‘Inducting latest technology into an organisation meets with resistance’
Published on : Friday 02-07-2021
PV Sivaram, Evangelist for Digital Transformation and Industrial Automation.
What is the relationship between Industrial Revolution 4.0 and Digital Transformation?
Industrial Revolution 4.0 is an extension of the earlier revolution caused by automation of machines used in manufacturing. Automation brought the benefits of speed and accuracy, with which mass production became beneficial to win markets. However, with time, most manufacturing set-ups automated their processes, and the differentiation to be achieved by more and more automation reduced. Then the concept arose to have groups of machines and entire factories to communicate with each other, to achieve greater efficiency by coordination, without continuous human intervention. There was one big stumbling block here, which was the multiplicity of communication protocols. It is indeed a tower of Babel once again, with every make and model of controllers having one language and dialect. So Industry 4.0 became a quest for that Holy Grail, where a universal protocol commonly available (Open Standard) would become a de-facto standard medium of communication.
A lot of progress is made in this direction, an example being the OPC-UA standard. A more general approach with IIoT as a baseline has become a powerful concept. But after some time, it emerged that not just manufacturing machines were getting constrained due to lack of easy communication. All other aspects of business were impacted – like supply chain management, inventory, distribution, inspection and quality and so on. Here again, part of the problem was the islands of automation, where each function had a control system, but the systems worked in isolation. They were not designed to talk to each other, and communication was through human intervention using Excel Sheets and powerpoint presentations at monthly meetings. There was even a bigger problem compared to the case with PLC control systems. In the case of PLC systems, the source data was accessible directly and in real-time. In the case of management systems, the source of data itself was through human intervention, and hence not in real-time. To address this issue, the concept of digitalisation came up, which meant making all data available in as much real-time as possible, and all decisions being made with help of algorithms based on analysis of this data, perhaps using AI. So we can think that Digital transformation is a broader application of the original quest for interoperability of Industry 4.0. So all in all, Digital Transformation is a new way to run businesses, and ranks in terms of modernisation at par and ahead of other developments like CoBots, Additive Manufacturing, Machine Learning, AR/VR and the like.
What are the factors that make companies wary about digitalisation in their plants?
There has already been a considerable information campaign about the benefits of digitalisation. In early days – say seven or eight years ago, the tone was more of survival against disruption and such threats. Both streams were somewhat over-hyped, and business owners would not actually take the arguments at face value. Inducting the latest technology into an organisation meets with resistance, which is common to all proposals for change from status quo. In the case of digitalisation, the problem is two-fold. The project is not just about bringing in new technology. The technology of digitalisation is actually a vehicle to usher in behavioural change among all stakeholders. The two dimensions impacted are – a) changes in organisational processes, particularly in dissemination of knowledge and information; b) presentation to customer – particularly orienting the organisation towards customer demands almost in real time. Then the two primary questions arise – what are the technologies that my company needs, how to evaluate the products and the vendors and so on. Second question is how do I design the customer experience, how to judge the quality of this experience, how to collect customer feedback and use the feedback for refinement of my process and so on. On both counts, if the organisation feels challenged, there will be hesitancy.
How can companies ensure their digital transformation succeeds? What measures do they need to put in place?
Well, it is said that digital transformation is a journey. To begin the journey, a vision for the digital company needs to be in place from the highest level in the organisation. Communication from the board room to declare commitment of organisation and management towards this vision is essential. Watch out, just having lofty vision is not sufficient. It is necessary to have the right strategy. This strategy is needed at all the rungs of the organisation, and must have a buy-in from each group. It must be remembered that it is a people project and not a technology project. Hence all measures suggested in change management should be applied here. It is so necessary to perform a self-assessment of digital readiness before starting the project. The skills and strengths needed are usually not part of the core business of the company. So it is very important to take time and select a partner, a guide who will accompany the company on this journey. It is important to build people's resources inside the organisation, particularly digital champions.
What are the common mistakes companies make while embracing digital transformation and how can these be avoided?
Digital transformation is not a grade or certificate which the organisation obtains from some authority. It is a way of doing business which ensures success in the new era. So companies must become aware of what digital transformation is all about, and what role it plays in the era of Fourth Industrial Revolution. Second, even if it is transformation that is being attempted, it must be introduced in small steps, coordinated steps, rapid steps. It is working for people, not on people, and surely not against people. Third, the Top Management must continuously demonstrate their support and interest in the project. Since it is a journey of discovery, some mis-steps are to be expected and tolerated. It is good to start with small projects. These interventions, called pilot projects, once tested out, can be replicated throughout the organisation. Fourth, the project team together with the digital champion should ideate and select the pilot projects. Fifth, it is vital to work with a partner.
The world is now well into the second year of Covid disruption. How has digital transformation helped the industry during this period?
The pandemic is a disruption, which has hit all nations. We have had similar epidemics in the past decade as well, perhaps not so debilitating. There were also other major disruptions – collapse of financial systems in 2008 for example. There were other disruptions from technology – through the increasing affordability of computational power, through easy and universal communication links and so on. Each previous disruption has developed tools useful during the next disturbance. But finally, one has to realise that technology is just that – a set of tools. Change is driven by choices – which tools are to be used, and for what purpose. Behaviour of individuals and organisations is going to be different during a disturbance compared to other periods. But every such behavioural change is going to leave a long lasting ‘hangover’ – a persistence of new habits, even after the disturbance is over. During the latest disruption, organisations have realised how much work can be done through ‘Work-from-Home’ with benefits for company and worker. Some tools are needed for this mode of operation, procedures have to be changed, careers to be modified. Companies rose to the challenge and put these in place. Similar is the case with marketplaces. If shops are closed for weeks, online shopping has to be made easy and comfortable. This has been learnt, both by shoppers and shops. Since gatherings of large numbers of people were not safe, physical exhibitions were not held. They got displaced to the virtual space, with benefits for exhibitors and delegates.
In the Indian context, despite government initiatives, the digital divide persists which risks leaving large segments of the population outside. How can these issues be addressed?
There are many issues behind this problem. First of all, the digital divide is a problem. It is desired that all citizens have equal opportunity and access to the possibilities of digital technologies. Indeed through digital access, we wish to reduce the other inequalities towards education, healthcare, employment, food security, and so on. But why does the digital divide come about? On one hand of course it is about technological products. The products are not available to everyone, for example everyone does not have a smartphone. After that it is infrastructure. Network signals are not available everywhere, electric power to charge the devices is not available constantly and so on. But these issues will get redressed rapidly, things are happening. It is not just the government, but commercial interests are behind trying to get everyone on the grid of connectivity. The true stumbling block lies beyond – what is the content that these people want to consume? This content should be delivered in a manner that the consumer finds it easily understandable. A relationship of trust and confidentiality must be established. So actually, we need a revolution to introduce digital to people, in a manner which fosters comfort, convenience, security, safety and privacy. This can be done by people with some training, and let us call them Digital Champions. In this case, as opposed to earlier proposals for digital champions in organisations, it is more of a social revolution. We have challenges in developing content for various groups – language, community, education level and so on, apart from of course the other divides of wealth, urban/rural and so on. So a concerted people movement is needed, and it can be a public-private initiative.
PV Sivaram, Evangelist for Digital Transformation and Industrial Automation, is mentor and member of steering committee at C4i4. He retired as the Non-Executive Chairman of B&R Industrial Automation and earlier the Managing Director. He is a past President of the Automation Industries Association (AIA). After his graduation in Electronics Engineering from IIT-Madras in 1976, Sivaram began his career at BARC. He shifted to Siemens Ltd and has considerable experience in Distributed Systems, SCADA, DCS, and microcontroller applications.
Sivaram believes strongly that digitalisation and adoption of the technology and practices of Industry4.0 is essential for MSME of India. He works to bring these concepts clearer to the people for whom it is important. He believes SAMARTH UDYOG is nearer to the needs of India, and we must strike our own path to Digital Transformation. Foremost task ahead is to prepare people for living in a digital world. He is convinced that the new technologies need to be explored and driven into shop floor applications by young people. We need a set of people to work as Digital Champions in every organisation.