Achieving Industry 4.0 Transformation in Uncertain Times

  • February 24, 2021
NTT DATA Services Industry 4.0 Blog

Industry 4.0 (I4.0) promised business agility and increased profit through a combination of decreased production times, higher product quality, and process reliability.
Then the world stopped in 2020. Priorities shifted to increased worker safety, supply chain resilience, and agile manufacturing, as companies began to re-evaluate daily operations once taken for granted. The challenges continue into 2021 as companies struggle to evaluate investments in uncertain times.

Industry 4.0 is not exactly on hold.
The reality for manufacturing in 2021 includes tight budgets, the continued need to improve business operations, and a focus on empowering people to make informed decisions. Although the events of 2020 may have interrupted transformation initiatives, they did not eliminate the need for change. I4.0 roadmaps may be delayed, but that also offers an opportunity for them to be refined. From the extended supply chain to the shop floor, our entire ecosystem has been stress-tested, exposing our respective faults and potential opportunities.

By nature, manufacturing companies are resilient, continually finding ways to accomplish the impossible with limited-to-non-existent budgets and tools. The 2020 experience taught everyone hard lessons and provided a new perspective on I4.0 priorities.

As you consider starting or re-starting projects, here are a few best practices to help your 2021 planning and engagement activities:

1. Understand your digital maturity (workforce, process, and technology)
The industry is evolving, and so are its components. Smart factories leverage information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) to enable best-in-class manufacturing processes through employee empowerment. A recent survey by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) found that about 3 in 10 survey participants report plans to introduce digital twin or artificial intelligence technologies in the next two years.

  • Technology – Legacy systems (either by choice or system limitations) often do not integrate with the latest technology platforms/software components without significant design/development effort. Consider alternatives from replacement to managed hosting, expediting the modernization journey.
  • Processes – Unfortunately, functional silos still exist between various departments, often reflected in inconsistent or redundant business policies and procedures. If current business processes prohibit change, evaluate if the obstacle is a system and/or organizational issue. Empower key stakeholders and subject matter experts to recommend and sponsor change.
  • Workforce – Access to "real-time" information does not mean better business decisions without impact analysis and end-user training. Take a moment and change your perspective, fully embracing each impacted role/persona. Deploy both communication and training, focused on incentivizing company goals.

2. Position IT as a technology enabler
All too often, IT is just seen as a cost center, keeping the lights on. With tight budgets in the foreseeable future, linking IT with operations improvement objectives drives innovation, establishing a self-funding innovation pool.

Standardizing enterprise-wide IT deployment models and streamlining resource utilization are starting points, but virtualization and cloud technologies are transformational technologies, breaking down functional silos across business operations.

Refocus IT spend with technology partners, focused on driving business innovation with co-investment.

3. Digitization does not equal dehumanization
Industry 4.0 is as much about the human element as it is about embracing automation.

Intelligent analytics and automation are at the heart of digital transformation, but only if the process and workforce are fully understood and empowered. While the factory floor is the heart of manufacturing production, a genuine smart factory extends beyond physical goods to human interaction. If business processes are siloed, communication is limited and dated.

Embrace organizational transformation in the company culture. Establish cross-functional communication, increasing employee engagement through inclusion, driving the speed of innovation. Stress a connected workplace culture, eliminating traditional business silos.

Empower employees to make the best decision through automation and analytics.

4. Do you have your "Security Blanket?"
Once disparate, organically grown IT software and devices now require interconnectivity and transparency. Evaluate data compliance and network reliability in your OT landscape. Adopt standardized IT security policies into the OT landscape. Stress open communication across your organization during the I4.0 roadmap planning and implementation process.

5. Partner, Partner, and Partner
Two quotes come to mind with regard to partnering on your I4.0 journey.

  • "To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge."
  • – Confucius.

    Or if you are more of a Dark Knight Fan:

  • "Know your limits, Master Wayne," said Alfred.
  • "Batman has no limits," replied Batman/Bruce Wayne.

While you may be able to build everything in-house, surveying the competitive landscape to identify best-of-breed solutions and partners could be a better use of limited resources. Remember — what would Batman be without Alfred?

The right technology solution provider will partner with customers to drive manufacturing innovation. At NTT DATA, we focus on providing responsible and innovative manufacturing solutions through a connected and productive workplace. Our comprehensive Industry 4.0 services portfolio, from consulting services and strategic advisory support to organizational change management, complements many software or hardware implementations.

For more information on IT's role in modernizing manufacturing, including common challenges and transformation enablers, read our POV on Industry 4.0 Transformation and join our webinar series, where we dive deeper into Industry 4.0 concepts.

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Jay Monahan

Jay is a results-driven executive combining more than 25 years of experience in leading consulting lead transformation initiatives across shop floor, ERP and supply chain initiatives. He is passionate about innovative approaches to manufacturing challenges and building new offerings integrated across a spectrum of IT/OT/ET.For more than 20 years, Jay has been focused on designing, delivering and managing software solutions, from the ERP to the Shop Floor. With a passion for the manufacturing process, Jay revels in the opportunity to both help and learn from customers through plant tours and customer strategy sessions.

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