Digitizing an organization’s existing systems, processes, tasks and assets can be a daunting undertaking. There are a myriad of different workflow processes to examine, siloed departments to incorporate and even existing connected device (i.e. IoT) data to consolidate. Any sensitive or confidential information must be handled securely to avoid breaching any privacy boundaries or compliance regulations, and there’s also longer term scalability factors to consider.

For manufacturing organizations in particular, however, digital transformation efforts are essential. Successfully embarking on such an initiative can offer an invaluable competitive advantage by enabling manufacturing organizations to streamline their operational processes, optimize demand forecasting, better understand customers’ propensity to buy and get products to market faster and more safely. By digitizing all assets and thereby making data more actionable, predictive maintenance programs also become possible, which by decreasing machine downtime and waste, can lead to greater organizational and environmental efficiency.

Digital Transformation is a Lot Easier Said than Done

Considering all the benefits made possible by digital transformation projects, it’s no surprise then that worldwide spending on technologies and services for enabling digital transformation is estimated to reach $1.97 trillion by 2022 and experiencing an annual growth rate of 16.7%. Here’s what’s concerning, though: Despite enthusiastic spending, past research indicates that 70% of large-scale digital transformation projects fail.

Too often, organizations get swept up in the collective digital transformation buzz and fail to first set clear, achievable goals for their project. Many organizations also neglect to engender company-wide support for digital transformation initiatives, consider the unique needs or goals specific to their business, and make the common mistake of attempting to digitize too much too quickly.

5 Best Practices for Successfully Inciting Digital Change

To realistically embark on a successful digital transformation project and reap the long-term benefits of such an endeavor, manufacturing organizations should adhere to the following five best practices:

1. Audit all legacy systems and assets. Before digitizing anything, it’s crucial to first determine the scope of the project by analyzing all existing systems, processes, tasks and assets. Even processes that are already leveraging digitization in some form need to be considered, as consolidating all of these different components is critical to the success of any digital transformation initiative. For example, does your manufacturing organization employ a material requirements planning tool for inventory control, materials management and procurement planning? Or perhaps a manufacturing execution system, shop floor control solution, enterprise resource planning (ERP) or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system is in place. Such tools all have overlapping functionality, so it’s important to identify any existing commonalities to ultimately establish a digital thread that connects and integrates all these systems and provides a cohesive record for all the data being produced.

2. Foster a culture of open mindedness. People are inherently averse to change, and for organizations with high risk profiles, this predisposition is further heightened. There’s also a subconscious fear that technology—particularly those that automate and accelerate traditional processes—will replace people. It’s therefore paramount that manufacturing organizations recognize these fears head on, and take the time to educate employees on the realities of digital transformation projects. For instance, it can be helpful to discuss how many of the tasks being automated are activities employees don’t want to undertake, such as spending half the day pulling and loading data. There are also tasks for which small instances of automation can improve employee performance, such as introducing predictive algorithms that help employees make better decisions and free up their time for more rewarding, interesting and higher-value-add activities.

3. Start small but work fast. To change an organization’s collective mindset and promote digitization, employees often have to experience the benefits first hand. Rather than attempting to embark on a massive digital transformation project in one fell swoop, start small. Consider beginning with just one, paperless pilot in one specific department or function to quickly produce the evidence of benefits employees seek. For example, perhaps a paper-based system is in place for maintaining device history records (DHRs). By simply replacing this system with a closed-loop manufacturing execution system, faster detection and prevention of problems can be enabled, along with improved investigations through greater speed and visibility in finding and correcting root causes. Improved data consistency across plants and the supply chain can also be realized, along with intuitive dashboards for key metrics, thereby enabling continuous improvement.

4. Gather user feedback continually. Equally important to promoting open mindedness and demonstrating early digitization benefits is continually asking for user feedback. Digital transformation projects only work when the employees working with the systems, processes, tasks and assets in question are involved and able to contribute to any changes. Take advantage of the subject matter experts within your organization, and make it clear their input is essential to the success of any digitization efforts. How and where do they think specific processes can be refined further? This is a crucial step not just as you prepare to embark on a digital transformation initiative, but also throughout the entirety of the project.

5. Invest heavily in training. Arguably the most important component of digital transformation projects is user training. Because change is inherently difficult and immediate digitization benefits are difficult to guarantee, employees need to feel comfortable with any new systems and processes. They should be well-equipped to perform their daily tasks without interruption or confusion, and receive training for any new updates throughout the entire lifecycle of a digital transformation initiative. Also, be sure to make user-friendly support resources and any digital transformation leads continually accessible to employees. Don’t make the mistake of inciting major digital change and then just walking away; expecting employees to naturally adjust and blindly incorporate new processes won’t result in success.

Embrace Digital Tools that Elevate and Integrate Existing IT Processes

Considering their breadth of vertical reach and an increasingly competitive market, manufacturing organizations have a timely opportunity to embrace digitization in a manner that elevates their existing IT solutions. By enabling the seamless transfer of information between systems and departments, removing the barriers to generating consistent and compliant production records and documentation, and minimizing the interface between humans, machines and paper, manufacturers can deliver real, long-lasting change that drives their bottom line.

In particular, look for digital tools that can automatically collect required production details in a compliant and consistent format. Ensure real-time data checks are continuously conducted in an effort to eliminate the risk of incomplete data, illegible text, incorrect date formats, incorrect units of measure and other common documentation issues that can lead to long document review holding times and as a result, slower product shipping times. Additionally, try to minimize the human points of contact with machinery and documentation to avoid any instances of human-introduced error.

Long-Term Relevance Requires Digital Transformation

Over the past decade, the manufacturing industry has welcomed a true arsenal of software systems with which to manage its complex equipment, processes, data and planning. But as technology continues to advance at breakneck speed and customer demands intensify, these systems are falling short. With paper-based and hybrid processes proving too inefficient, insecure and costly, it’s more important than ever that the manufacturing floor is successfully digitally transformed. In doing so, manufacturing organizations can remain competitive in the years ahead and thrive in an age of data-driven intelligence and smart manufacturing. Q