Competitive edge through operations management

Bennett, D.J. (1992). Competitive edge through operations management. International Journal of Operations and Production Management, 12 (4), pp. 5-6.


A view has emerged within manufacturing and service organizations that the operations management function can hold the key to achieving competitive edge. This has recently been emphasized by the demands for greater variety and higher quality which must be set against a background of increasing cost of resources. As nations' trade barriers are progressively lowered and removed, so producers of goods and service products are becoming more exposed to competition that may come from virtually anywhere around the world. To simply survive in this climate many organizations have found it necessary to improve their manufacturing or service delivery systems. To become real ''winners'' some have adopted a strategic approach to operations and completely reviewed and restructured their approach to production system design and operations planning and control. The articles in this issue of the International journal of Operations & Production Management have been selected to illustrate current thinking and practice in relation to this situation. They are all based on papers presented to the Sixth International Conference of the Operations Management Association-UK which was held at Aston University in June 1991. The theme of the conference was "Achieving Competitive Edge" and authors from 15 countries around the world contributed to more than 80 presented papers. Within this special issue five topic areas are addressed with two articles relating to each. The topics are: strategic management of operations; managing change; production system design; production control; and service operations. Under strategic management of operations De Toni, Filippini and Forza propose a conceptual model which considers the performance of an operating system as a source of competitive advantage through the ''operation value chain'' of design, purchasing, production and distribution. Their model is set within the context of the tendency towards globalization. New's article is somewhat in contrast to the more fashionable literature on operations strategy. It challenges the validity of the current idea of ''world-class manufacturing'' and, instead, urges a reconsideration of the view that strategic ''trade-offs'' are necessary to achieve a competitive edge. The importance of managing change has for some time been recognized within the field of organization studies but its relevance in operations management is now being realized. Berger considers the use of "organization design", ''sociotechnical systems'' and change strategies and contrasts these with the more recent idea of the ''dialogue perspective''. A tentative model is suggested to improve the analysis of different strategies in a situation specific context. Neely and Wilson look at an essential prerequisite if change is to be effected in an efficient way, namely product goal congruence. Using a case study as its basis, their article suggests a method of measuring goal congruence as a means of identifying the extent to which key performance criteria relating to quality, time, cost and flexibility are understood within an organization. The two articles on production systems design represent important contributions to the debate on flexible production organization and autonomous group working. Rosander uses the results from cases to test the applicability of ''flow groups'' as the optimal way of organizing batch production. Schuring also examines cases to determine the reasons behind the adoption of ''autonomous work groups'' in The Netherlands and Sweden. Both these contributions help to provide a greater understanding of the production philosophies which have emerged as alternatives to more conventional systems -------for intermittent and continuous production. The production control articles are both concerned with the concepts of ''push'' and ''pull'' which are the two broad approaches to material planning and control. Hirakawa, Hoshino and Katayama have developed a hybrid model, suitable for multistage manufacturing processes, which combines the benefits of both systems. They discuss the theoretical arguments in support of the system and illustrate its performance with numerical studies. Slack and Correa's concern is with the flexibility characteristics of push and pull material planning and control systems. They use the case of two plants using the different systems to compare their performance within a number of predefined flexibility types. The two final contributions on service operations are complementary. The article by Voss really relates to manufacturing but examines the application of service industry concepts within the UK manufacturing sector. His studies in a number of companies support the idea of the ''service factory'' and offer a new perspective for manufacturing. Harvey's contribution by contrast, is concerned with the application of operations management principles in the delivery of professional services. Using the case of social-service provision in Canada, it demonstrates how concepts such as ''just-in-time'' can be used to improve service performance. The ten articles in this special issue of the journal address a wide range of issues and situations. Their common aspect is that, together, they demonstrate the extent to which competitiveness can be improved via the application of operations management concepts and techniques.


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