I believe two themes will come to define this era of industry: uncertainty and digital transformation.
On the one hand, uncertainty is making it very hard for businesses to plan and when they can’t plan, it is very hard to justify investment. On the other hand, several of the underlying traits of uncertainty demand rapid digital transformation investment to mitigate.
These hugely challenging operating conditions see industry, and UK industry in particular, caught in a dangerous crossfire but I believe that strategic application of Digital Transformation principles can simultaneously reduce the investment risk and help build the resilience against ongoing uncertainty.
I recently addressed the SolutionsPT Xchange conference which brought together many of our customers and systems integrators for an event packed with insight, training and demonstrations. It had been a couple of years since we’d had the opportunity to bring together our community in this way, and it was fantastic to be face to face again. In speaking with delegates and speakers alike, it was clear that despite some of the most challenging market conditions in living memory, there is a huge appetite for learning and improvement in the UK and Ireland industrial sectors. The question is, how, in the face of the current market conditions can we achieve our vision of Digital Transformation success for every enterprise?
No one will need reminding of the causes of recent uncertainty in the UK, and the IMF bar chart here shows that having receded somewhat in the wake of COVID-19, uncertainty is rising once again. There is a growing storm of economic headwinds that include a cost of living crisis, a skills shortage, supply chain disruption, high inflation, exchange rate volatility, rising energy costs, and Net Zero commitments. The UK must also face down ongoing Brexit challenges and a likely recession.
To meet and overcome the challenge of uncertainty, businesses must build resilience and flexibility. They must also build and develop an ecosystem of vendors, systems integrators, value-adding resellers, and digital transformation partners to help them deliver rapid return on investment (ROI) from their digital transformation plans. This is not a time for the faint of heart, but despite the uncertainty and headwinds, I have no doubt that through strategic digital transformation implementation, UK and Ireland industry will weather the storm. Moreover, both domestic and global industry will come out the other side more resilient and better placed to cope with the macro-economic headwinds of global warming, limited natural resources and population expansion.
I believe this because we’re only just starting to see and understand the full potential of what digital transformation can do for industry. The huge efficiency savings, productivity improvements and flexibility that our customers at more advanced stages of their journey experience are why we believe that digital transformation is a powerful force for good for the future of industry, the people who work in industry and for humanity.
It’s a big, powerful tool just when we need it the most.
The digital transformation journey
Naturally there is a long way to go before all the benefits of digital transformation can be realised. It is a journey. It may also seem a daunting one to many businesses that have not yet made much progress. It’s worth mentioning though, that there are very few businesses that are in the advanced stages of digital transformation, and the promise of the technology at that sharp end is yet to be fully realised – so there is a long way to go beyond the visible horizon too. I say this because the really advanced stuff is very AI driven and requires a very high level of integration across a whole business. It will also benefit from other nascent technologies that are yet to be fully applied at scale, from xR to 5G and autonomous transport and logistics.
So where, in fact, are we? And should those who are further behind be daunted?
The best way to answer this question is with the following diagram which offers a snapshot of where we observe our customers to be in terms of their own journeys.
The background mountain in grey here shows how we see customers distributed across a scale of advancement. Now, it should be made clear that many companies will display elements of digital transformation from multiple steps on the journey, but this kind of diagram offers a useful overall indicator of digital transformation maturity.
Importantly, there is ROI at every stage of a good digital transformation strategy, so as well as helping to meet economic headwinds, digital transformation pays for itself. And some.
At SolutionsPT we believe in the power of digital transformation to offer success for every enterprise. Large or small, and whatever the sector, we believe it can deliver huge benefits. It may seem daunting but SolutionsPT, together with our ecosystem partners, can ease the way.One of the ways in which we seek to be of service to our customers is by helping them to build solid Digital Transformation foundations. We believe that there are six key elements of strong foundations which must be factored into any digital transformation strategy. Which order they are undertaken in will depend upon the customer – their own digital maturity, their existing plant, and their immediate aims. In most cases several of these areas need to be built concurrently for obvious reasons. So, in no specific order:
Secure by design – How do you comply with the most stringent cyber security requirements of industry and make sure these are appropriate for the OT space? This is critical to your business’s resilience and we offer practical help and market-leading products to achieve security by design.
Always available systems –Many of our customers need to keep their operations running all the time. For most companies, reducing – or even removing – unplanned downtime offers a huge productivity uplift. Modern, connected systems offer the kind of intelligence needed to understand issues before they result in downtime.
Software platform – Choosing the right, sustainable software platform determines if your digital transformation strategy will succeed or fail. Is it scalable, open and hardware agnostic? Can you start small and gradually expand? Can you integrate all the disparate components of your business and get them working together easily? With the right software, all of this is possible. The software platform sits at the very heart of your Digital Transformation journey, so getting it right from the start offers huge dividends.
Software consumption strategy – Understanding your budget and where it is coming from is vital to tuning your strategy. Importantly, new subscription approaches offer a vastly superior way for most businesses to test and deploy software in a fully scalable and flexible way.
Data management strategy – It’s really important to consider and try to understand what data you need to store, who has access to it, how, and whether that data is stored on the cloud or on premise. With the knowledge of how you will manage data, good decisions can be made to build the correct data architecture to enable the functionality that will most benefit your company.
Actionable intelligence – With a data management strategy in place, it’s important to consider how to action the insights that it provides. With actionable intelligence foundations in place, your digital strategy will quickly enable you to make continuous improvements by helping to identify and action maintenance, energy efficiency and productivity improvements.
Where to start
As mentioned previously, Digital Transformation is a journey, so no matter how advanced any company is, there is still a long road ahead that stretches beyond the visible horizon as new capabilities and technologies come into existence and effect. But every journey, as the saying goes, starts with a single step. Our approach considers Digital Transformation to be the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business – its people, its processes and its technology. More specifically, we talk about the use of digital technology and software to combat any operational friction or inefficiencies across the operational efficiency, asset reliability and productivity vectors of a business. Digitally transformed systems are connected, accessible and enterprise-wide.
While all of this might seem overwhelming, especially to smaller companies, it needn’t be. You can start with low hanging fruit and simple ROI focused goals. It is perfectly possible to start small and gradually expand with a flexible scalable software license and project model that means you move at your own pace.
It might also sound expensive, but again, it needn’t be. You can spread the cost over time and by taking a strategic approach, you can make sure you achieve ROI each step of the way and replace CAPEX with OPEX, to become more efficient and sustainable. The right Digital Transformation Partner, together with your System Integrators can work with you and your team to explore what is possible and turn it into what you do.
When to start
Having covered some fairly weighty topics in this article, from macro-economic trends to cross-functional, strategic Digital Transformation best practices, it’s good to finish with a very simple message. The time to start, or accelerate your Digital Transformation journey is now.
There is, quite simply, no time like the present. And there’s no company quite like yours, so your journey should be unique to your requirements – even if those requirements include a limited budget and a long to-do list.