Managing Digital Disruption in Manufacturing Processes

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Advances in technology are enabling new and disruptive service models.

When combined with increasing customer expectations, and the threat of more nimble competition, service providers are realizing that, change is inevitable. This is certainly the case within the manufacturing industry as organisations are facing increased pressure to adopt and implement new technologies in order to stay ahead of the curve.

For example, the application of Internet of Things (IoT) and other digital solutions automate equipment monitoring and make predictive maintenance a possibility. Customers expect that with regular maintenance, their equipment will always be in working order. Implementing new technologies that minimise equipment downtime enables manufacturers to meet or exceed customer expectations and to shift their business models towards servitisation.

Innovative manufacturers are turning to field service scheduling and resource management solutions to deliver exceptional customer service. IDC reports that manufacturing is one of the top sectors for increasing investment in digital transformation initiatives and, in 2019 alone, forecasts that global enterprises will spend around US$1.7 trillion, up almost 50% on 2017’s expenditure. The impact that such digital transformation can have on the workforce is tremendous - and if not well-executed – detrimental to the business. Our advice for companies on the path to digital transformation is to keep change management at the forefront of their digital transformation initiatives.

Managing change

There are various models for managing change, but the overarching principles stress thorough planning and communication. As soon as you decide to implement a new technology, it is important to begin working on your plan.

At a high level, what is proven to work for manufacturers is a holistic approach to change management that addresses long-term strategic goals. The following change management tips guide service leadership through the next technology implementation initiative.

Tip 1: Start with Why

Change for the sake of change is not strategic nor is it productive. Begin by asking some questions. Why change a process that already works? Why disturb a method for success that hasn’t encountered issues? Has a Manufacturing Change Request or Order been initiated on this issue? Simply layering new technology over an old, ineffective process isn’t going to amount to increased value. To pinpoint where change is needed, take a broad look at the overall service operation to determine how to cut costs and improve efficiency.

Each group of stakeholders has different reasons for why they need change -- engineers want an easier workflow, finance wants to keep costs low and the IT team wants to spend less time fixing problems. Knowing why this change is needed can help affect how to go about implementing it. Once the why has been established, determine the metrics you will look at to determine success and establish your baseline for measuring against.

Tip 2: Prepare for mixed reactions

Keeping stakeholders in mind will also help leaders prepare for how each group will respond to the change. As we know, the uncertainty and fear caused by shifting technologies leads to reluctance and resistance. Connecting with employees most affected by the changes at the outset can help identify which aspects might be met with the most resistance.

Technologies that involve artificial intelligence (AI) and automation tend to create the belief that increased efficiency means a decreased workforce. They also worry that a change could mean more work for them, as there may be unexpected glitches in the process they have to sort out. Being in touch with these people and their feelings helps leaders to empower teams with information to understand the technology, making the change a more inclusive process.

Tip 3: Establish clear expectations

Lack of employee engagement, due to poor communication and unclear expectations leads to lower productivity and lower profits for businesses overall. Defining success is not only important for employees’ day-to-day, but for the entire change management process. These include defining success metrics and establishing what change looks like for each role. Set meaningful milestones so employees know when to measure progress. This also means celebrating these milestones when they are reached so employees are encouraged to continue performing. When employees see their peers praised, they are motivated to continue that high level of performance and win the praise of their managers.

Tip 4: Prioritise training...and more training

Training is an essential part of a change management plan. For employees to feel comfortable with a new technology, it is necessary to train them for proficiency before it even goes live. Trainings uncover opportunities to troubleshoot problems and improve usage plans in ways that wouldn’t have necessarily been considered. Revisit trainings as the technology scales. Along with training is the need for providing the right support tools so employees have ways to deal with issues as they occur.

Tip 5: Look past the finish line

Change management is about achieving a long-term effect, so the process requires long-term effort. Follow up with all stakeholders involved and request feedback on how the change has fit into their routines. Solicit this feedback often and make adjustments as needed. Maintain a “change leadership” mindset - that is, continuing to communicate and refine the vision for transformation. Continuously measure your critical KPI’s for determining success, and make tweaks where necessary.

Change management requires strategic thinking and planning to ensure the greatest chance of success. Moving a sometimes-reluctant workforce through the process of incorporating new technology can prove challenging, but it can also be rewarding. Proactive planning and effective communication are key for ensuring your next technology initiative is successful at the employee level, and achieves business goals.


Steve Smith, VP Strategic Industries

(No biography information for Steve Smith, VP Strategic Industries)

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