The key to digital transformation

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This article was originally published by Manufacturing Management on 13th May 2019 – Written by Co-Founder and Chair, Neil Svensen.

We’re seeing an era-defining shift across all business sectors – and it’s nothing to do with Europe. The so-called fourth industrial revolution (the rise of digital technologies) is entering a new phase that’s changing the way we live and work at a very profound level. Whether you call it AI, machine learning or robotics, in over 30 years I’ve not seen anything that matches the power of these technologies in their ability to radically transform the way all industries work. It’s important to understand this isn’t just about technology as a specialist topic that sits on its own. It’s about how this technology is fundamentally transforming, quite frankly, everything. And how the manufacturing industry can make the most of this opportunity.

Intelligent platforms have been around a long time, but an increase in computing power means we can now use them in business – with benefits to every type of organisation. From taking care of mundane tasks (so human employees can do more human things like looking after customers), to forecasting, quality control, experience design and building supply networks that are efficient and flexible, manufacturing organisations are already using these technologies to take leaps forward in the services and strategies they can offer. We’re looking at the potential to make employees happier and more productive whilst driving amazing new products and services – improving efficiency, minimising costs and increase scalability.

industrial manufacturing industry digital

Once it starts, changes happen at speed. The sector is clearly trying to capitalise on the benefits this opportunity. With an estimated $333 billion combined spend on digital transformation solutions in 2018 – nearly 30% of the year’s digital transformation spend worldwide[1] - it’s clear the sector are trying to capitalise on the opportunities afforded by Industry 4.0.

Failure to embrace the amazing opportunities here will only, really, be due to poor organisation structure and cultural issues. What many companies don’t realise is that complete organisation reform is needed – not just the introduction of a new technology set. All employees need to understand the level of change that’s happening and to work collaboratively for these advanced technologies to really show their worth and help manufacturing companies establish closer relationships with customers (identified as the lead reason for offering servitisation in Barclay’s Annual Manufacturing Report).

manufacturing industrial innovation

Your communication strategy here is essential. When change is coming and people don’t understand it, they can become disengaged, which then creates barriers in implementation. It’s therefore crucial to have total fundamental understanding and engagement from all levels of the organisation. It’s really one of the big and most overlooked challenges. Here are some ways to solve it:

Start at the top
Clear and driven senior vision or ownership is vital for this level of organisational transformation, so it’s important to communicate clearly and effectively at board level. While smart machines are highly effective for organisations, leaders are still the first to push this idea forward. Only they can ask the crucial questions needed to capitalise on newly discovered business opportunities in a world of data.

Show technology in action
One problem for people working in AI is that they focus on the technology rather than the outcome. We need to think about how to turn the technological advances into something that both technical and non-technical people appreciate. You can do this by creating powerful examples that show intelligent technology in action, demystifying it while demonstrating the benefits.

digital innovation branding manufacturer

Speak their language

Machine learning, intelligent machines, cognitive platforms – these new digital tools use a language that many find confusing or impenetrable. Finding ways to simplify the terminology and underline their value for executive board members will help bring them on board as well as giving them the tools they need to communicate the changes to their teams. Glossaries can help everyone get to grips with new terminology at their own pace.

Often communication is seen as an afterthought, belonging to the internal communications department. However, when used properly across the entire business, it can be a powerful tool to guide a business forward, bridging the needs of the business and its customers alike. What you have is a unifying platform for employees to get behind and help initiate change at all levels.

Manufacturing organisations must, like all other businesses, make sure they fully explain the organisational transformation that bringing in these new advanced platforms and capabilities will require. Being clear about the fundamental changes that are happening, how you can incorporate them into your day-to-day activities, and the benefits you can expect are crucial steps in taking your organisation into the future.


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