While it's true that the term "digital transformation" brings with it far-reaching implications for any organization, the concept at the heart of it all couldn't be more straightforward. It simply refers to the process of integrating newer and more sophisticated digital technologies across all areas of a business, resulting in fundamental (and positive) changes to processes, culture, customer experiences and everything in between. But it's about more than just embracing the "latest and greatest" of modern technology just for the sake of it. It's about allowing your company to grow and evolve in a way that meets ever-changing business and market requirements, too.
According to one recent study, approximately 40% of ALL technology spending will go towards digital transformations this year, with enterprises spending more than $2 trillion across all of 2019. Organizations in all industries literally see it as a competitive necessity - for manufacturers in particular it can help accomplish everything from addressing worker shortages and skills gaps, increasing operational efficiency, empowering agility and more.
But it's also a viable way to accomplish what is maybe the most important goal of all: enabling productivity in a way that not only creates better internal communication and collaboration, but that also drives innovation to support product and service improvements, too.
But none of this happens automatically. To get to that point, nothing less than a thoughtfully considered vision for implementation, coupled with the right digital tools, will suffice. Therefore, if you really want to understand more about how manufacturers can facilitate collaborative, cross functional teams to ideate and create new solutions and products, you'll need to keep a few key things in mind.
The Modern Era Requires Modern Solutions
One of the most important things to understand about digital transformation in general is that every organization is a bit different from the next - meaning that there is truly no "one size fits all" roadmap to follow. Only by looking inward and considering your unique business and its specific goals will you be able to create the product innovation workflow necessary to bring that vision to life.
To put it another way, you can't start with the digital tools that are popular in the manufacturing sector and hope they allow you to accomplish your goals. You need to start by understanding what you're trying to accomplish and work your way backwards to the technology that will help get you there.
Having said all of that, there are certain kinds of tools that manufacturers are commonly using to enable their own digital transformations across the board. Chief among them is The Internet of Things - a series of devices that are not only connected to the Internet, but to each other. They're also constantly creating and sharing data with one another in a way that unlocks valuable insight into a supply chain that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Tools that fall into this category include RFID tools that can be used to maintain better visibility over inventory, small sensors that can be used to track both the performance and the maintenance status of equipment, and more. According to one recent study, about 64% of manufacturers believe that their factories will be fully connected to the IoT by as soon as 2022.
So if creating a smarter and more effective plant floor was one of your objectives - and the outcome you hoped to unlock involved creating better operational visibility and enhancing quality - an investment in the Internet of Things would absolutely be the way to go.
Another category of tools that manufacturers are embracing are those that have to do with robotics and automation. But they're not looking at these solutions to replace human labor - instead, they want them to empower those employees that they already have.
Examples of tools that would fall into this category include robotic arms that can automatically do everything from install parts to handling tedious, repetitive tasks that formerly required human intervention. That level of automation therefore frees up the valuable time of those employees so that they can focus all of their attention on the jobs that really need them - namely, innovating and coming up with new ideas for solutions and products.
Even business intelligence tools for manufacturing like those from Targit and others help you create a more agile organization by empowering the flow of information. Data - and the insight contained inside that data - is no longer siloed off in one department or another. That data can freely move across your enterprise and if everyone can suddenly access it, they can also put it to better use moving forward.
Building a Better Workflow
In a larger sense, don't forget that the overall workflow that you create to support your own digital transformation is ultimately just as important as the tools you implement at the end of the process.
The first and most important step involves leadership coming up with a strategic vision for where they want their company to go, at which point you can start identifying tools like those outlined above that shed light on how you're going to get there.
Understand that this type of innovation-led digital transformation is also a far more iterative process than people often realize. It's not something you "do once and forget about" - instead, you implement those existing tools (or build a prototype for one of your own) that is then continually tested, refined and improved over time.
In the end, this can help you accomplish a number of core goals, essentially all at the same time. In terms of operations, you can narrow the skills gap, create a more modernized frontline and empower collaboration between plant and supply chain partners. In terms of the business side of the conversation, this all makes it possible to centralize product design and technical documentation and even standardize the design of critical documents like white papers and solution briefs. In a corporate sense, it allows you to better handle everything from company onboarding to corporate compliance.
On their own, any one of these benefits would likely make the investment in a digital transformation more than worth it for most manufacturers. But when you consider that they also come together in service of the most important goal of all - namely, making it easier for teams to collaborate with one another in the name of innovation - it's clear that this is one trend your manufacturing business cannot afford to ignore for much longer.
If you'd like to find out more information about the many ways in which manufacturers can facilitate collaborative, cross functional teams in a way that empowers their ability to create new solutions and products, let's talk.