The Pandemic Catalyst
The event itself was initially intended to take place in person, but the format was moved to an online conference due to pandemic restrictions in travel. While I do miss in-person events and am looking forward to being able to travel once again, I must also admit that not only can online events be successful, but they also even have some advantages.
Being able to join the event from anywhere in the world meant that speakers were able to broadcast directly to the live hosting studio from their own office – such as, in the case of Rockwell Automation CIO Chris Nardecchia, who delivered his keynote address directly from the United States.
It became clear, during our roundtable, that this reliance on the digital arena during the COVID-19 pandemic has been mirrored in industry, with many companies switching to online working for a variety of previously in-person functions. As one CIO participant put it – “The use of tools like Teams and Zoom were already embedded. What has improved is the discipline and routines to use them more efficiently.” Necessity, in this instance, not being the mother of invention, more the ‘stress-test’ of innovation.
The acceleration in the use of digital tools is also reflected in the rate of adoption for other digital transformation programmes across industry. You might say that in this way, the pandemic has been a catalyst.
At the root of all of this, is the fact that powerful data becomes liberated by total connectivity. Becoming a truly connected enterprise is what is needed to facilitate digital transformation, and the role of the CIO in this process embodies the true nature of digital transformation, since it concerns management of the people, the processes, and the technology that characterise digital transformation.
This observation brings me back to the time quotient again, as it relates to one of the most important topics of the whole conference; pilot (or scale) purgatory. The notion of pilot purgatory is that while companies have ‘tested the water’ with various digital transformation projects – and gained some success – the biggest challenge was replicating that success and scaling it across the enterprise. It’s a challenge caused by various contributing factors.
The requirement to bring together numerous technologies and software into a single connected environment, for example, is a classic technology issue. Ensuring the enterprise has the digital and data skills available where needed is more of a people issue. Breaking down the business silos within an enterprise so that teams work together effectively is a lot about both the business processes and its people.
The challenge for CIOs rarely comes at the pilot stage – it’s much more about balancing those three areas under the duress of rapid change at scale.
The Ecosystem Approach
For CIOs, the challenge can seem daunting. In a basic sense, the success of digital transformation in an industrial enterprise relies on connecting the Operational Technology (OT) and enterprise-wide IT, and this usually requires significant leadership from the CIO.
But the CIO cannot do it alone – they need strong internal and external ecosystems to bring about transformation in how the company deploys human and technological resources to change the way it operates (the processes). Internally, leadership buy-in, responsibility, and input are required from the C-suite.
Change will affect everyone, and everyone must have some agency in how change is manifested. The whole company – from the shop floor to the top floor, must feel a part of the process and have a mechanism to contribute to improvements that will shape every job role – including how they can embark on a lifelong learning programme to add requisite new skills as old tasks become automated.
Externally – external to the company, that is – the trusted ecosystem of OEMs, technology vendors, systems integrators, and supply chain must also be marshalled effectively to be sure that the best fit of external resources, from technologies to software and skills is added to the mix.
The Consultative Element
For Rockwell Automation customers, that will often mean that a digital transformation journey will include Microsoft and PTC. In the process, much of the connectivity challenge is negated by employing a pre-existing ecosystem that is designed to fit together seamlessly.
By bringing in the external ecosystem early in the planning phase, new relationships can be formed that reduce the barriers to entry – including capital expenditure through new ‘as-a-service’ models of business and ownership, for example. It may also help identify which skills and services can be brought in from the ecosystem to reduce the impact of rapid change on the plant floor.
Perhaps most importantly of all, though, this consultative, ecosystem approach can help identify how to move quickly but to implement the changes in priority order, starting with the lowest hanging fruit. This saves money, speeds ROI, and reduces risk, but perhaps most importantly, it reduces the potential for pilot or scale purgatory by saving time.
And industry is very much ‘on the clock’ to transform.
You can find out more about this, and every other aspect of creating a successful digital journey, on the Management Perspectives hub. There you’ll find resources for executive industrial decision-makers, providing the information you need to thrive in the evolving digital landscape.