The key to tackling digital transformation for manufacturers. By Neil Svensen

The manufacturing sector is no stranger to new technologies as businesses recognise the need to invest in this area to maintain their edge in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Use of robotics and intelligent platforms for operational gains are nothing new, and we’ve seen manufacturers benefit over recent years from improved outputs, higher quality products and reduced wastage – all improving their bottom lines. From taking care of mundane tasks (so human employees can do more human things like looking after customers), to forecasting, quality control, experience design and building supply networks that are efficient and flexible, manufacturing organisations are increasingly using technology to take leaps forward in the services and strategies they can offer.

Now, an increase in computing power and the promise of emerging technologies, such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the planned roll out of a nationwide 5G network, means businesses today have the potential to harness their power as never before, bringing unprecedented benefits to every type of organisation. The inexorable rise of digital technologies – the so-called fourth industrial revolution – has entered a new phase that’s transforming the way we live and work at a profound level. Not only will this new connected era see improved communication between devices, but it will also transform the communication between systems and personnel, inside and outside of the company.

The sector is clearly ripe to capitalise on the opportunity afforded by Industry 4.0. with an estimated $333 billion combined spend on digital transformation solutions in 2018 – nearly 30 per cent of the year’s digital transformation spend worldwide (according to the iDC Spending Guide) – and 81 per cent of UK manufacturers planning to invest further in new digital solutions.

It’s important to understand this isn’t just about technology as a specialist topic that sits on its own in the unchartered realms of IT departments; it’s about how technology is fundamentally transforming, quite frankly, everything. Manufacturers who want to keep pace with this brave new world must grasp the opportunity to revolutionise their entire organisation, bringing the industry into the 21st century. We’re looking at the potential to make employees happier and more productive whilst driving amazing new products and services – improving efficiency, minimising costs and increasing scalability.

However, the road to the future is not without its obstacles. Failure to embrace the numerous opportunities will only, really, be due to poor organisation structure and cultural issues. Unfortunately, many companies in the sector fail to recognise the need for complete organisational reform. From board level to the factory floor, all employees need to understand the level of change that’s happening and work collaboratively for these advanced technologies to really show their worth; helping manufacturing companies establish closer relationships with customers (identified as the lead reason for offering servitisation in Barclay’s Annual Manufacturing Report).

Any large-scale change is going to be disruptive and it is crucial for companies to have holistic and complete understanding and engagement from every level and department – this the biggest challenge for businesses in all industries to overcome on their journey towards digital transformation. But there are steps to take which can help make the process smoother.

Buy-in at board level
Senior vision and commitment are vital for this level of organisational transformation, so it’s important to communicate clearly and effectively to ensure your C-suite executives are fully engaged from the outset. Only they can ask the crucial questions needed to capitalise on newly discovered business opportunities in a world of data. The C-Suite is where the narrative is set for the rest of the company. If this narrative is scepticism and uncertainty – or even a complete lack of engagement – this will inevitably trickle down.

Machine learning, intelligent machines, cognitive platforms – these new digital tools use a language that many find confusing or impenetrable. Finding ways to simplify the terminology and underline their value for executive board members will help bring them on board, as well as giving them the tools they need to communicate the changes to their teams across the entire organisation. Glossaries can help everyone get to grips with new jargon at their own pace.

Company-wide collaboration from the outset
When change is coming and people don’t understand it, they can become disengaged, which then creates barriers in implementation. To harness IT in a way that advances your business, your edge and your bottom line, you need to truly involve all aspects of organisation from the very outset. Different divisions don’t like having new technology foisted on them. If it’s been developed in isolation, it might not even be fit for purpose. Collaboration at the start gathers the right inputs into the design process, translating them into a more seamless implementation where everyone knows what’s happening and gets behind the change.

Give real-life examples of technology
One problem for people working in AI is that they focus on the technology rather than the outcome. We need to think about how to turn the technological advances into something that both technical and non-technical people appreciate. You can do this by creating powerful examples that show intelligent technology in action, demystifying it while demonstrating the benefits.

Successful IT transformation requires clear leadership and effective communication of clear and consistent visions based on reasons employees can get behind. Being clear about the fundamental changes that are happening, how staff from all departments can incorporate them into day-today activities, and the benefits they can expect are crucial steps in taking your entire organisation into the future.

The benefits of ‘going digital’ are multiple, but the process of actually transforming a company – while simultaneously ensuring ‘business as usual’ for staff, customers and the supply chain – is not without its challenges. A robust strategy will allow organisations to reap the rewards, while making the process as efficient and straight-forward as possible. What’s really happening in any digital transformation is a journey where a new process becomes part of your growth as a business – it’s a shift in mindset, ways of working and organisational structure. The ultimate goal is to have company-wide engagement – involving everyone from board level to front-line staff – in your vision as a digital business, with your C-Suite driving it. The manufacturing organisations that will flourish in the future will have a C-suite that ‘thinks digital’ and embraces their role in taking your business into the future.

Neil Svensen
Neil Svensen is Co-founder & CEO of Rufus Leonard, an independent, brand-led digital experience agency. It transforms organisations by combining expertise in brand, people and technology. For 30 years, it has created transformational digital experiences for some of the UK’s leading businesses including Lloyds Banking Group, British Gas, BBC, Lloyd’s Register, Reckitt Benckiser, British Red Cross, and The Gym Group. In 2018 Rufus Leonard was the #1 Design Elite and #Digital Elite Agency.