More than one year into the pandemic, many people are still working from home. They’re continuing to rely on technology to keep them connected to their workplace, their colleagues and the systems they use in their day-to-day jobs. Around this time last year, I wrote about this exact topic in a blog about how remote digital technologies have helped companies respond to the pandemic. At the time, I considered remote connectivity a critical lever that had the potential to accelerate the adoption of digitalization in the process industry. I also made the statement that only time would tell whether this would truly take place. Based on several talks I’ve since had with people about this exact topic and the increased interest in looking for digital transformation consulting services, I can now say that it seems to be happening. The adoption of digital transformation is indeed accelerating.
Since there’s a lot more to digital transformation than remote connectivity, I’d like to build on that blog from a year ago and present my take on additional factors that are driving the digitalization adoption. Remote connectivity is just as important now as it was a year ago, so there’s your first trend. Let’s not forget that. Before getting to the other four, however, I wanted to share some encouraging statistics from a recent study by Celerity. In the diagram below, they deduce that there is clear value in what digital transformation brings to the table for any company, no matter the size or industry. Two findings stand out to me:
- 78% of respondents state that investments made today will pay off in the long run
- 69% say they’re saving money as a result of making those investments
These are some pretty powerful numbers that should incentivize every company to take a really close look at making digital technologies work for them. With that, let’s get back to the trends.
Uptime, uptime and – yes, you guessed it – uptime
The second trend that’s driving digital transformation is uptime. This one continues to be a dominant driver for the process industry. As so much equipment is still running with limited analytics capabilities or none at all, there is a lack of transparency into real-time equipment health. This is causing unplanned shutdowns, which tend to be very, very costly. And, to make matters worse, it may be time-consuming and challenging to find the root cause of the shutdown because vital pieces of information such as manuals, maintenance history, spare parts inventory, etc. are located in separate systems or not accessible at all. With the rise of predictive analytics, machine learning, process modeling, simulation and more, there are now numerous digital technologies readily available that can make this information accessible in digital formats, which will help increase that critical uptime, even for older legacy systems. And that’s one of the sweet spots for digital transformation.
Make maintenance predictive
The third trend is related to predictive maintenance, which is closely tied to uptime. Many companies continue to rely predominantly on manual processes and tools to manage their maintenance processes. If there is a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) in place, it tends to be operating separately from other systems such as Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) or purchasing systems. Implementing a state-of-the-art CMMS that’s connected to other systems is one way for companies to move toward predictive rather than reactive or time-based maintenance. A CMMS provides instant access to maintenance histories; allows you to connect easy-to-follow, step-by-step work instructions and descriptions; and makes data available for further analysis. It also serves as the basis for prescriptive maintenance powered by a uniform data collection strategy that feeds data into a data lake, from which it is analyzed by means of artificial intelligence and machine leaning to provide critical equipment insights in real time. A lot of buzzwords, I know, but the reality is that these are buzzwords no more! We’re there right now. Have a look at these use cases that provide tangible value right out of the gate.
People (did I really say that again?)
One of the main roadblocks impeding digital transformation discussions during the last year or two was a reluctance to accept that a successful digital transformation requires you to rethink how you’re currently getting things done. Creating a dedicated team from across the company to define and implement the strategy, realizing that the workers of the future must rely on digital technologies to ensure competitiveness and providing people with the proper training to prepare themselves for change are only a few examples of this. This reluctance is now ebbing away, and I think it’s this change of mindset that has really been the biggest driver behind the accelerated adoption. And that’s your trend number four. You can read my take on why I believe people are the most important piece of the digitalization puzzle here.
Apply digital technology to optimize processes
The last trend I’m seeing addresses the fact that today’s business processes have been created based on manual tools and standalone systems that served the purposes of only one or two departments. This tends to create silos and prevents companies from getting the full value out of their investment. It can also result in workarounds and added complexity between systems because they were never meant to speak to each other natively. In a world based on digital technologies, truly digital processes have the power to transform how things are done while maintaining full transparency into who did what, when and why. The digital thread that’s created is a result of optimizing these processes using digital tools and so much more. So, new opportunities to prevent the creation of information in silos is the last driver of digital adoption.
One last topic I haven’t touched upon yet, but is highly relevant to this discussion, was raised by a colleague of mine a couple of weeks ago. Rather than attempting to answer it myself, I’d like to get your take on it. Here it goes…
Is an increased use of digital tools and processes necessary for companies to attract next-generation talent?
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.