5 Steps to Digital Transformation: The Value of Human Dynamics

This post is a summary of a webinar we did with our partner, ATS Global.

There is a lot of talk about the technology behind Industry 4.0 and digitalization, but this is not the most important consideration – people are. Afterall, it is people that make technology happen, that change how we manufacture, and, ultimately, the needs of whom the whole manufacturing process is designed to fulfill.

A digitalization project, like any other project, needs methodology and is based around organizing people to achieve goals. A project is just a temporary endeavor to create something new and a single project does not deliver goals. Success lies in taking people on the journey with you and putting steps in place to make sure this happens.

Step 1: Structure

To ensure new processes are adopted by the people that use them, project teams should consider the human aspects of the process: how it is being used, why people behave as they do, and the motivation for change. This requires a different approach to just the ‘time, quality, cost’ iron triangle, which has been the basis of project management for many years. We can deliver a solution within the bounds of such a triangle, meeting all objectives, and yet still have something that is of no value to the user or the business and will not deliver on digitalization goals.

Digital transformation requires a multidisciplinary approach. A process team should be organized to give a wide perspective across all stakeholders and business needs, with a process optimization team in place to fulfill the need for continuous process improvement – a key factor in Industry 4.0.

Step 2: Process

Once the right teams are in place, we need to ensure the right process is in place. If a business is really going to change, silos need to be broken down through understanding of the ‘pains and gains’ of a process. We must think globally, but actions will be local. To this end, adoption of new systems is always dependent upon a level of localization so that users at the local level take ownership. Indeed, if we do not take the time to understand the problems and processes in place, rather than accelerating change, we will end up slowing it down. Of course, we also need to make sure we are accelerating in the right direction – which brings us back to the project strategy of being agile, delivering small and often.

Step 3: Technology

Only once the structure and processes are in place should we look to technology for solutions. Technology is simply a tool that enables change and, without the first steps, can easily accelerate the wrong behaviors.

While the essence of Industry 4.0 is a convergence of IT and OT, success lies in taking knowledge of OT requirements and applying IT solutions to them, not the other way around. By looking at a technical framework of solutions available, we can understand where benefit can be added – but we should certainly not be obsessed with the technology and difficult solutions, as there are plenty of easy gains to be had on the pathway to complete digital transformation. Again, release small, release often.

Step 4: People

A new system launch needs the people that will be using it to be ready. With the Cloud, we have gained infinite computing power, enabling quick and powerful technology scaling. The biggest limitation to scaling is the adoption of people to the process. Perhaps to understand this better, we need to again consider the ‘human factor’.

Technology is great at replacing tasks that are tedious, repetitive, or dangerous, but the implementation of AI systems should support the decision making of humans, not completely replace them. A digitalization program should, therefore, not be product-centered with the technology determining the features, but human-centered, understanding behaviors and needs. This is a fundamental shift in mentality from ‘delivering a product’ to better understanding and enhancing of user experience.

Once a system is deployed, a timely feedback process is needed. The only way to pivot the project in the right direction is to understand the people the system is being delivered to. To gain this insight requires monitoring of how people are using the system and which options they prefer, etc. This approach has made technology, such as smart phones, a huge success but is something that is still lacking when it comes to manufacturing systems. New solutions should be both useful and accessible and maybe one of the questions we should be asking is why do industrial systems need to be so different to smart phone technology, when people are so familiar and comfortable with this. There is no reason a factory could not be run from mobile phones instead of fixed, bespoke user interfaces that require hours of training and support.

Of course, once a system is ready to be rolled out into production, a whole host of support features are required for it to succeed, including a communications plan, user support services, active and interactive training, and health and safety systems. A ‘dress rehearsal’ with the right people in their correct roles will further make sure everyone knows what they are doing before going live. Finally, a roll back plan is needed in case of problems.

Step 5: Culture

Industry 4.0 is as much about a change in culture as it is about how we manufacture. Digitalization is a collective, global approach, aimed at meeting enterprise-wide goals. For a successful digitalization program, therefore, opinionated, authoritative, egotistical approaches should be avoided and replaced with collective responsibility, more active user experiences, and a high-tech, modern approach in how to do business.

Conclusion

Technology has opened the possibilities of a new revolution in manufacturing, but success lies with the human factor. If a project does not consider the impact on users and take time to fully understand their needs and behaviors so process silos can be broken down, it is doomed to fail. If it does not consider how to take the people with it, help them understand the wider goals, and bring them ‘on board’, it could well end up slowing progress instead of accelerating it. The technology is great – but the human factor is just as important, if not more, for success!

Mónica Melo
monicamelo@criticalmanufacturing.com

Business Development for Medical Devices

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