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People: The Vital Ingredient for Successful Digital Transformations

Many years spent working on “the front line” with Partners has given me the chance to work closely with all walks of life in the manufacturing industry. From CEOs to CIOs, Directors and specialists to assembly line workers, I have seen both the good and the bad when it comes to digital transformation.

One of the constant challenges I see everyone wrestling with is achieving the promise of digital transformation. Sometimes when a major new technology push is made internally, companies risk being underwhelmed by the end result, or worse, not understanding the change they invested in.

Businesses need to constantly adapt, and while change is always constant, long term strategies can act as red herrings. Agility is key, with digital transformation necessary for businesses to compete. The problem is that digital transformation is sometimes pursued without considering the cultural impact these changes mean to the business.

Digital transformation does not come in a box or the cloud. Changes such as system upgrades, database migrations or new equipment does not equal digitisation. In fact, people and processes have equally important parts to play in the undertaking. This is critically important for all of us in the industry to remember, as we can easily fail to deliver lasting change if we don’t pay close attention to the “people element”.

An example of this, as unfortunate as it is, the demise of one major mobile provider can be attributed to the fact that they feared and did not welcome change. Moreover, the fact that internal politics and a breakdown in the people culture within weakened their competitive ability.


Steps to Guide Change

Digital transformation is a complex process and it’s not related only with technology. Before planning any sort of digital transformation project, I always study customer needs in the field of efficiency improvement and make a point to speak with partners, advisors and colleagues who have their own hard-won experiences. Being able to draw on a wide network of people who can provide your team with professional insights and potential pitfalls to avoid is a first key step to success.

At Microsoft, we have entire framework of digital transformation from small and medium business to large enterprises. We leveraged our partnerships to form a collective that draws from a strong pool of global expertise. For example, we team with Ernst & Young, which allows us to deliver e.g. best-in-class Smart Factory solution.

Likewise, our collaboration with Rockwell Automation makes hugely significant manufacturing transformations possible. Together we conduct both IT and employee audits, which allow us to assess all areas of the manufacturing process. From clothing safety sensors to the physical process line, we help clients to identify bottle necks solving real pain points.

While this may sound common place and not revolutionary, the difference between successful transformation and failure can hinge on an effective audit that challenges mindsets as opposed to simply probing existing infrastructure.

As part of the planning process, you need to work hard to define what the digital transformation should achieve. You don’t just want to simply list all the new digital activities required. You need to scrutinise the status quo and traditional structures and aim towards new practices and concepts. Most importantly, you need to ensure that the plan is not just a project but a process: one that looks cross-functionally at the people within your business and the information tech (IT) and operational tech (OT) environments.

IT leaders should not be afraid to garner support from the top, including board leaders and the C-suite, and marshal their support while rolling out a new culture of digital transformation. Any implementation process should first focus on a leading department as a successful first example to highlight to rest of the company. This allows employees to speak and “sell” the results of the transformation to each other, rather than a completely “top down” approach.

IT and OT Need to Walk the Same Path

In today’s highly competitive environment, digital innovation is critical for addressing key manufacturing challenges. Digital tools and technologies allow manufacturing companies to reduce costs, increase productivity, improve product development and achieve faster time-to-market.

On the other hand, it can also be extremely difficult for companies to take advantage of new technologies and tools, particularly when faced with large financial investments and staff trainings.

Case in point: IT and OT have not always seen eye-to-eye. Traditionally our technical-minded colleagues have been considered the ‘gate keepers’ of data and important information. Employees are constantly battling to cut through red tape to access anything of worth.

Typically we find in the manufacturing industry a significant lack of understanding of the power of the data. As such critical data gets ‘wasted,’ or simply lost. This highlights the importance of IT and OT connecting, so that functional data is being captured, collated and secured.

As part of any digital transformation, companies must work to ensure that the right data is in the hands of the right people to achieve the right results. If not carefully managed, this can result in frustrated employees who become distrustful of the new transformation.

Ensure the Course is Clear and Help is at Hand

Also crucial to success is providing adequate training to allow people to be able to implement solutions while also identifying additional opportunities.

This can certainly be a significant challenge. For years the core competencies for IT have been to reduce risk and reduce cost, much of which comes from the traditional top-down management style that is not conducive to moving quickly, empowering people, or being inclusive.

That is why demonstrating to your people how they can leverage technology to impact the status quo is essential and if you don’t engage people at the very beginning, you will fail to achieve successful digital transformation.

Digital transformation for any company needs to set a course from the onset. There must be a clear vision for what is possible, aligning the culture to be able to move quickly and take advantage of the opportunities.

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