Around the time I was born, a notion about transistors in integrated circuits was posited by Gordon Moore. You’ll probably know it as Moore’s Law – something that has been used to explain the rate of technology progress in many different areas since then.
Such has been the accuracy of that observation in its general application, that my technical training in Automation Technology in the mid-eighties would be almost unrecognisable to undergraduates in 2018. Naturally, the foundation it gave me was the perfect platform to undertake my professional career, and I have learned with every product evolution along the way, enjoying a career working with some of the best companies in the world of automation and industrial software.
What’s really unique about my generation though, is that this same rate-of-change means that we straddle the digital era with a foot in pre-digital technologies and approaches, and a foot firmly in the digital future. We are, it has been said, the first generation to learn not only from the generation that preceded us, but also from the digital-native generation that follows us.
This human side of the IIoT evolution should not be underestimated, in my view. I recently had the great pleasure, in my role as EMEA chairman of Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA), to give an address to the 2017 European Manufacturing Summit.
It’s tempting to think of the IIoT as being about technology. But it's really about people.
In it, I focused on the smart manufacturing initiative and how it is changing perceptions of manufacturing itself. Summits such as these are vital tools for expounding the principles of the IIoT evolution – for example, it’s great to hear about what The Toyota Way (can you believe that it’s 16 years since we first heard about this approach?) can still teach us about a strategic approach to manufacturing today.
The two main tenets of the Toyota Way are, of course, ‘continuous improvement’ and ‘respect for people’. Immediately, we are back talking about people – and this cornerstone of a great success story is something that has really stood out for me recently.
It’s tempting to think of the IIoT as being about technology – it’s even in the name; the T stands for ‘Things’. But when I talk to the business leaders involved in making the IIoT future come alive, the roadblocks they discuss are often not centred on the technology. Some talk about the security, some talk about standards, some talk about investment, but almost all talk about people.
The case for IIoT technology adoption is won, but to achieve the transformation, we mustn’t underestimate the investment in people needed too.
Perhaps the realisation of the vision starts with security, goes to networks and then into the processes, but are your people being made ready for the cross-channel work that these approaches require, how are you motivating them? How are you engaging them in the process? Where are you sourcing the external skills and industry allies partnerships you need to succeed?
At the delivery level, I see professional engineers who are a lot like me. My Generation. That special generation that learned from the generation before and needs to learn now from the generation that follows.
Getting the most out of my generation is a cornerstone of unlocking the IIoT future for any company in industry. At Rockwell Automation, we’ve had great successes with two-way learning approaches that pair new graduates with experienced operations engineers – it can be a formidably innovative problem-solving combination.
My advice for those embarking upon, or accelerating their adoption of IIoT approaches, is to consider their vision holistically; make sure to put their greatest asset, people, at the heart of implementation plans.
My advice for those embarking upon their adoption of IIoT is to consider their vision holistically and make sure people are at the heart of implementation.
Seek collaborations that will enable them and therefore your business to adapt and grow. We mustn’t stop learning from successful approaches like The Toyota Way because the constantly steepening effect of Moore’s Law in technology will always rely on real-world problem solving and application by people.
I’m keen to hear of successful approaches to engaging my generation and any other best practices that place people at the heart of IIoT adoption strategies.
If you have an example, or want to chat more about our experiences, you can contact me via LinkedIn. Or why not post to Twitter? We’re using #peoplematter to show some of the ways our company is enabling our people to deliver our vision.