Upon taking a ‘small step’ onto the surface of the moon in 1969, Neil Armstrong uttered what would become one of history’s most famous phrases. It’s easy to dismiss taking small steps as a lack of real progress – but starting small can often lead to those ‘giant leaps’ later down the time.
The same is true for manufacturers and their digital transformation. Here, Johan Jonzon, Co-Founder and CMO of edge analytics platform for industrial IoT, Crosser, explains why making incremental change is the key to long-term digital success.
Digitalisation has played a key role in Industry 4.0 since the term was first coined back in 2011. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimates that over 90% of industrial companies across Europe are already investing in digital solutions, driven by the prospect of greater productivity and cost-efficiency.
A need for speed
The benefits of going digital for manufacturers have been emphasised even further since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first half of 2020, businesses across all industries were forced to digitalise their operations to ensure employees could continue working without risking their health.
The unexpected global crisis accelerated the speed of industry’s digital transformation and required many companies to adopt new, unfamiliar technologies quickly. Research conducted by The Manufacturer and commissioned by IBM revealed that 67% of businesses accelerated their digital projects as a result of COVID-19.
Projects that often take years to develop were realised in a matter of days, as time – which was once the main factor impeding digital adoption – was of the essence.
The pandemic accelerated adoption of digital technologies, but solutions were put together with haste given the urgency of the situation. For long-term success, industrial companies should take time to digitalise their operations.
The skills barrier
In today’s manufacturing, a digital skillset is highly sought after. In particular, the data and artificial intelligence job cluster is expected to provide 123 opportunities per 10,000 people by the end of 2022 – a 58% increase when compared to the opportunities available in 2020.
However, finding the talent required for digital transformation isn’t easy. According to manufacturing parts producer Fictiv’s 2021 State of Manufacturing Report, 44% of manufacturers experience difficulty when looking to hire talent with the required expertise to help them digitally transform.
Disparity between demand for digitally literate workers and the number of individuals capable of filling such positions is a problem for both technology providers and manufacturers. If a technology requires an advanced digital skillset that only a limited number of people possess, the majority of industrial companies remain restricted in their digital transformation journey. Similarly, technology providers are unable to grow, since their solutions are inaccessible to many of their target users.
So, how exactly do we take those small, valuable steps towards digital transformation?
Small steps, big impact
Implementing digital solutions with limited knowledge can be a challenge. Carrying out a digital transformation is not just one project, but a thousand mini projects, which results in a complex and lengthy process that can leave businesses in disarray.
To overcome this, manufacturers should start with small projects that are easy to execute and gradually expand to larger, more advanced use cases.
Accessing data is a fundamental of digital transformation, which creates a wealth of use cases that can drive growth by enabling real-time analysis and actionable insights to streamline industrial processes and improve business management.
Crosser’s edge analytics platform is designed to assist industrial companies in realising Internet of Things (IoT) enabled functionalities, such as system availability monitoring, predictive maintenance and establishing Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication pathways.
Crosser’s platform is made up of a library of pre-built modules that allow manufacturers to implement common use cases using an intuitive drag-and-drop tool. When first setting up the system, it can be beneficial to start by simply using the platform to read data, without interfering with machine processes.
Once the data has been monitored and a reliable, valuable insight achieved, operators can then use this data to begin writing a workflow. Using the Crosser platform, users can even test their workflows with real machine data in real time and without interfering with normal operations, to guarantee its accuracy. Splitting the process into small, incremental steps reduces the risk of an incorrect configuration that could disrupt the machine’s operation.
What’s more, the Crosser platform is low code, meaning that existing OT and IT personnel are able to use it with ease without the need for formal training or coding knowledge.
With the digital skills gap resulting in a shortage of software developers, low-code solutions are an essential enabler of integrating Industry 4.0 technologies into manufacturing facilities without the skills.
Small projects fail fast, are cost-effective and offer rapid return on investment insights, which allows manufacturers to develop a digital solution that suits their needs without taking large risks. Once the small workflow has been developed using pre-built modules, it can be steadily scaled to a more advanced solution with multiple actions and triggers.
Taking small steps should not be confused with slow progression – in fact, a lot of the time it’s the accumulation of multiple small changes over time that can have the biggest impact. Going in at the deep end with a facility, or even company-wide, use case is a high-risk decision that could have a damaging impact if it fails.
By starting small, industrial companies can guarantee the success of their digital transformation in a cost-effective, low-risk scenario that results in greater productivity and reduced operational costs in the long term.