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The modern manufacturing landscape continues to be reshaped by significant external factors, including the need for reshoring, the volatility of supply chains laid bare by global events such as the pandemic, and the persistent issue of labor shortages. These challenges have underscored the urgent necessity for manufacturers to digitally transform their operations in order to build resiliency and maintain their competitive edge.
Challenges of Scaling Technology in Manufacturing
In response, many manufacturers have begun to pilot new technologies in their R&D environments or at a single line or site, but then failed to build on that momentum and scale their implementation across other sites. These efforts towards digital transformation across multiple sites are not just a strategic advantage, but a necessity for sustainable growth in this environment.
However, the journey to effective multi-site digital transformation can be full of challenges, from aligning diverging site requirements to navigating the nuances of technological infrastructure and cultural differences. For executives and leaders spearheading this transformation, a well-defined approach to scaling technology is imperative for successful adoption and long-term value.
Common Stumbling Blocks on the Road to Digital Transformation
As businesses begin to navigate the complex path to digital transformation across their business sites, there are a number of commonly encountered obstacles that can slow down progress and hinder a successful implementation. Recognizing these stumbling blocks early is crucial for leaders to act decisively and implement the strategic measures needed to overcome them.
Lack of Alignment: The absence of a unified vision and strategy for digital transformation shared by stakeholders across the business inevitably leads to disjointed approaches, missed opportunities, and duplicated effort.
Paralysis by Analysis: While thinking ahead and crafting a strategy is vital, manufacturers often fall victim to overplanning without action. This overburdening planning upfront leads to a slow start and hampers the agile, bottom-up process that is critical for digital transformation.
IT-OT Tensions: The priorities of IT (standardization and security) and OT (quickly solving problems) teams often clash, resulting in a tension that can delay or derail technology deployment efforts.
Inconsistent Environments: Diverse cultures, processes, and technical infrastructures across different sites — especially in businesses that have grown through acquisitions — create a complex environment that is tough to standardize.
Technical Acumen and Readiness: There is often a significant learning curve for executives and site leaders that are set in traditional manufacturing ways, with many lacking the technical understanding and readiness to embrace new digital solutions.
Best Practices for Successful Scaling
While these challenges can be daunting, with a structured approach and a clear strategy, they can be navigated successfully. Drawing from the real-world lessons shared in our recent webinar, "Scaling Success Stories: Mastering Multi-Site Technology Deployments for Manufacturing Excellence," here are six essential best practices for navigating the complex task of multi-site digital transformation.
1. Be Strategic With Vision and Planning
The cornerstone of any successful digital transformation is a clearly articulated vision and strategy. This is all about setting specific, measurable objectives that dovetail with your business goals.
Starting off small with quick, early wins is an easy (and recommended) way to build momentum, but to grow you need a strong vision and strategy to align your organization and key stakeholders. This vision must be communicated effectively across all organizational levels, ensuring everyone from the shop floor to the boardroom is educated on not just the 'what' and ‘how,' but also the ‘why' of the transformation journey.
Aligning the transformation strategy with business operations is equally vital, ensuring that the adoption of new technologies directly contributes to and enhances the operational efficiency at each site. A clear vision serves as a guiding light, keeping all sites aligned with broader business objectives and fostering a sense of shared purpose between them.
2. Make Data the Keystone of Digital Transformation
Planning for what data you’ll need to collect and how it will be governed should be at the forefront of any digital transformation strategy. Start with determining the must-haves for data collection and structures, and ask yourself the following types of questions:
What problems are you going to solve?
How will the data be collected, structured, and analyzed?
Is consistency across all sites to enable enterprise-wide insights desired?
The answers to these questions not only prepare an organization for the challenges of scaling across multiple locations but also ensure that the data collected is meaningful and aligned with the broader strategic goals. This data will act as the basis for informed decision-making, ensuring that business decisions are based on real-world figures, rather than a pencil-whipped view of reality. Getting this right can be the difference between a successful transformation, and one that fails to realize its full potential.
3. Build an Adoption Program
Digital transformation management is hard, but developing a robust adoption program is crucial in any successful technology implementation. This consists of a group of key stakeholders from across sites and teams whose role is to guide the organization, share best practices, and develop a governance framework to effectuate their digital transformation.
The members of the adoption program play a pivotal role in ensuring stakeholder buy-in and enterprise-wide adoption, which is crucial for the success of digital transformation initiatives. It encompasses the creation of initiatives that enable personnel at various levels to engage with and fully utilize new technologies, establishing a governance framework that provides guidelines on how technology can be used, and defining roles and responsibilities.
Additionally, these efforts often include the creation of internal communities and forums for collaboration and knowledge sharing, and the implementation of processes for delivering solutions effectively. By fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation, an adoption program significantly enhances the organization's capacity to rapidly adopt new technologies, helping to drive operational excellence.
4. Implement Agile Program Management
Especially in a multi-site expansion context, adopting an agile scrum framework for program management dramatically outperforms the more traditional waterfall methodology. This approach emphasizes a regular cadence of project evaluations and check-ins, allowing for timely adjustments in strategy or execution in response to evolving needs and challenges.
When paired with a technology platform that empowers process experts to build solutions themselves, agile scrum signifies a fundamental shift in how solutions are developed and deployed. This fosters a culture of adaptability and continuous improvement to meet shifting operational needs, and helps build the momentum and grassroots excitement needed to fuel transformation efforts.
5. Remember That Unique Sites Demand Unique Solutions
Differences in language, culture, and technical infrastructure from one site to another require the industry to move beyond the 'one-size-fits-all' approach to digitally transforming diverse sites. Businesses must acknowledge that while some number of essential solutions will be adopted across the board, the tools and technology that are effective at one site may not necessarily translate to success at another.
Modern, composable methods of solution-building enable local process experts to craft tools that meet the unique conditions and challenges of their particular site. This flexibility is crucial for addressing site-specific needs, while still ensuring continuity of data structures and enterprise-level visibility across sites are maintained.
6. Ease IT-OT Tensions Through Governance and Democratization
Establishing a collaborative relationship between IT and OT teams is vital, and new technology itself can act as an enabler in this regard. By managing a technology platform instead of individual solutions, IT can implement controls around aspects like user roles, access to enterprise systems and data, and approval of new tools before they are deployed to the shop floor.
With these guidelines and a composable platform, OT engineers are empowered with the freedom to build solutions quickly, while remaining within predefined constraints. In a traditional manufacturing context, this would be like IT validating Excel as a tool overall, while giving users at each site free reign to build the spreadsheets they need to keep production on track.
When it comes to governance, it’s important to plan out how much control you want to give your IT teams (centralization) relative to your OT teams (decentralization). Finding a middle ground between these two (a democratized approach), and establishing a culture of joint problem-solving between IT and OT ensures that new solutions can be built and deployed rapidly, while still maintaining control over critical aspects like application security or how data is collected and structured.
Charting the Path Ahead
Navigating the intricacies of multi-site technology deployment demands strategic foresight, collaborative effort, and an in-depth understanding of both local and enterprise contexts. But, by integrating the best practices outlined above, you can effectively tackle the challenges that come with such an endeavor.
Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that digital transformation is not just a buzzword to be thrown around in meetings or relegated to a pilot program at a single site, but is instead a tangible reality that drives operational excellence and growth across all sites in your business. This journey, while demanding, promises a future of enhanced agility, resilience, and efficiency — allowing your business to stay ahead of the competition.
Scaling Success Stories
Check out our on-demand webinar for a deeper dive on how to master multi-site technology deployments and enable transformation at scale.