Businesses are under pressure to adopt industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 solutions to compete in a connected world. However, there is no secret that far too many of these IIoT initiatives fail to meet expectations.
Common causes for this failure include introducing new technology to solve what are primarily people and business problems and failing to sufficiently consider customer needs – whether those customers are external or internal.
It’s those internal customers we’re concerned with here. Well-meaning IT innovation groups with a “try new things and fail fast” mindset often find themselves at odds with operations managers who are locked into fixed production goals – and hesitate, understandably, to put existing systems at risk.
A people-first approach
Better business outcomes arise when IT leaders view operations teams as customers to be served, and the following best practices can help businesses surmount the challenges:
- Start with people. Superior technology in itself does not constitute an advantage, and even data, if used incorrectly, can have little value. Change is achieved only through strategy and execution, both uniquely human activities. Everything else is merely a means to an end, a tool – often a powerful tool, which helps explain why IIoT technologies are often viewed by IT innovation teams as miracle solutions for longstanding operations challenges.
- Put human intelligence before AI. With operations people first and foremost in mind, IT needs to ask what problems need to be solved, and then what data is required to do so. Once that’s done, it’s time to consider technology options. Which one provides the data needed for the outcomes sought in the most cost-effective way? Finally, and most critically, who will be responsible for using each system to deliver these outcomes? These are the people who must buy into the technology; if they don’t understand the purpose of the tools, or disagree with that purpose, the solution won’t work, period.
- Seek out low-hanging fruit. Starting small and getting quick wins builds momentum for broader digital transformation. For this reason, IIoT champions must find areas in which operations support for new technology already exists. It doesn’t matter if these are the highest impact areas. What matters is that any digital win moves the company-wide conversation out of the realm of the theoretical, making automation far easier for others to support. Conversely, if the opening project fails, gets trapped in pilot purgatory or increases animosity between IIoT proponents and operations, businesses will find it much harder next time around.
- Build a bridge between operations and innovation. Operations teams are driven by existing production goals, while IT innovation teams are on a mission to change the way the company operates. How can both teams achieve their goals? Since new digital technologies have granted IT innovation teams great power, it could be argued that building a bridge to operations is their responsibility.
The question, then, is how to shoulder this responsibility. We believe it makes sense to think of IT innovation groups proposing IIoT projects to the business as startup-like teams within the organization. As such, plant managers, equipment operators and other facility stakeholders should be viewed as their target market.
With this framework in mind, digital innovation teams must work harder to communicate with and learn from these customers – those whose productivity they seek to improve with their solutions. IT innovation teams must get inside their operations compatriots’ heads and truly understand existing workflows, requirements, constraints and dependencies.
Putting it all together
Ultimately, the goal is a partnership between IT and operations that is based on trust and transparency. It is a shift in mindset that welcomes iterative thinking and a focus on discovering and delivering value.
Both groups – operations teams focused on the production line, and IT innovation groups charged with creating and implementing IIoT projects – want what’s best for the enterprise. But too often, we see their worlds collide. IT innovation leaders must take the first step toward working with their operations counterparts to keep their business on top in a connected world.
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