Keywords: flexibility, high technology, management of technology, meta-competence, innovate-to-order
Flexibility: an emerging meta-competence for managing high technology
This paper presents a conceptual study on the role of flexibility in managing high technology. The study indicates the existence of a common understanding on the need for competitive performance of high technology enterprises in four dimensions: reduced cycle times, reduced cost, higher quality, and higher levels of customisation. Towards this, a large number of IT based strategies like Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM), Concurrent Engineering (CE), Cellular Manufacturing (CM), Flexible Manufacturing Systems (FMS), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Supply Chain Management (SCM), Business Process Reengineering (BPR), etc. are being put to use with varied results. After time, cost and quality, customisation (or high variety) appears to be the next imperative of high technology competition. A time-based competition aiming at mass customisation capabilities is emerging. The characterisation of high technology management towards this environment yields a novel topology, which we refer to as Innovate-To-Order (as an extension to the existing Engineer-To-Order topology). Flexibility, which is the most important enabling factor for customisation, is emerging as the key source of competitive advantage. This paper attempts to advance the understanding of flexibility from the point of view of high technology management, by extending the paradigm of manufacturing flexibility. The potential for design flexibility and its judicious integration with the manufacturing flexibility is discussed. A conceptual framework involving a dynamic control of structural, process and resource flexibility is presented and its implications for the Indian context are discussed. Based on our ongoing R&D efforts, we indicate the need for a judicious use of Information Technology (IT) to benefit from design flexibility.