New technology advancements available in a digital infrastructure, such as cloud computing and social computing, are transforming manufacturing industry value chains, according to a Microsoft Corporation survey released at Hannover Messe 2011 in Hannover, Germany.

The survey results revealed a need to better integrate collaboration tools with business systems (47,4%) and to improve access to unstructured data and processes (36,2%).
Almost 60% see an industry wide collaboration that includes manufacturing products and services providers, IT providers, systems integrators and in-house business analysts as most capable of bringing about these improvements.
To support tighter collaboration across these stakeholders, Microsoft has created a reference architecture framework for discrete manufacturers initiative (DIRA Framework) to drive solutions based on cloud computing across manufacturing networks while helping integrate processes within and across the enterprise, extend the reach of the network to more companies globally, and connect smart devices to the cloud.
Microsoft partners involved in the initiative currently include Apriso, Camstar Systems, ICONICS, Rockwell Automation, Siemens MES and Tata Consultancy Services.
"Globalisation has fragmented industry value chains, making them more complex and unable to quickly respond to increased competition and shorter product lifecycles. Cloud computing is empowering today's global manufacturers to rethink how they innovate and collaborate across the value chain," says Sanjay Ravi, MD, worldwide discrete manufacturing industry for Microsoft.
"As a result of these increasingly rapid changes in technology and business, manufacturers are seeking guidance on how to best plan and deploy these powerful technologies in concert with their business strategies and priorities and how to achieve greater competitive differentiation.
"Microsoft is leading a DIRA Framework in response to this need while offering a pragmatic solution roadmap for IT integration and adoption."
The Microsoft Discrete Manufacturing Cloud Computing Survey 2011, which polled 152 IT and business decision-makers within automotive, aerospace, high-tech and electronics, and industrial equipment manufacturing companies in Germany, France and the United States, found that the biggest benefit of  cloud computing is lowered cost of optimising infrastructure, according to 48,3% of respondents.
This was followed closely by efficient collaboration across geographies (47,7%) and the ability to respond quickly to business demands (38,4%).
"The survey shows current cloud computing initiatives are targeted at cost reduction, but a growing number of forward-looking companies are exploring new and innovative business capabilities uniquely delivered through the cloud," Ravi says.
"Manufacturers are exploring ways to improve product design with social product development, enhance visibility across multiple tiers in the value chain, and create new business models and customer experiences based on smart devices connecting to the cloud."