Digitization Strategy: Finding a path forward after setbacks

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Seven Lessons on Avoiding Digitalization Project Pitfalls

In today’s competitive landscape, companies are turning to digitalization and automation to create a business advantage. They use new technology to improve productivity, reduce costs, increase flexibility, and enhance sustainability. And while adopting a digitalization strategy is an excellent first step, how you implement that strategy often means the difference between success and failure.

Two engineers wearing PPE control machinery with a large tablet.
When implementing a digitalization strategy, putting in the effort and relying on experts at the start of your project results in smooth start-up and long-term benefits.

When projects falter during implementation, companies end up with underperforming systems that don’t meet their specific needs. This is a huge lost opportunity, but finding a better path forward is always possible. I know because I walked that path as a customer of Enterprise Automation years ago, and I now have the privilege of guiding customers who face similar challenges.

Before joining the Enterprise Automation team, I worked for an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firm focused on renewable and alternative energy projects. One of our major projects at the time faced serious challenges as the digitalization strategy fell apart. However, we recovered from those setbacks after finding and partnering with Enterprise Automation. I want to share the lessons I learned from that project and many other customer projects about what it takes to ensure successful project delivery every time.

Lesson 1: There are no shortcuts for digitalization strategies.

Achieving consistent and reliable results takes time, effort, and money. This is always true, but especially so with automation and digitalization systems that touch everything else in a project. I know it’s tempting to select a low-cost proposal that doesn’t require a lot of input from internal resources. However, building a robust system starts with a strong and disciplined project execution methodology.

With this approach, a team defines project goals and performance requirements and captures them in design documentation that outlines exactly what to build. Doing this early in the project enables a comprehensive and holistic approach through every step. By doing this work, the team fully captures every goal and accounts for every need. Working on a project without a firm plan is like traveling without GPS – it’s easy to get lost.

Lesson 2: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Examine low-cost bids to figure out where they are cutting corners. For example, I recently saw a project with three proposals: one for $1.3M, one for $1M, and one for $180K. The price gap indicates a likely gap in services. The first two firms had a realistic grasp of what it would take to accomplish the complete digitalization strategy. Building those needs into the budget yielded a higher, more realistic bid. The third company either misunderstood the requirements or was promoting an unrealistic expectation of the effort required to secure the customer’s desired outcomes. The client shockingly selected the lowest price firm, setting themselves up for what will almost certainly be long-term disappointment.

Cheaper quotes typically exclude the upfront steps needed to ensure success. But investing in project definition and design is essential. Neglecting this often causes the start-up or implementation phase to drag on (sometimes almost indefinitely). When you identify issues, errors, or missing pieces near the end of the project, it is much more expensive to resolve them. Clients often compromise or settle for less than their original goals just to move on to other projects and needs.

This also limits innovation and optimization because it requires more investment to implement them if the opportunities are only recognized when the project is already underway. Change orders and other expenses can add as much as 40% to the project’s upfront budget while still not reliably delivering on project goals. 

Lesson 3: Testing is crucial for digitalization projects.

No matter how good the design is, the system must be thoroughly tested. Once the system is programmed, you must ensure it functions as intended. This is where the investment in project documentation starts to pay off. Use detailed project specifications to guide factory acceptance tests to confirm that all requirements and expectations are met, ensuring that your vision for the project is what’s been delivered. Once the system is deployed on-site, the performance requirements document is used to validate all the functions identified at the beginning of the project are realized.

Lesson 4: Choose long-term benefits over short-term gains.

Be careful about giving up a long-term advantage or feature to reduce project timelines or budget. For example, project documentation is easy to overlook while the project is active. It might not seem like something you need when the system has just come online, but what happens in a year or two when you need to add something? Without comprehensive documentation, your team won’t have the details and specifications to know precisely what they need to do. Lack of documentation leaves them to figure it out, taking valuable time and opening up the possibility of introducing errors. A better way is to spend the time and money upfront to create accurate records and remove or reduce this “technical debt.” In the long run, this reduces risk and provides benefits far beyond the initial cost.

Lesson 5: You get out of it what you put into it.

Consultants have project expertise but need your team’s solid input to understand and fully define what the project must be capable of. Beware of a contractor who promises that they don’t need anything from you or your team and that they can show up at the end of the project with your ideal system without input. Expertly scoping the project is essential. This ensures your new system will include all the features and functionality you want. It also ensures those features and functions will work as expected.

With a robust approach, the consultants or contractors will need your staff to participate. You will attend meetings, examine design deliverables closely, ensure they capture your needs, and raise the red flag if not. This includes being part of the factory acceptance test to sign off on project elements before deployment. These steps are crucial to ensuring the project fully meets your goals, so embrace the opportunity to get involved.

Lesson 6: Consider it insurance for your entire system. 

A comprehensive project execution methodology, like the one we use at Enterprise Automation, is a kind of insurance policy. While it may increase the upfront costs of a digitalization strategy by including robust project definition and design, it ultimately pays for itself because those elements will help keep the project on time and on budget. It ensures that we have solid risk mitigation and cost overrun mitigation strategies to keep the project on track and meet all our customers’ project requirements. Investing in the upfront work helps us keep our promises to our customers. This is true in terms of staying on budget and delivering precisely what they need. This is good for us and for our customers. It lets them rest assured that they can trust us and that we will deliver what we promised.

Lesson 7: Having the right partner makes all the difference.

Choosing the right partner from day one changes everything. Having experts by your side, realizing your project in a predictable way that leads to success, can turn an obstacle into an opportunity to maximize value. Because we want to ensure the best possible experience for our customers, Enterprise Automation makes sure we choose the best partners to help us accelerate our digital transformation – for our customers and within our own organization.

Being part of the Schneider Electric Alliance Partner Program is one way we demonstrate our experience and expertise with technology and within key market segments. Our customers can rest assured that they are getting the best possible solution for their needs. The wealth of combined knowledge between Enterprise Automation and Schneider Electric in both technical and business expertise means we can fill any potential skills gaps in the customer team. When kicking off your project, consider the roles and skills you need in a partner.

Moving Forward

Overall, there is good news here. If you’ve experienced these situations in the past, or if your company is facing a challenging project right now, those setbacks can become stepping stones for growth. Applying the seven lessons above will help recalibrate your digitalization strategy and fortify it against future stumbling blocks. To further bolster your efforts, seek guidance from local experts. Explore the Schneider Electric Alliance Partner Program, offering tailored solutions for your digital transformation needs. Connect with an Alliance Partner nearby or reach out directly to us at Enterprise Automation in California. Your journey to resilience begins with a proactive step today.

Enterprise Automation

Enterprise Automation, located in California, USA, is your dedicated integration and automation partner. Guided by ‘Nothing leaves enterprise untested,’ we offer tailored solutions, expert guidance, and unwavering support for project success. As a full-service integration and automation consulting firm, we serve a wide range of process-driven industries, including water and wastewater, oil and gas, life sciences, materials handling, and traditional and renewable energy.

Schneider Electric Alliance Partner Program

Through the Schneider Electric Alliance Partner Program, we empower companies to develop new capabilities to better support the digital transformation of customers and work in partnership to strengthen business resiliency.

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