Five Steps to Preparing for Digital Transformation
UK manufacturing is experiencing its fastest rate of growth since early 2008, resulting in a rise in output and a certain degree of excitement among economists and manufacturers. Yet, UK businesses could still be seen as a long way from competing with the world’s production powerhouses, such as China.
One of the secrets to long-term success and reaching full production capacity can be found in incorporating innovative technology into production methods. Recent findings from the MIT Centre for Business show that companies which have embraced digital transformation are 26 percent more profitable than their average industry competitors and enjoy a 12 percent higher market valuation.
However, digital transformation can be an incredibly complex process. With that in mind, here are five key steps companies need to take to prepare for a successful digital transformation journey.
1. Align your business transformation strategy to your business goals
A massive 96 percent of companies see digital transformation as important or critical to their development. However, to avoid investing in new technology for the sake of it, or because you feel you should, it is essential that businesses identify where technology change is needed most.
Start by assessing your overall business goals and ask what objectives your business wants to achieve in the short, medium, and long-term. Then ask what technology will help achieve those goals. For example, it might be that your primary focus is to expand into new markets quickly, in which case it might be sensible to hold off on that AI investment you’ve been planning, and instead make sure you have a solid cloud infrastructure that can support your mission-critical processes from multiple locations.
2. Invest in the right technologies
Digital transformation means different things to different businesses and certainly, heavy spending alone is not going to guarantee success. The Aberdeen Group has identified three digitalisation technologies that have the potential to impact operations–the Internet of Things (IoT) because of its ability to provide operational intelligence, the cloud for its scalability, and big data analytics, which can transform data into predictive and actionable insights.
But there’s no one size fits all. According to our research, 19 percent of manufacturers are planning to invest in inventory management, 18 percent cloud, big data and customer relationship management, and 17 percent are planning a mobile technology implementation.
There are multiple options, and businesses must ensure that they are investing in the technologies that are right for them. While one business may see immediate benefits from implementing cloud infrastructure, a manufacturer operating out of just one facility might want to look at other options first. For example, they might instead see more immediate ROI from keeping data on-premises, but implementing an ERP solution that uses big data to track orders against stock and supply chain information in real-time. However, if they choose right, their ERP technology should be flexible enough to accommodate growth and an eventual move into the cloud.
3. Ensure buy-in from key stakeholders within your business
After you’ve identified how digital transformation can support your business goals, now is the time to bring stakeholders on board because successful digital transformation strategies change how businesses work. They impact people’s jobs, how they complete tasks, and also how they work together.
Unfortunately, for many businesses, engaging with stakeholders is easier said than done. According to a recent Interoute study, 51 percent of UK IT leaders struggle to get executive sign-off on their transformation strategies.
However, staff from the boardroom and beyond need to feel they have a personal and professional stake in the changes being made. Helping them understand the reason for the business’s investment will make it easier to overcome any potential resistance to new processes. This is particularly important when digital technologies are being implemented to automate tasks that are otherwise completed by staff members, or when it might not be immediately obvious how an investment will deliver ROI.
4. Turn insight into action
Businesses today are collecting more data than ever, but simply amassing vast amounts of information as a result of digital transformation, is not enough. The key lies in being able to use insights effectively, to guide change or identify new revenue streams.
The latest data analytics suites can provide businesses with crucial information about customer trends and predictions, or information about how products are performing. Some businesses are already using this sort of data, to turn insights into action.
For example, UK manufacturer of fasteners and latches, Southco, has optimised the assembly line in its smart factory in Worcester. Intelligence from the Epicor Mattec MES system demonstrated the business was only benefiting from 20 percent utilisation of its static assembly lines. Many products were previously only assembled on their own ‘exclusive’ assembly benches. However, once it was highlighted that in some cases a bench would only be used for eight hours a month, Southco deployed semi-automated plug and play assembly machines which are now used for multi-assembly tasks. This has pushed average bench utilisation up to 60 percent.
5. Continually reassess your digital strategy
Understand that digital transformation is a journey that is never complete. New technologies are being launched all of the time—from robots that complete tasks on the production line quicker than humans, to machines that can fix equipment problems without intervention. All of these bring with them multiple possibilities for UK manufacturers.
As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change”. This applies to more than just the natural world. It is just as true for manufacturers in the current UK economy.
It’s important to therefore constantly adapt your digital transformation strategy to new possibilities, reassess your journey, and question your rate of digital change—does it match up to your customer expectations? How does it stack up against your business goals? If these change, perhaps your technology should too.
Adapting to the digital world can be a challenging undertaking, however there are plenty of online resources that can help you along the journey. An international study by Epicor shows that two-in-five industry professionals agree that digital transformation will offer them strong opportunities for growth in the future—proving that the benefits at stake outweigh the costs.
Innovative enterprise resource planning solutions (ERP) solutions, combined with Industry 4.0 developments, are already helping to automate production lines, streamline supply chains, and provide the intelligent data manufacturers need to react quickly to changing consumer demands. For UK businesses to take a place among the world’s production leaders, deploying advanced technology to drive manufacturing efficiency is going to be the way forward.
Terri Hiskey is the Vice President of Global Product Marketing for Manufacturing at Epicor
Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.