalence of specific issues across the fundamental issues. These rankings are shown on the taxonomy above each issues in the form Fi, where i ¼ 1–9. This once again supports the IS as the main contributor of issues and more specifically the inability to automatically exchange information between IS and the various problems associated with implementation of IS and their subsequent customisation. 7. Implications for engineering SMEs In the evaluation of both the core issues and fundamental issues the importance of IS and the significant impact of IS on the operation of an engineering organisation are highlighted. This reinforces the observations within many texts (Curtis & Cobham, 2000; Galliers et al, 1999; Laudon & Laudon, 1996) which emphasise the importance of investing, planning and fully implementing the necessary IS. The findings of this study also emphasise the need to consider the IS infrastructure as a whole. This includes all the various IS and their interactions. To support this, engineering SMEs need to understand the intra- and extra-organisational flow of information and in particular the important phases where information is generated, exchanged and accessed. These information processes involve a wide variety of computer-based and paper-based systems, and a range of actors’ including customers, suppliers and departments. The important information processes relevant to this study are illustrated in Fig. 6. This shows the information flow within the context of a typical engineering SME and the design process (shown on the left-hand side of Fig. 6). In particular the information flow between departments, customers, suppliers and other sites are depicted. Furthermore the wide variety of IS implemented and the large number of electronic files held on PCs and Servers are highlighted. This generalised model of information flows within engineering SMEs provides the basis for mapping the issues identified in this study and highlighting their implications. In particular, Fig. 6 highlights the requirements for overcoming these issues and the key areas that need to be considered in the development of the information management strategy. These considerations are shown in Fig. 6 in an order corresponding to Section 5 and their implications are discussed in the subsequent sections. In order to aid the discussion the fundamental issues are separated into departmental, organisational, systems and long-term considerations. 7.1. Departmental considerations There are two key departmental considerations which emerge from this study (fundamental issues 5.1.4 and 5.1.8). The first involves the formalisation of processes for generating, representing and exchanging sales information and customer information within the organisation. It is critical that during the early stages of the design process accurate and complete information is available to the entire organisation. This is necessary for not only the design team but also for effective planning and commitment of resources. Furthermore, it overcomes the need to complete missing information later in the process. The second departmental consideration relates to the service department. Representatives from these departments frequently visit customers and generate large amounts of information relating to the product(s). This information is of
  • 19. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 285 information. Ensure order information is complete. Design process Typical structure of an Engineering SME Sales exchanging sales information and customer 4. Processes for generating, representing and Finance Sales Other sites Information Systems Purchasing Design & Manufacture Engineering Customers Suppliers Manufacture service reports to be available 8. Provision for information from Electronic files After sales Service & 7. Consistent PCs to entire organisation. conventions for numbering machines, Commission Servers and components. Management 3. An integrated strategy for 1. Automatic exchange of information 5. Conventions for structuring monitoring, control and costing between computer based information folders and naming folders and 6. An integrated quality systems systems individual files a. PDM and MRP b. MRP and CAD c. MRP and CRM d. PDM and product configurator 2. The inclusion of all users during implementation and the provision of a good level of training for a number of users to avoid the ‘gatekeeper’ situation. 9. The involvement of representatives from all departments / user KEY groups in the development of the information systems plan. Indirect Information Flow Actual Information Flow (Bi-directional) Fig. 6. Fundamental issues and their implications for information management within engineering SMEs. potential value to sales and also the design department particularly for new product development, reliability and maintenance. 7.2. Systems considerations The findings of this study highlight one particularly important systems issue, which is a major cause of many information management issues within engineering SMEs. This relates to the exchange of electronic information. There is a need for automatic information exchange to ensure that information across the
  • 20. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 286 organisation is up-to-date, accurate, complete and self-consistent. This involves technical issues regarding the physical communication of electronic information and importantly the need for a single unified accepted representation of particular elements of information. This includes document structures, file formats, codes and languages. This is in contrast to the findings of this study where multiple instances of the same information were observed in a number of different formats across each organisation. 7.3. Organisation considerations The results of the study also reveal issues associated with the organisation of information and in particular part numbering, documentation and electronic files. In the case of part numbering there is a need for organisations to agree corporate wide standards for naming machine systems, assemblies and components, and their associated CAD files. Where electronic files are considered, there is a need to either adopt standard codes of practise for the naming and structuring of folders and files, or provide improved mechanisms for searching and retrieving files across the corporate files system (local machines and servers). This both reduces time spent searching for information and better enables important information to be shared and accessed across the entire organisation. Examples of this include making service reports available to designers during the new product introduction process, or making detailed correspondence between engineering and customers available to sales. 7.4. Long-term considerations In addition to considering information flow and the requirements of all the departments within the organisation the findings identify two long-term considerations. These are quality systems and real-time monitoring, control and costing. In the case of quality systems, these should be fully integrated and embraced as part of the business processes not run as a parallel system. Where real-time monitoring, control and costing are considered many of the issues arise as a result of a lack of the infrastructure (both hardware and software) necessary to achieve this. Furthermore, it is likely that as a result of pressures for organisations to be responsive and integrated within supply chains, real-time monitoring will become a necessity. For these reasons, engineering organisations should consider any implications for scalability and extensibility of current IS which may impact in the long-term on the introduction of additional elements for monitoring and control of design, manufacture, production and personnel. The wide variety of issues and the influence of information on the operation of the organisation highlight the need for formal approaches to IS planning. This process should involve representatives from the design, manufacturing, accounting, sales and purchasing departments, rather than a single individual or department as has frequently been the case in the past (Section 3.1.18). This consensus ensures that all requirements are considered and that a shared understanding of the value of all aspects of organisational information is instilled within all representatives and ultimately their departments. This helps to avoid the ‘we’ll fill it in later’ or ‘we don’t really need this information’ attitude sometimes adopted by sales and service engineers (Section 3.1). Furthermore, the planning should not be driven by the IT department or individuals responsible for the IT. Ultimately, the role of the IT department is to best implement or best support the implementation of the infrastructure and in no way should the infrastructure be limited to the capabilities of the IT department. 8. Conclusions The critical role of information in supporting the core competencies of engineering organisations has been highlighted and the need to develop more effective strategies for its management discussed. The important and relatively neglected sector of the engineering SME has been described and the need for detailed empirical research into the information management issues within these organisations argued. In particular, there is a need to explore and understand the barriers to improving information management within this class of organisation. In general, engineering SMEs are characterised by limited financial capability, a reliance on
  • 21. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 287 systematic knowledge resources and a high volume of information flow with a large number of different customers and suppliers. Ten engineering SMEs operating in the advanced engineering sector in the UK have been studied in some detail. After some analysis the study identified 109 specific issues relating to information management in engineering SMEs. From these specific issues a set of 18 core issues have been elaborated and characterised. These core issues provide a well-informed view of the scope of the issues facing this class of organisation and may be considered to represent issues which need to be addressed in the development of information management strategies. In order to gain further insight into the relative significance of the core issues the 109 specific issues have been reclassified against the eighteen core issues. This reveals that over half of the 109 issues may be represented by only six of the core issues. It also highlights the exchange, input and flow of information as the most significant issues, whilst inadequate IS’ planning is identified as the least significant. This is surprising given that it is likely that many issues have ultimately arisen as a result of poor planning. The classification of specific issues against the core issues is further used to evaluate the spread of issues across the three dimensions of information management. This reveals that over two-thirds of issues relate to, or arise from, IS and their implementation. In practise it is unlikely that the core issues are independent of one another. A further stage of analysis is therefore undertaken which explores the dependencies and causalities of these core issues. This process reveals a set of nine fundamental issues which includes both independent core issues and the superset of causal issues from which other dependant core issues can be considered to arise. For the purpose of this study, these nine fundamental issues represent the key barriers to improving information management within engineering SMEs. Furthermore, it is arguable that if dealt with collectively these fundamental issues would address the greatest number of specific issues identified in this study and hence maximise the potential benefits for an engineering organisation. These fundamental issues and their implications for improving information management are discussed with respect to the information flow in engineering SMEs. In particular, departmental, organisation, systems and long-term considerations are outlined. The finding of this study and the understanding gained are critical for the development of more effective information management strategies for engineering SMEs. In particular, the issues provide the focus for the development of improved IS strategies and identify general issues that need to be resolved. The findings also highlight important issues for future research and a range of organisational requirements which support the specification of additional or replacement elements of the IS infrastructure. Acknowledgements The work reported in this paper has been undertaken as part of the EPSRC Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre at the University of Bath (grant reference GR/R67507/0) and supported by a number of industrial companies. The authors gratefully acknowledge this support and express their thanks for the advice and support of all concerned. References Advantage West Midlands. (2002). Cluster actions, guidance for applicants. September 2002. Allen, R. E. (1990). The concise Oxford dictionary (definitions of information and management). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. Boston, O (1998). Technical liaisons in engineering design understanding by modelling. Ph.D. thesis, University of Bath, UK. Brittain, J. N. (1992). Integrated information systems: Problems and solutions in implementation. Taylor Graham, ISBN 0947568530. BSI (2005). Integrated Management Systems (IMS) series. British Standards Institute. Cagindi, O., & Otles, S. (2004). Importance of laboratory information management systems (LIMS) software for food processing factories. Journal of Food Engineering, 65(4), 565–568. Carlson, R., & Palsson, A. (2001). Industrial environmental information management for technical systems. Journal of Cleaner Production, 9(5), 429–435. Chaffey, D., & Wood, S. (2004). Business information management, improving performance using information systems. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
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  • 23. ARTICLE IN PRESS B.J. Hicks et al. / International Journal of Information Management 26 (2006) 267–289 289 Treasury Board of Canada. (2005). Framework for management of information: The information lifecycle, Ullman, D. G. (1992). The mechanical design process. New York: McGraw Hill. Ward, M. (2001). A survey of engineers in their information world. Journal of Librarianship and Information Sciences, 33(4), 168–176. Willpower Information. (2005). What is ‘‘information management’’? Ben Hicks is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His research interests lie in the area of developing tools and methods for the support of engineering design. Recent work has dealt with the design and manufacture of high-speed machinery, product modelling and analysis, and machine–material interaction. He is also a member of the Design Information and Knowledge group and is involved in projects that are dealing with the representation and management of design information within engineering organisations. Steve Culley is head of Design in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Bath University. His main research area is the supply of information to engineering designers. In particular, he pioneered work into the introduction and use of the electronic catalogue for standard engineering components and two companies have arisen from this work. He has over 100 publications and is currently in the process of writing a book. Chris McMahon is Professor of Engineering Design in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath and Director of the Department’s Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (IMRC). His research interests are in engineering design, especially concerning the information needs of designers, the development of tools for information and knowledge management, design automation, risk and uncertainty management and design for remanufacturing. He is a Non-Executive Director of Adiuri Systems Ltd., which provides information systems software for a variety of applications in engineering and beyond. He has published his work widely, including over 150 refereed papers, a number of edited volumes and co-authorship of a major textbook on computer-aided design and manufacture.