The current pandemic has made Digital Transformation a necessity
Published by : Industrial Automation
Senthil Kumaresan, Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Wipro.
After a decade of Industry 4.0 what is the extent of digital transformation in the manufacturing space in India?
India is the sixth largest manufacturing country. Due to the high cost and complexities involved, the first half of the decade witnessed low adoption of digital transformation technologies. Manufacturers primarily adopted a piecemeal approach. But, in the second half of the decade, many of the manufacturers were keen to drive Industry 4.0 as a holistic strategic program due to a myriad of reasons. Results from global implementations of digital transformation programs encouraged Indian manufacturers, connectivity improvements and new offerings by communication service providers, campaigns like ‘Make in India’ and structural policy reforms have fuelled the adoption. The level of adoption has not always been uniform across all the manufacturing verticals, when it comes to adoption of advanced digital technologies like Robotics, IoT, Cloud Computing, Big Data Analytics and Additive Manufacturing. The automobile industry has always led from the front. Some of the automobile companies have invested in utilising Augmented Reality to increase customer engagement and deliver a showroom like experience at their doors and also use the same technology to increase the productivity and safety of their workers in the plant.
So, in a nutshell – automobile companies have embraced digital technologies to create an impact on cost levers like reduction in production and maintenance of assets and value levers like quality improvements, customer engagement and satisfaction. Traditional process manufacturing companies are yet to mature, when it comes to adopting digital technologies. Few companies have started with digitisation, moving away from pen and paper. But, higher order of automation or augmenting humans with advanced intelligence or real time predictions are yet to be witnessed. With the growth of new age funded start-ups in IoT, Robotics and Computer Vision and digital leaders in the manufacturing companies adopting Open Innovation principles by creating partnerships between academia, startups and large enterprises – it is only a matter of time where the Indian manufacturers could soon be global leaders and advisors to the other countries who are lagging behind digital transformation strategies.
How should an enterprise begin the process? Is there an ideal roadmap to follow for companies beginning their digital transformation journey?
Digital technologies blur the lines between industries. It is important to map the priorities of the organisation to the digital transformation journey. Enterprises should adopt the principle of ‘Think Big, Start Small and Move Fast’ approach. Digital transformation means different things to different people. Hence, Enterprises planning to invest in digital transformation should adopt an outside-in approach. Some of the questions to ponder during the beginning phases are – ‘How will it impact my customers, employees or business?’, ‘What are the business benefits and RoI?’ India has a been a strong believer of frugal innovations and when the belief is married to Lean Start-up Principles and Minimum Viable (Valuable) Products/Solutions, the results to the efforts are usually maximised – ‘Achieving More with Less : putting the 80/20 principle to great use’.
In my experience, most of the companies start with the digital transformation journey through application modernisation – moving traditional legacy application to the cloud, digitisation to reduce manual collection of data through mobile application or HMIs. With respect to the assets on the factory floor – it follows through 4 primary phases – (1) Connected: IoT technologies to instrument, collect and persist data from assets; (2) Contextualised: Integrate IoT data with Enterprise systems and automate certain business process; (3) Augmented Intelligence: Leverage Big Data Analytics to get real time insights and predictions before asset failure happens – reducing the asset downtime; and (4) Automated: Truly creating a Gig Economy of machines by combining exponential technologies like IoT, Computer Vision, AI, Blockchain and Robotics to Maximise the Asset Utilisation Potential (MAUP) and address automated quality inspection, tacking of goods and so on.
There is no ideal roadmap which can act as a blueprint, because I strongly believe the roadmap should map to the strategic goals and vision of the enterprise – investor sentiments, voice of customers and enable the employees to be more productive and have fun at work.
What is the role for various stakeholders in the organisation in this endeavour?
When it comes to transforming an enterprise towards ‘Digital First’ – one specific CXO of a function alone cannot enable it. Various stakeholders have to work collaboratively to achieve the end goal. In non-manufacturing companies, while the CIO can define the charter – for manufacturing companies it is important to work with the business heads like Supply Chain, Manufacturing and Operations and Finance to understand their critical business problems. CIO wears multiple hats, one as a consulting partner to create a transformation plan by mapping the business strategy, digital strategy, IT capability model and capability gaps. Second, during the implementation phase, the CIO team acts as Product Manager to ensure the right solution is built to address the business needs and third as a delivery head leveraging industrial, start-up and academia connections to accelerate solution development. It is important for the CIO team to work closely with the business teams to create a business plan with RoI for each of the defined use cases. The Chief of HR also plays an important role in the organisation's change process – evangelising with the workforce on the importance of digital technologies and skills, removing the fear on loss of jobs due to automation, creating an ecosystem of digital squad where the new age millennial workforce could ease the transition for the experienced skilled professionals, who are strong on the core domain but lacks the use of latest digital skills.
In general, what are the key challenges to overcome in the process?
The key challenge when it comes to Industry 4.0 adoption are lack of a clear business case and inability to quantify the RoI, lack of ownership and communication – each stakeholder thinks it is not my charter, in-house talent availability like IoT Architect or Data Scientist – most of the high end skills are absorbed by the tech industry, non-standardisation of industrial protocols when it comes to connecting machines, cyber-security concerns are on the rise.
While technology can help on certain aspects like non-standardisation of industrial protocols where there are solutions that can handle diverse protocols to ease asset connectivity and tools to handle cyber-security concerns. But, the other challenges could be overcome only when the enterprises push their strategic digital imperatives across the board as a necessity rather than an option.
Will the current scenario act as a catalyst, or rather the companies use this opportunity?
I remember reading an article which inquired, who is the digital transformation catalyst in your organisation? A) CEO, B) CIO, or C) Covid-19. We all know that the current pandemic has pushed everyone out of their comforts and have made digital transformation a necessity for continuous operations. One of the industries that was worst hit due to the pandemic apart from the travel and hospitality industry is the Manufacturing sector, which got affected across all dimensions like Personnel, Supply Chain, Operations and Revenue. Most of the manufacturing facilities across the globe are shut down, as employees cannot work from home and for factories that were operational, many were not able to return because of transport restrictions and quarantines.
Prior to this crisis, Industry 4.0 was an exciting topic to manufacturers that was considered as futuristic, which could bring enormous business benefits like cost optimisation, productivity improvements, competitive advantage and means to achieve sustainability goals. But, right now the priorities for many manufacturers fall in three phases (1) Survive (2) Recover and (3) Business as usual in the post crisis period. While it may seem inappropriate to talk about Industry 4.0 at this point, the time is now that differentiates the ordinary from a visionary. Majority of the leading manufacturers with whom I have interacted in the past month have strongly felt the need and are committed to apply Industry 4.0 technologies that will help them address this type of crisis (1) Helping companies survive crisis (2) Reduce the recovery phase duration and (3) Create Platforms to create a more resilient and agile business in the long term.
Senthil Kumaresan is a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Wipro and a digital leader who ‘Translates Concepts into Reality and Ideas into Execution’. He is a business strategist and Industry 4.0 specialist having multiple years of experience working with clients across the globe on Digital Transformation leveraging exponential technologies like IoT, AI, Blockchain and Computer Vision impacting multiple business functions like Production, Supply Chain and Operations, Finance, Customer and Employee Engagement. He has presented in multiple developer workshops, IEEE conferences and to C-suite executives. Senthil has published multiple technical papers in international conferences and inventor of multiple granted patents in the areas of digital transformation.
#July 2020 Magazine Cover Story
Digital Transformation – The Next Wave The Covid-19 pandemic has achieved what CEOs and CTOs failed to do – struck a blow for Digital Transformation like nothing else did The only constant in life is change, wrote Heraclitus of Ephesus (circa 500 BCE), who famously asserted that Life is Flux, and to resist change is to resist the essence of existence. Yet, most people spend a better part of their lives resisting change. The concept of digital transformation dates back to the time PCs became mainstream and digitisation began, paving the way for digitalisation and then, transformation. To read the full cover story Please click here