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Industry 4.0 is on everyone’s agenda, but the progress of adoption has been slow. Why is that? Based on my over 30 years within manufacturing, I believe that the obstacles are about understanding the paradigm shift, organizational structure and lack of strategy. Here, I outline the most common problems as well as my tips on how to progress.

Without a doubt, the digitalization of manufacturing operations is important to strengthen resilience, agility and flexibility – capabilities that have proven essential during the crisis. During our Industry 4.0 session Reimagining Manufacturing, Orkla, Scania, Sandvik, Chalmers and Microsoft shared their insights on this matter.

Why is it so difficult to get started and to scale up small initiatives then? As one of the speakers, I tried to look beyond the fluffiness of the catchy phrase. It’s been around for ten years and covers a vast area, and manufacturers are talking about its promises to revolutionize the industrial operations in the years to come. To proceed, however, I think it’s important to get back to basics:

  • Decide what Industry 4.0 means to your organization. Surprisingly enough, very few have a good idea of what Industry 4.0 is. The idea that “it has something to do with IoT and connectivity” seems to be common, but apart from this loose idea, there is a very sparse set of clues on how to proceed. My definition? “A communication-driven digital transformation of the technology stack in manufacturing – from a strict layer-based architecture as described in ISA95, to a flat IIoT architecture where all systems have near real-time access to all data”. That definition might not add to clarity, but it should however give you a clue that the answer is not in the technology stack itself, rather in your business drivers and in how we allow these to be augmented by technology.
  • Realize it’s a tech-driven change. A strange thing about Industry 4.0 is that it’s much of a tech-driven paradigm shift, in a world where people put their emphasis on demand-driven output and business needs first. Does this make a difference? I would argue that this is a strong contributor to the difficulty to get started; on one hand, there is a hype around digitalization that is feeding imperatives to act, on the other hand, the business cases highlighted are often provided from outside. This does not land well for internalizing the initiatives and take ownership of the business aspect. Always go for a mixture of IT and business people in the project teams.
  • Establish a strategy – and clear ownership. If you have identified your primary business drivers for your industrial digitalization efforts, you are in a good position to start identifying your strategic approach. A business driver in this sense should be an activity that directly aims to fulfill your overall goals. This article is not on goal cascading from top management to shop floor, but I would like to emphasize the similarity in these to prove the point of central governance of an industrial digitalization strategy. The goals should ultimately be the same, and to ensure compliance and direction there must be a level of central governance of innovation. Innovation of business cases that is; there is surely no lack of technology!
  • Understand your industrial environment. Part of the challenge in creating the technical fundament for Industry 4.0, is that connectivity is often already, to some extent, in place. At the automation level, the trend starting in the mid-’80s has been decentralized control with peripheral devices connected by a fieldbus of some kind. This means that many of the devices you would typically like to include in a connected factory, are often already connected to some central point. Connecting a factory is therefore in many cases a question of integration of the automation layer, rather than introducing new technology. There are of course differences between organizations on the level of OT awareness, but in general, this is an area where most companies need to invest knowledge and understanding to accelerate the transformation.
  • Handle ongoing projects with care. In most manufacturing companies, there is an intense, creative activity going on at the shop floor level. Consequently, it’s difficult to control these pilots and PoC’s at a central level. It’s tricky because while it’s essential to control choices of technology and infrastructural dependencies for securing scalability, it’s also important to have a detailed knowledge of the business needs as well as the business case at site level (as well as financing). Ask yourself if every pilot or PoC is relevant to your business and targeted at the correct use case. Be careful not to ruin the creativity and knowledge developed within the initiatives. However, from my experience, most of these industrial digitalization activities are very much alike from a technological and infrastructural standpoint and therefore suited for scalability – if these fundamental aspects are provided, ideally even before the project kick-off.

Getting started with Industry 4.0

As a global system integrator, Cognizant has a large footprint in implementing systems throughout the technology stacks in most industries which have provided us with vast technical experience and skills.

However, lack of technology is not the primary challenge. It’s rather about defining a strategy to start, manage and scale. At Cognizant we have developed our consultative approach to meet these challenges. In three distinct phases we help you develop your strategy and realize true value:

  • Assessment phase: As-is state assessment, KPI base data, To-be state mapping, Gap analysis, Value modeling / ROI, Blueprint / Roadmap
  • Pilot and PoC: Reference architecture, Governance structure, Build PoC, Demonstrate viability
  • Realize value: Scale functionality, Commercialize, Realize value

Can you do it alone?

The short answer is most often not. Access to a broad set of technology partners is an important factor for accelerating development and strengthening focus on core business drivers. This is because leveraging the know-how and technical innovations of these partners in your reference architecture will free up resources for focusing on your core activities while ensuring scalability and compliance with your OT environment.

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