Why SME manufacturing will need some anarchy to get ahead in enterprise IoT

GAMBICA is an organisation that aims to bring together members and stakeholders to share knowledge and best practice, shape opinion and help to enhance the profile of the SME manufacturing industry. Here, one of our members – David Smith, Commercial Director of Specac – considers the role of enterprise IoT

As a leader of a growing SME in the science sector with 80 staff, half of whom are in manufacturing, I feel that my business is typical of the kind of company that must embrace digitisation, automation and IoT, both for our own benefit but also as part of our contribution to closing the fabled productivity gap.

Technology is all around us, in our everyday use, and the pace of its change and adoption is ever-increasing. We used to look at the space race, or Formula 1 cars, as a guide to the technology of the future in everyday life. Today, our phones are hundreds of times more powerful than the computers that put us on the moon.

In SMEs, however, I see a huge disconnect between personal technology and what businesses will adopt. It’s not that the individuals involved are Luddites, or don’t think there is a benefit to be derived – many just have the sense that “it’s not for businesses like us.”

We have to try to build a momentum similar to that in Germany, where the Mittelstand contains larger SMEs with a substantially greater appetite for IoT.

You can have all the trusted digitisation consultants you like, with all the government support financially possible. However, unless we change this mindset, there won’t be as widespread a take-up as we need to have an impact on nationwide productivity.

How shall we break down that barrier and build some momentum? I believe it must come from the bottom-up within SME organisations, from the shop or office floor. If we can convince those colleagues that technology is not too difficult or too threatening to their jobs, then we can build an unstoppable momentum.

It plays to my own view that businesses would be better run using a degree of “controlled anarchy”. Life is chaotic, and we each spend different amounts of time making sense of it. Much of this order is imposed on a business by its managers, and I would broadly suggest that order dulls creativity. Interestingly, IoT can make more sense of multiple variables and see patterns in data that are invisible to the human eye, and it can do it infinitely faster if we’re ready to let it.

The idea of controlled anarchy is that it’s the people on the shop or office floor who really understand the business, not leaders and managers. If businesses are brave enough to turn their organisation chart upside down and give genuine authority to everybody and anybody in the business, then quicker and better solutions can be found to the issues facing it. This is especially true in technological solutions, because these people know what the key drains of time and waste are.

I say, be bold and put the lowest rung of the business in charge, let them own the solutions, give them a budget and let’s make a meaningful shift towards closing the productivity gap.


Are you an SME with similar thoughts, or perhaps you want to find out more about what other SMEs are doing and how they are controlling their digitalisation journey? Get in touch with a GAMBICA member of staff today at www.gambica.org.uk.

David Smith

David Smith

David Smith is a member of the Board at Gambica and Commercial Director of Specac Ltd, a designer and manufacturer of accessories for the spectroscopy market, employing 85 staff at its Science and Innovation Centre in South-East London. Some 95 per cent of Specac’s products are exported. David is passionate about SMEs, especially encouraging them to export, and he has a growing passion for the digitisation and automation agenda within SMEs as part of closing the UK’s productivity gap. David was Managing Director of Specac between 2008 and 2020, and oversaw a sharp growth in export revenues, culminating in a Queen’s Award for International Trade in 2018. He was also part of an MBO from Smiths Group PLC in 2015.

© Business Reporter 2021

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