How technology and people combine to close the loop

Human-Centric Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is a continuous process which companies use to drive fundamental change in their businesses by leveraging new, digital technologies. Moving from traditional paper-based and time-consuming processes to digital and mobile creates multiple benefits. Companies and their workers see immediate increased efficiency, improved operational agility, and overall greater competitive advantage. This delivers enhanced value to employees, customers, and shareholders.

Put more simply, digital transformation advances a company into the digital age. By using digital technology across a manufacturing business, people at all levels of the organization reimagine the old ways of working, favoring new methods and processes that are agile, efficient innovative, and dependent upon data. Often, these activities mirror.

Yet, according to McKinsey, 70 percent of digital transformation efforts fail. A major contributor to this failure? A lack of change management.

The fact is digital technologies cannot transform an organization – especially in the slow-to-change manufacturing industry – without the commitment to transform by people.

People Are at the Center of Digital Transformation

Just as the majority of companies undertaking change swung the digital transformation pendulum too far in the direction of a technology focus, they cannot swing it back too far in favor of people, neglecting technology. In the end, humans have to connect to technology, and technology has to connect to the human.

Still, manufacturing company leaders must recognize that it is people who form the foundation for digital transformation. That’s because digital technologies are not adopted in a vacuum. Instead, your most seasoned employees – those with deep subject matter expertise and experience – are invaluable to contributing insights applicable to the process of learning and unlearning, experimenting, and adopting new ways to work in the atmosphere of continuous improvement.

As your organization adopts new processes and methods enabled by technology, it’s important to remember that change is gradual. Ensuring that you don’t ‘boil the ocean’ allows people to innovate in a safe manner that minimizes risk. In most cases, your transformation only needs to stay a bit ahead of the competition to deliver the advantages you seek. But the benefits rest on a foundation built out of people’s capabilities, mindsets, and a clear strategy to integrate both.

Digital Transformation Does Not Work Without Planning and Communicating

Employees resistance to change is a major challenge to any digital transformation effort. Many people who lack familiarity with digital tools feel apprehensive about several factors: their ability to adapt, the seemingly foreign descriptions of digital tools, a general fear of the unknown, and how new processes could possibly design them out of a job. For older employees, the fear is even more poignant. They tend to get frustrated more easily and find it more difficult to undo their hard-wired ways of working over a period that could be as long as 30-50 years.

Every digital transformation program or initiative should follow a well-communicated plan that incorporates four elements:

  1. Vision
  2. Goals
  3. Needs Assessment
  4. Road Map

Set the Vision

It goes without saying that the vision for your digital transformation must come from the executive level, someone with the power to take ownership and step in when resistance or problems arise. The vision should appear in clear, concise statements: What we plan to do; Why we’re doing it; How it will help us to meet our overall objective(s); What the improved state will look like.

Notice I say, “the improved state” and not “the end state.” Digital transformations do not have an end state. They are ever-evolving efforts that drive ongoing improvements to continually make the company better.

Establish Goals

Having specific goals established before you begin enables you to know if your transformative efforts are having an impact on the business. For example, a plant maintenance team may set a goal of increasing machine uptime by one percent per month for six consecutive months. Or, the field services team may establish a goal of improving work order accuracy by a certain percentage by a specified date. Whatever the goals are, they should be both aspirational and realistic so that people can strive to achieve them.

Assess End-User Needs

The impact on end users must be closely monitored in any digital transformation effort. For example, if you have set a goal to document every interaction with your vendors in electronic form, you need to meet with people at all levels of your organization to agree how you can implement such a change and make it succeed. If your method of implementation has poor usability, people will not adopt it, or they will quickly grow unhappy. Generally, people cannot predict the cascading effects of process changes. You will want to incorporate a feedback loop as well as ongoing discussions to ensure the newly implemented solutions works for everyone. This will ensure end-user buy-in much better than dictating the change.

Create a Road Map

Your road map should answer the question, “How is that going to work?” The road map does not have to be a sophisticated and complex diagram of everything you plan to do. It can be a simple visual that shows when each initiative is planned to start and how each aligns to the goals you have already established. Not only does the road map introduce accountability, but it also helps people understand priorities and progress toward those priorities.

The Importance of Upfront Change Management

As noted above, employees are often resistant to change, and that puts digital transformation programs at risk of failure. Yet, time and again, digital transformation efforts do succeed when company leaders work with internal communications experts to provide consistent messaging to employees that reassure them that all is going well and will impact them positively. Avoiding troublesome or worried employees will not make the challenge go away. In fact, that type of strategy only worsens the divide between those doing and those resisting.

In many companies, emphasizing that digital transformation provides employees with the opportunity to improve their skills for the future can be a motivator. However, that is not the case within many manufacturing businesses. Drilling down into an area such as plant maintenance, where there is an aging workforce well beyond the national average, these elder workers have little interest in building skills for the future. They are quite comfortable with the way things are.

An alternative strategy to bringing along these employees involves explaining to them in advance how the digital transformation will make their day-to-day work life easier, more efficient, and eventually, nearly hassle-free. Simultaneously, your digital transformation leads should explore areas where highly seasoned employees can take charge of the transformation areas that might uniquely interest them the most. For younger employees, this sounds much like personal development. For older workers, it could be a legacy and their own way of fending off a feeling of being obsolete. Change should not be feared. It is an opportunity to turn information into institutional knowledge.

The point is that you must engage the older employees within a manufacturing business. They are the operational lifeblood of today’s company. As Chad Moutray of the Manufacturing Institute’s Center for Manufacturing and chief economist for NAM recently stated, ““The simple fact is that companies are very concerned about losing their top talent to retirement and are finding creative ways to keep them longer and to train younger workers.”

Maintenance is Always Slow to Embrace Change

Maintenance teams within many companies hear the terms “change” and “transformation” and instantly think “disastrous disruption.” This doesn’t have to be the case at your company.

There are plenty of case examples available online today that demonstrate how specific digital technologies – many in the form of complete, packaged solutions – serve the dual purpose of vastly improving maintenance operations and contributing to overall operational transformation that boosts production and profits.

Here’s how to communicate this to your plant maintenance teams:

Let your seasoned maintenance staff know that making real-time data visible and accessible to everyone helps rid the organization of common areas of waste and worker frustration. As an example, let’s say that line operators can view scheduled maintenance plans ahead of being notified or set themselves up for early electronic notification. A machine operator can plan for the downtime, or even avoid downtime completely, by changing how he/she performs run routines. The result is that your machine operators can work cooperatively with maintenance teams toward a common goal – higher production performance.

Maintenance Productivity and Efficiency Gains for People Because of Technology

Anyone who has worked in plant maintenance understands how unplanned activities (or lack of activities) can quickly disrupt their cadence and put wrench time at risk. They also recognize how the downtime between work order execution can be better utilized by collecting parts and preparing a job. These types of improvements are exactly the kinds of things targeted by digital solutions. By enabling thoughtful discussions between digital transformation leaders and plant floor teams, any manufacturing company can leverage their initiative to optimize maintenance and align it with similarly transformed production practices.

Article by Ty Levine, Vice President of Global Marketing, Sigga Technologies

Sigga Technologies helps create world class maintenance organizations among SAP customers. Sigga’s solutions create critical data visibility and process enhancement that helps organizations significantly improve asset productivity and reliability by increasing the connectedness of frontline maintainers and planners

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