Critical questions manufacturers should ask for digital transformation success

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By Phil Lewis, Senior Vice President of Solution Consulting, International, Infor

Today’s leading manufacturing companies are adept at change. They have to be in order to survive. Innovating, modernising and continual refinements of operational processes are driving factors in today’s complex market manufacturing landscape. It doesn’t matter if an organisation makes automotive parts, industrial machinery or windows and doors, they need to stay on top of trends and challenges and adapt. New strategies and actions must sync, as well as align with and exceed customer expectations. It’s no easy task and many organisations struggle to find their digital transformation starting point.

As they work toward that digital transformation starting point, manufacturers should take a step back and ask themselves three questions before starting out on a potentially complicated journey.

1. Are we organisationally ready for significant change?

Organisations are only as good as their people, and manufacturers must look carefully at whether they have the right people and culture to support a different way of doing things. It is the people who will be responsible for implementing change, and they should be ready, committed, and on board with any type of transformation plan.

An organisation’s culture can make or break a digital transformation project and “organisational change management” is one of the key components of such a project. Organisations should aim for an inclusive culture where people feel like they are key contributors to the company’s future success.

To achieve this, management teams should encourage a culture of openness to help employees step forward with their ideas. All change, and all transformation, starts with an idea – so it’s important for people to feel empowered to put their ideas out in the open.

2. What are we hoping to achieve and what is the outcome?

Delivering successful digital transformation projects is difficult, and if an organisation does not understand the destination, the chances of success are minimal. Organisations should invest time and effort up front to understand exactly what they want to achieve from their digital transformation. Ask the following questions: What do we need to change? Why do we need to change it? What is the anticipated impact?

No matter how many ideas an organisation has, they will fall into one of four categories: customer alignment, employee productivity, supply chain visibility, or operational efficiency.

In terms of customers, organisations should ask whether they are transforming the way they connect and relate to customers, and whether they want to offer a new product, increase their level of service, or use data to create a new revenue stream.

When it comes to employees. Organisations should ask whether they are providing capabilities that help engage the workforce and how digital solutions will help improve workforce productivity, empower decision-making, and remove bottlenecks in processes.

For supply chains, organisations should examine if they are simplifying complex supply chains and increasing visibility to anticipate issues and take steps to resolve potential problems proactively.

When looking at operational efficiency, companies will benefit from asking whether they can streamline the way they operate as a business and if they are using technology to bring efficiency to their processes, to predict issues, and prescribe the next best action.

3. Is our systems landscape digitally compliant and ready?

Before starting a digital transformation project, an organisation’s systems should be digitally compliant and highly flexible. Ideally, the organisation has a systems ecosystem where people can access their work, their data, and their processes without barriers, at any time and from any location. Often having their solutions available in the cloud is the best way forward.

Also, organisations will benefit from solutions built for their specific industry with sector-specific capabilities built in, not bolted on. Heavily modified applications will almost certainly impede upgrades and modernisation, introduce risk, and hinder adoption of advanced digital solutions.

Ideally, the organisation’s end-to-end systems and applications should be running on a common digital platform that provides integrated modern capabilities such as Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data, mobility, and predictive analytics.

An organisation’s IT landscape must support the concept of hyper-connectivity – not just connecting applications and digital capability, but connecting everything: their people, applications, devices, data, customers, and suppliers.