Advice for getting started on digital transformation in manufacturing

Advice on getting started on digital transformation in manufacturing

[Source: Shutterstock]

You might be forgiven for believing that the digital transformation revolution is steaming ahead and that your business is being left behind. Well, that may not be the case. As with every revolution, there are early adopters, and many of these are larger organisations with deep pockets. For most SMEs, the questions remain “what is in it for my business and how do I get started?” As both a user and provider of digital transformation tools, Schneider Electric is in a good position to help.

The journey is different for everyone, and there is no universal starting point. Yet working in a digitally transformed manufacturing and technology company helps identify the basic guidelines for a successful start.

Digital transformation is people led

Successful digital transformation can help a company achieve its vision for where it wants to be by developing organisational, cultural, and technological frameworks that support this aim. It is about more than technology. It is easy to become distracted by technologies like cloud computing, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), IoT, and connected devices. They are only tools, and the companies making the most of their digital transformation remain focused on identifying the problems they need solved before considering any individual solution.

A guided journey

A business strategy is about deciding where you want it to be and look like in the future. Do you want it to be more agile and flexible or move in a different direction? The end point may be years away but identifying it will help develop the steps that align with that vision. Markets, trends, and technologies also change, and the business needs resilience to manage the changes. The vision is not about innovative technology but running the business better and adopting the best practices. In this way, technology remains an enabler, always supporting the vision and never becoming the vision.

Challenging the silos

Setting the vision tends to start at the top with the CEO as the person responsible across all functional areas. Implementation is a matter of both leadership and delegation, but this is where barriers can form. Most organisations have vertical structures, with each department having its own manager, and working style. They may find it hard to share or change.

Progress needs the horizontal integration of key functions to improve and share information across the organisation, as well as up and downstream. Understanding the goals driving change smooth the introduction of solutions needed to address them, resulting in more cooperation. The companies that best manage this cultural transformation often have a chief digital officer. Like the CEO, this person can take a holistic view of the organisation.

And then?

The next step is to consider the organisation’s corporate culture to confirm acceptance and implementation of transformation-driven changes. If the workforce rejects the process or technology, it becomes difficult to move forward. Only when the organisational culture accepts the changes is success assured. Many companies recognise their corporate culture resistance as a significant barrier to overcome.

Previously, organisations invested in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) systems to measure production efficiency. These systems delivered excellent reports, highlighting when something was not working as expected. Yet, this seldom led to actions remedying the causes.

Companies with strong discipline around total productive maintenance (TPM) or total quality management (TQM) often had greater success, as continuous improvement was already part of the organisation’s culture. Yet many organisations did not enjoy the benefit of their investment in technology due to this cultural gap. Organisations should learn from the past and avoid such problems when undergoing digital transformation initiatives within the fourth revolution.

Digital transformation offers a massive opportunity to control business better and establish a path for future growth and development. Achieving this transformation is challenging, but the odds for success improve when you start with your end goal in mind and focus on people over technology.

To learn more, go to “Empowering your workforce” on Efficiency and EcoStruxure for Plant Performance.




Recent blog posts