My answer is: neither. What I’ve discovered in the digital transformation of our supply chain is, everything starts with the readiness of your organizational culture to navigate and accept change.
Culture Takes the Lead
My team is responsible for Supply Chain Strategy and Digital Tool Innovation. These areas focus on continuing to drive resiliency through our supply chain and include dual sourcing, capacity management, business continuity planning and disaster recovery.
This encompasses a broad range of potential situations and challenges, so we need to continue considering how we reduce complexity and enable technology scalability to become more resilient, agile, and sustainable.
The Rockwell Automation infrastructure is no different from that of our customers: even with a single instance ERP, each plant had its own data structure, metrics, and language. Disparate manufacturing environments can produce:
- Islands of continuous improvement trying to drive digital strategy forward but done in isolation.
- The inability to drive common systems, leverage best practices, create an enterprise-wide ecosystem or scale solutions.
- The same end goal – say, on-time shipments – yet no consistent way to measure performance against that goal.
Before we could address these transformation limitations through technology choices, we first had to create a culture ready to reduce variation in exchange for consistency and agility.
We realized that the technology piece can be the easiest part of the transformation. What’s required ahead of technology is alignment around the metrics that matter.
Metrics should be the constant but there are many valid reasons why variance can occur. Our culture work focused on gaining alignment around outcomes and how we measure ourselves. Without that alignment, the technology just becomes another screen for operators to synthesize, rather than valued data used to make impactful real-time decisions.
Reimagine Your Operations
We’ve had to reimagine our own operations. An example is of one of the biggest improvements we launched just prior to the pandemic – and we are realizing the benefits now – is the ability to orchestrate demand by connecting disparate systems and tools across our supply chain into a Closed-Loop Operating System.
Real-time connectivity gives us visibility from start to finish – into everything from demand and material planning through to production, so we know exactly what needs to be built by when and what production disruptions endanger our schedule.
Tools such as operator visualization and heatmaps offer greater visibility and clarity to micro losses that chip away at our schedule. With data fidelity, now we know where we are versus where we need to be by the second. This matters because seconds add up to minutes and hours – stopping micro losses makes us better able to make a promise date.
Remote collaboration tools such as augmented reality have transitioned product witness tests from in-person to virtual. While this was a requirement during the pandemic, we plan to maintain this best practice globally because it shortens an often-multi-day process – with customer travel – to real-time.
Improving Operating Rhythm
What’s changed with these tools is our operating rhythm for faster problem solving, better insights and faster response time to minimize disruptions. Globally, these tools are now standard for our operations, so we have a common operating model and expectations.
Before we could reap the rewards of this work, we went through a holistic change-management practice to drive cultural changes across functions – manufacturing, engineering, master planning and scheduling, and digital transformation, and focused on what would be required of the people affected by these changes to drive the desired business outcomes.
We put ourselves in the shoes of the people using the technology, describing not only what will change but why. We built a functional specification scoped around the business touchpoints and developed the right data structures for data fidelity. For example, some operations were planned or managed in hours, some in units. We had to agree on one way to measure so we were speaking the same language.
Now, we’ve defined the business rules, reduced the complexity of our operating model, and are close to plug-and-play. Reduced complexity is driving productivity through better visibility, more accurate scheduling and improved rigor around our engineering constraint data and ultimately delivering improved schedule attainment driving customer satisfaction.
So, before you think too far across the spectrum of transformation and technology selection, look first at your supply chain’s cultural maturity to evolve and your ability to deploy that technology for true transformation.
For further information on this topic, listen to our Management Perspectives podcast, which features more in-depth discussion about supply chain agility and resilience. Learn more: Creating a More Agile, Resilient Supply Chain (Part 1).
Published August 25, 2021