Moving from a traditional assembly line to smart connected manufacturing is a seismic event in an organization, at many levels. The transformation can generate human resource-related concerns about the changing skills required and the potential reduction in numbers of human workers. And it can also raise cyber security issues, as companies look to ensure that sensors, agents and robotics are not hijacked by the dark side.
In a recent DXC Technology white paper, Wolfgang Lucny and Martin Rainer lay out six critical factors to consider in the deployment of smart connected manufacturing. Based on those factors, here are some of the perils many enterprises face in assuring their success.
Break down the silos
Volumes have been written about how organizational compartmentalization is the natural enemy of enterprise digital transformation. Manufacturing is especially prone to these challenges in that it tends to be where two totally different generations of processes — assembly line vs. smart connected manufacturing — collide both culturally and technologically.
As with any digital transformation initiative, the highest level of senior management support is needed to reduce the reluctance to change. Trade unions, for example, will be concerned about transformation efforts reducing the workforce or leading to changes in compensation, so they should be shown the potential upsides. And we’ve all experienced technology teams operating in isolation from stakeholders and being brought into the research and deployment process far too late, so it is critical to get everyone onboard as soon as possible.
Smart connected manufacturing will not happen organically. These projects require an executive sponsor to shepherd them across organizational barriers.
Provide a seamless customer experience
The only thing more dangerous than silos is “inside out” thinking. Many smart and connected manufacturing initiatives are technology in search of a customer. Customers must be brought in at the earliest stages of research and development. Needless to say, smart manufacturing technologies that touch consumers directly require an “outside in” point of view at the onset.
Think of the usability and customer experience implications of an athletic shoe company that permits consumers to design their own customized basketball shoes with a variety of colors, soles and leather choices selling for $250. The room for customer experience error is massive, starting with the initial engagement and extending through the supply chain, manufacturing process and final delivery.
If there is no direct consumer-facing aspect to the smart manufacturing process, enterprise leaders must look closely at how employees use the technology. After all, even though the system may not be consumer-facing by design, if it doesn’t adequately support employees who deal directly with customers, it can quickly translate into a consumer problem.
My wife just had a horrible experience where a retailer took an order, confirmed it via email and sent a shipment notice, only to find out when it never arrived that the unit had been back-ordered for 2 weeks.
Orchestrate the full life cycle into an enterprise ecosystem
Looking at the customer experience reinforces the need to look at the smart manufacturing process holistically. This not only relates to the process of manufacturing new products, but more importantly, looking at smart connected manufacturing as a process throughout the purchase and the post-purchase process.
In a world of social media reviews, the importance of post-sales advocates and influences cannot be underestimated. This has serious implications for what is now referred to as the “social supply chain” aspect of smart connected manufacturing. In fact, many firms are actually embedding social media trending into their supply chain algorithms to improve just-in-time aspects of their manufacturing process.
Needless to say, this involves the coordination of what could be a number of organizational silos ranging from corporate communications to product development, field sales and customer service. The organizational challenges usually center around who becomes the “minister of the ecosystem” and whether they’ve been given the authority to make serious decisions when a tiebreaker is needed.
Find the right security balance
Finally, as mentioned earlier, the terms “smart and connected” have serious security implications in the manufacturing, healthcare and insurance industries. Along with developing a smart manufacturing infrastructure, a culture of connected security must be established, from the reception desk to the chief security officer.
At the same time, business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) customers have become much more sensitive about their personal and business data. I’ve also noticed a much more direct relationship between the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) data privacy laws in Europe and what would normally be unrelated aspects of production and manufacturing. For example, there is a much greater need for users of data-driven manufacturing platforms to have login procedures that fit the new GDPR requirements.
In a world of 3D printers and consumers with very high personalization expectations related to product choices and pricing, smart connected manufacturing is still in its infancy. But done right, the technology enables enterprises that are driven by actual consumer needs to develop an immediate competitive advantage while avoiding deployments that are driven by nothing but hype.