“If you build it, they will come.” That famous movie line sticks in the minds of many. While it was an inspirational message for building Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, it’s not an ideal approach for finding success with your smart manufacturing strategy. Perhaps this is why a large number of these types of initiatives fail, or why large-scale alignment never takes root.
What is a typical automation scenario, and why does it not serve an organization well?
In many industrial facilities, automation is viewed as a technology issue. It’s a very functional and siloed / equipment centric approach in which a piece of software or hardware is introduced to address a very specific situation. At that point, the solution is primarily technology focused… (how do we get this to run). In other cases, the folks on the plant floor – the operational technology (OT) team – are considering how to make processes more efficient and streamlined. They’re focused on one piece of equipment, one process or one department. Traditionally, IT and OT operate separately because they report up through different arms of the company: IT reports through the financial arm and ultimately through the CFO, while OT reports through plant management and engineering.
This approach results in limited success because of three major factors:
- It’s fragmented and typically reliant on the scope of a single piece of technology.
- It’s a bottom-up situation that’s not aligned with the overall strategic objectives of the organization.
- It’s not embraced in a large-scale way across the organization.
How can a comprehensive, top-down approach help to ensure success?
A top-down approach is always best. When this scenario is in place, the chances of achieving success are quite high for a variety of reasons:
- The initiative is being driven by leadership to address overall business goals. At that point, they know where they want to go and have created a long-term vision around how to extract business value from the technology
- The discussions revolve around how to leverage technology to arrive at this vision. Technology in and of itself will not address overarching organizational objectives, fix organizational challenges, or drive a company into the future. In fact, a technology-driven initiative is a narrow and sub-optimal approach.
- It creates departmental alignment and collaboration, removing the barriers between IT and OT and fostering a sense of shared ownership in achieving the business goals.
- It ushers in culture change in most organizations, empowering teams at all levels to play a part in changing the way business processes are run.
What are the key steps that must be taken in order for this to happen?
The starting point involves examining your business needs. Where are the gaps? Where does the organization need to go (or how does it need to evolve) to address your market in the future? Some of these will be larger and longer-term in scope, but there are some more digestible initiatives that you can begin chipping away at within the next 12-24 months. The leadership team must identify those with the biggest payoff and put a business change management plan and technology plan in place to start getting some traction.
Next identify a group of people that will play a role in envisioning what the future of your organization looks like. What is your future state? What will you be doing, who will you be serving, and what does my product look like five years from now? The people close to the product and processes will know where these gaps are.
Once the group has identified the gaps, begin assessing the gains. In other words, if we fix these issues, what’s it worth to the organization? You can then begin working on the details in terms of the processes and technology required to arrive at the solution. This brings forward the things that IT people like to talk about, and integrates the things that OT teams like to work on. This is the part in the process that bridges the gap between the two disciplines, and creates cooperation towards a common, organization-wide goal.
What are the dangers of not embracing top-down enterprise strategies?
One thing has always been true in the world of manufacturing – you must always be in reinvention mode. If you don’t, another company will. I like to use the analogy of the buggy. You don’t see buggies anymore because someone came up with a better product: the car! And someday, cars will be replaced by something else. Or, your competitor may identify a way to make your same product better, cheaper, or quicker, causing you to lose market share. Top-down strategy helps the organization to envision what’s next, mapping out how the organization will get there and identifying what processes and technologies will make it happen.
If that doesn’t wake you up to the importance of top-down strategy, consider this. It’s ultimately more expensive to do it the other way around. A bottom-up approach does not breed success and the chance of choosing the wrong (or outdated) technology solution is high, or the solution chosen is not supported across the entire organization.
A key point to consider: It’s very difficult to end up with a Connected Enterprise and realize the value of Smart Manufacturing from a Technology perspective with Disconnected Business processes and or Organizations.
Those who embrace this process and forward-planning will be the leaders of tomorrow while the rest risk being left behind – or going the way of the buggy.
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