Three Factors Traditional Organizations Should Consider Before Implementing Digital Technologies


Whether you’re an industrial company, a large enterprise organization or a fourth-generation manufacturing firm, the industrial internet of things (IIoT) can allow you to make significant operational improvements and create more efficient business models. However, in my experience as the global leader for commercial operations of an IIoT company, a successful digital transformation doesn’t hinge on your new technological capabilities alone. It’s also your internal structure, organizational collaboration, expertise and skills, aligned goals and incentives across the organization, and overall mindset that determines your long-term success.

To put your business on the right track, you’ll need to transform the fundamentals of your talent pool while managing the cultural shifts that come along with change. This may mean recruiting for highly skilled positions and managing the expectations of investors and boards — which is an easier feat for companies born in high tech. But what about more traditional organizations, especially those in heavy industry and manufacturing? While IIoT is starting to catch on — one report estimates that its worldwide market size will reach $771.72 billion by 2026 — these industries are often slower to implement new technology.

I’ve spoken with many leaders in manufacturing to discuss what they’ve experienced during their digitization efforts. Their challenges highlight three of the most critical areas that could have an impact on the success of your transformation.

Showcasing Manufacturing As A Viable Career Option

I was recently chatting with the CEO of a major manufacturing company. Twenty years ago, they moved production to China; now, they’re looking to move back to the U.S. The problem is that the jobs are there, but finding the talent with both the skills and the willingness to work in such environments is a constant challenge.

Despite the proliferation of new job openings in many fields, industries across the U.S. may have trouble finding qualified candidates to fill those roles. Part of the problem for manufacturing is that, according to a 2017 study from Deloitte and the National Association of Manufacturers, many people have outdated ideas about manufacturing careers.

Manufacturing isn’t always seen as a cool or fruitful career path — even though the reality is something entirely different: Manufacturing can be a sustainable profession that offers access to technologies that continue to grow in popularity. And, standout STEM talent could define the future of manufacturing in the years to come.

Remember that a lot of younger talent is looking for technology- and data-led job roles; by adding new roles or an element of technology, you can help fill jobs with qualified candidates who have the right skills.

Through an ad campaign or when you’re talking with the public or the media, underscore how your company is leading major digital shifts in the manufacturing industry. Position yourself as a job creator that will be harnessing those skills for the future.

New Technical Roles And Responsibilities

Regardless of the size or complexity of your IIoT project, if you’re building the solution in-house, it’ll require a variety of experts and skill sets. I recommend using an Agile methodology for all implementations with engineers, software developers, technicians and estimators, as well as the skilled staff who will be installing the sensors and devices on the floor.

Organizations should focus heavily on recruiting for positions such as chief digital officer, data scientist, program manager, innovation engineer and digital consultant when they’re starting an IIoT implementation. The key is to understand if you have the time, as well as the budget, to hire and train these resources. Make sure hiring new talent will be feasible both within your culture and in the company’s location, and consider how you’ll retain any new hires.

Also, it’s important to find qualified talent with the right kind of skills to build scalable and long-term enterprise solutions, and not just prototypes and experimental technology. Keep in mind that it almost always takes longer than you think, and hiring as per your planning is a luxury.

Any successful digital strategy is not an impulsive decision; it’s a long-term plan. You should anticipate your full hiring needs throughout the life cycle of your solution. Understand that scope can stop you from going over budget or time. Focus on micro-goals, and show progress with wins aligned with a long-term plan so that hiring can grow while excitement stays.

Getting The Entire Organization On Board — And Why A Pilot/Proof-Of-Concept Approach Doesn’t Always Work.

Recent research (paywall) published in Harvard Business Review showed some of the success factors of digitization. It also found that disagreements about goals and an inability to scale pilot projects were common reasons for failure. Something I learned the hard way during my first three years is that doing a one-off, technical proof of concept (POC) didn’t work for us. Since POCs are technology-led and cost-center-focused and are not always born from a concern with improving business KPIs, they failed to add business value.

As such, I believe a successful technology implementation requires both a focus on your desired business outcomes and a cultural transformation of your entire organization. Your IT department should be involved, but so should sales, marketing, human resources, accounting and many others. Identify the champions of your digitization who will push the company forward to ensure this mindset is echoed and adopted throughout your business. There may be some elements of the transformation that you can use for a “limited” launch, but I recommend being cautious about a POC or pilot-led approach that’s meant to solve for technical curiosity and solutions without the business context to drive it.

As the current digital revolution continues to disrupt and transform industries, I’ve seen an increasing need for highly technical employees and expert partners to handle the complexity. The most successful organizations will understand these needs and foster a culture focused on innovation and fresh perspectives.

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