This is the fifth blog in our Digital Transformation series. The first post lays the groundwork for how companies can leverage technology, processes, and people to establish a new way of thinking. The second post discusses customer goals and expectations for digital transformation. The third post explains the importance of choosing the right people to drive digital transformation. The fourth post covered the role of people, systems, and processes in corporate digital transformation initiatives.
Many of today’s organizations, across a broad spectrum of industries, are embarked on their “digital journey.” Although some interpret this journey as the integration of new technologies to solve old problems in new ways, true digital transformation centers around providing a modern set of solutions to augment how humans execute work. Each company has a different starting point, but ultimately, everyone is on this journey to develop competitive advantage, increase profits, and improve the wellbeing and happiness of the people involved.
Development of an effective connected platform, that can address the information needs of each category of worker within an industrial organization, is one of the critical elements for successfully achieving digital transformation. Connected platforms offer a methodology for exchanging services and knowledge between different groups of workers, such as engineers, operators, technicians, and financial experts, for example. Platforms do not act as a substitute for people-to-people interactions. Instead, they supplement the collaboration process by enriching the knowledge base surrounding how each individual job contribution positively impacts the overall production process.
If the goal is to augment the performance of people, then the collective intelligence of the organization should start by shifting information and communication from analog – paper-based work instructions, walkie talkies, notes on a whiteboard – to digital. Armed with live, interactive data on how work is being executed, people – from management to front-line workers – can now think holistically about what a field operations person, a process control person, or a maintenance engineer needs to better execute his or her job, in ways that were not even possible 5 to 10 years ago.
Digital Transformation Field Examples Show Platform-to-Person Collaboration Benefits
Some organizations misinterpret a “platform” as being a collection of software products that have been placed in the cloud. In fact, connected worker platforms are tools that convert a fact or an event into data, which is then combined with both internal and external data, to become information. The platform then combines multiple levels of information so that people are equipped with the knowledge and wisdom needed to take the proper actions at that moment. This collaboration between connected worker platforms and people drives efficiency, quality, safety, and, as COVID-19 has highlighted, provides the agility to quickly react to fast-changing operational environments.
Consider the example of a maintenance technician, who is required to repair complex, sensitive equipment without necessarily having the latest knowledge surrounding the planning, control, or engineering information that all influence the situation. Under these circumstances, the odds of the technician performing the best job possible are low. If, however, a connected worker platform is available that provides that maintenance technician with the most optimized, updated work procedure based on past history of work performed on the component to be fixed, with machine design information, and with knowledge of how that particular piece of equipment fits into the grand scheme of the operation, the chances for a quick, accurate, and safe fix grow exponentially. Another major benefit of connected workers is the ability to easily access remote experts across the organization via the integrated collaboration features that support voice, photo, video, and text exchanges.
In another example, a machine operator needs a true digital platform that can provide inputs beyond knowing how to start and stop a particular machine. What if that platform was designed to also provide the operator with financial, maintenance, planning and engineering information? By linking data that is produced from these supplemental segments of the organization, that operator could understand how his start/stop decisions are impacting financial profitability and also be cognizant of the engineering constraints that relate to production outputs during certain times of the day or night. Access to this knowledge ensures that operators maximize production while limiting the possibility of unintended machine breakdowns.
Why “Hub and Spoke” Digital Transformation Architectures Work
Almost every Software as a Service (SaaS) product today is equipped with application program interfaces (APIs) that provide the ability to connect and exchange data between applications. Because of this flexibility, a digital platform can now be designed as a central hub with spokes. The spokes represent the many products that can connect to any place in the organization where data is created, where processes are executed, or where decisions are made. Humans are at the center of the hub and they generate decisions based on the multiple internal and external data sources that are fed to them. The platform is conceived in a way that emphasizes enrichment of a human’s ability to make the best information-driven decisions.
In the physical world, the totality of data points that the human can conceive is limited to what he or she is seeing, feeling, hearing, or smelling at the moment (e.g., “the machine in front of me is smoking”). However, in the digital world, it is now possible to sense and respond to thousands of data points simultaneously (machine temperature is trending up, vibration intensity in increasing, and both upstream and downstream processes are operating at a faster than usual rate). The digital platform handles the complexity, allowing the humans in the operation to examine challenges and exploit opportunities with a broader, more holistic view, enabling higher collective efficiencies and increased operational profitability.
Achieving Success through Use Cases
Most traditional digital transformation projects are multi-year exercises that require large up-front investments. However, field data shows that the most successful digital transformation projects are less comprehensive and more agile. When corporate stakeholders identify use cases and build digital platforms around them, these use cases propagate over time, accelerating business benefits and simplifying change management execution.
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About the Author
Rik de Smet and Lawrence Whittle are the co-authors of this blog.
As CEO of Parsable, provider of the Connected Worker™ Platform, Lawrence Whittle drives the international company’s strategic vision and business direction. A global citizen and cloud software veteran, he has led technology companies in over 10 countries in the last two decades, all focused on providing enterprise software solutions that accelerate transformational change for the world’s largest organizations. Lawrence also is an active partner at the World Economic Forum and its Platform for Shaping the Future of Advanced Manufacturing and Production, a diverse community with a mission to accelerate inclusive technology while stimulating innovation, sustainability and employment.