Manufacturers irrespective of their industry segment and geographical spread are facing challenges in all areas of their business, the sheer uncertainty which exists in the market due to global trade wars, international conflicts, heightened regulations, local and regional restrictions, and changing tariffs are all contributors to this unprecedented level of chaos.
There are, however, industry-specific, people and technology-related challenges as well, there is a clear and growing knowledge/skill gap between the existing old-school workforce and the new more digitally adept one. Understanding what technologies to implement to further the company’s vision and doing so with minimum disruption is another challenge. Competition is tighter than ever, digitization is being pursued by each and every manufacturer, which means improvement in efficiency and profitability are critically important. Even in relatively stable batch-type discreet production facilities, customer demands for personalization and customization are leading to a larger than ever product mix.
So, knowledge gaps, technological confusion, digitally capable competition, customer pressures, socio-political and macro-economic challenges all need to be dealt with.
All these factors internal and external when considered together indicate that manufacturers need to carefully review their status quo from all aspects and plan for the future, and, if the present condition of the global markets is taken into consideration, one thing that becomes certain is that, everything is uncertain. With such high levels of uncertainty punctuating business, come massive risks, and the need to have an agile and resilient operation that can be attained only through technology and digitization. Let’s understand what being future ready implies for manufacturers and why it is not necessarily a version of the movie ‘Terminator’ where robots have taken over operations and everything is automated and controlled through an AI!
Categorizing manufacturers and understanding the Future Ready Paradigm:
Accenture came out with a categorization of manufacturing operations and findings which relate to operational maturity and how it positively impacts business outcomes and boosts capabilities. The survey which led to Accenture’s findings spanned 11 countries and 13 industries, with the participation of over 1100 C-Suite and VP level executives. Manufacturers are rated based on their operational maturity into four levels, stable, effective, predictive, and future-ready, the survey results also reveal that moving just one level up from predictive to future-ready might lead to an increased profitability of 5.8% and efficiency gains of 18.8%.
So, by being future-ready the operation/s in question indicate the capture of what can be called the transformational value, these companies are primed to capture performance gains and deliver excellent, customer and equally importantly, employee experiences.
Figure-1: Source: Accenture
Stable Operations- As figure 1 indicates, companies at the lowest level of operational maturity have non-standardized and fragmented processes, with siloed or incomplete data. From a digitization perspective, neither their process nor workforce is supported by the right set of tools in automation. Now, before we get all caught up with automation as being the elimination of the entire workforce, a lower level of automation at this level basically indicates two things, one, the repetitive, non-value-adding processes which can be easily automated might not yet have been automated by the use of equipment and second, for the frontline workforce, processes pertaining to data capture, task execution, training, maintenance, and logistics are not automated/digitized as well.
Efficient Operations- At this level, there exists a basic level of equipment-based automation where redundant activities are now performed by machines tailored for that task. Best practices exist in certain aspects of the process and data is being collected at an organizational level. Machines help human operators perform their tasks, however, from a process-wide end-to-end connectivity perspective a lot needs to be done. In processes described by Accenture as efficient, the operation itself delivers what it is supposed to, but from an improvement and digital capability perspective, it has a lot of catching up to do. Workers might still be doing the bulk of data collection rushing to their work stations to key in vital process data and receiving work instructions and job cards on paper-based forms.
Predictive Operations- These manufacturing facilities are at a more advanced level in their digital transformation journeys. From a process automation perspective, all repetitive tasks and certain complex ones are being performed by machines, and the workforce is augmented and supported by the process equipment infrastructure. Such operations also apply industry best practices across their functions and processes and are more data-driven in decision making. Typically, in such organizations data is not only being collected at an organizational level, it is helping knowledge workers make decisions based on analysis that can be performed on collected data. These organizations are almost at the precipice of being future-ready, if they can endeavor to capture the transformation value through efforts towards complete process and workflow digitization.
Future-Ready Operations- These operations portray high levels of maturity when it comes to their IT infrastructure, they have a completely cloud-based application infrastructure, along with deployment of advanced analytics and the best data security protocols in place. These operations have gone beyond the traditional definition of knowledge workers to create an empowered frontline, where workers are required to execute tasks based on judgment which is fully augmented through digital tools and action-rich processes, and business data. AI drives decision-making in such operations and is fully digitized and connected end-to-end.
Now, the Accenture post stresses that it is possible for stable or predictive level operations to leapfrog to the Future-Ready state, however, that would require taking the right steps technology-wise. Another important factor to consider is the way in which the workforce is placed at the center stage, it is essential for manufacturers to realize that automation is intended to augment the current workforce, and empowering them is the only way to be future-ready. So, how does one empower their workforce and come closer to being future-ready?
Workforce Digitization means Webalo:
Two of the main characteristics which define a future-ready manufacturing operation are a connected enterprise and an empowered workforce. Webalo is a platform that achieves both these things and can literally help organizations leapfrog across their manufacturing plants irrespective of their physical locations to a more future-ready operation. Let’s understand how.
Empowered Workforce- When rolled out in a lighthouse manner, Webalo digitizes all aspects of a process, beyond the production activity itself, going into maintenance, supply-chain, warehousing, and maintenance, when this happens, paper-based forms get eliminated and everything is recorded and time-stamped, which eliminates the biggest challenge to advanced analytics, dark-data. As a no-code platform, Webalo helps users create their own applications, which empowers not only traditional knowledge workers but more importantly gives the frontline workforce the much-needed digital tools which can help them perform their jobs on the go and still not miss a beat when it comes to data capture, report, and analysis.
Figure-2: Source Webalo Inc.
Webalo as a platform establishes a workforce intelligence center that automates forms, connects with other automation, legacy, and enterprise applications, provides notifications and alerts, captures and creates dynamic workflows, provides visualizations for better analytics, and thereby helps optimize the overall operation. With Webalo, workers are truly empowered and can be considered future-ready.
Connected Enterprise- When it comes to integration at an enterprise IT level, Webalo acts as the missing link between the actual shop-floor and the higher level resource management and supply chain control applications. Webalo does this by integrating with and acting as the data aggregation and standardization layer with a fully cloud-based infrastructure hosted either on the private or public cloud.
Figure 3- Source: Webalo Inc.
With Webalo digitizing and empowering the workforce and connecting the enterprise end-to-end (see figure 3 Webalo Enterprise Stack), companies can leapfrog from the status-quo to a more future-ready operation.
So, in an uncertain future to be fully certain that your operation and plants across the world are ready for anything that comes their way, choose the right technology, extend knowledge and actionable intelligence beyond desk-based workers and staff towards the frontline and connect the enterprise, choose to win, with Webalo!