Digital Transformation: A Business Perspective

The fast pace of digital innovation offers transformative opportunities. Manufacturing companies that understand how vital digital transformation is and that take action to implement it are securing their futures.

Every aspect of every manufacturing organization is facing rapidly changing expectations. Engineering is expected to design custom versions of a product, not just one. Sales are expected to serve up experiences, not just take orders or undercut a competitor. The supply chain expects access to data that is being generated by lit-up internet-of-things tech—but who is in charge of IoT processes? If the model-based design is moving toward model-based systems engineering, why are so many document-based information exchanges still taking place? Why are mechanical, electrical, and electronic engineers working on separate data sets? 

All of these situations and more are only as challenging as organizations allow them to be. Businesses can accept existing workflows or decide there is a better way. Digital transformation becomes possible when companies believe in transformative opportunities instead of status quo processes. 

Why Digital Transformation Is a Big Deal

Companies are already creating digital “things” in a wide variety of formats. Email, Slack, and Excel are digital tools. CAD tools make digital work products to put into digital PDM or PLM systems. So many deliverables—from quick messages to RFQs and commissioning documentation—are digital. And all of them are managed and stored by different programs used by different individuals and teams. Too many. 

Such diverse and disconnected use and management of digital deliverables is the first reason that digital transformation is a big deal: it creates a single holistic centrally accessible product definition that everyone uses. It is not just finding and rooting out the last bits of paperwork processes. It is the transformation of business practices, processes, competencies, and operational models. 

A company’s next big thing might start as a napkin sketch, but in a digitally transformed company, as soon as the coffee break is over someone will digitize that sketch. From that point on, everything relating to it is accessible to every team member. Every bit of information about the project must be traceable and accessible to everyone who needs to know about and use that data. That leads to the second reason that digital transformation is a big deal: the goal of digital transformation is to automate everything so that manual processes don’t slow down the work. 

Why Digital Transformation? 

In the typical company, operations in all functional departments have become increasingly constrained. Manufacturing must produce products on tight schedules with less scrap and lower rejection rates. Suppliers must deliver their products faster than ever before. Engineering and product development must produce innovative products faster. 

The idea that “beatings will continue until morale improves” has never worked with people. Its digital equivalent, “do more with less,” is equally exasperating and counterproductive. Simply put, the purpose of digital transformation is to empower individuals and teams. 

If all functional organizations must deliver faster, then every process and work product that leads to the product being in the customer’s hands must change. Activities, processes, competencies, and models (technical and business) must all embrace the new model of digital transformation. 

When companies get serious about digital transformation, they often uncover havoc. So-called digital processes that are still quite manual cause errors of commission, omission, and remission. Fixing the problems caused by these errors without replacing the process that made them inevitable is shortsighted and foolish. It wastes time and money. 

Five Practical Goals of Digital Transformation 

Organizations that decide that digital transformation is the path forward must translate that vision to practical action. They should consider these five strategies: 

  • Be flexible. New workflows must make manufacturing processes and supply chains more flexible. So the phrase “we can’t do that” must disappear. 
  • Automate, automate, automate. Every process must be automatic from end to end. 
  • Make business one long audit. Every artifact of doing business, digital or physical, must be trackable by anyone in the organization who has a need to know and a need to do. 
  • Be transparent. All processes must be visible to all parts of the organization. 
  • Make delivery automatic. Mail carriers deliver mail routinely; they don’t wait for the recipient to request it. Hence, no one in an organization should have to request information—digital workflows must send it automatically. 

There Is No Conclusion

Digital transformation is not a project with a beginning and an end. Rather, successful digital transformation edits a company’s DNA, allowing the corporate body to continue to reinvent itself over time. 

Change is no longer inevitable—it is constant. Creating a single holistic centrally accessible product definition is a blueprint for continual progress. All processes are automated, and therefore empower every team member. 

Digital transformation becomes a corporate mindset. The digitally transformed enterprise rejoices when it discovers a process bottleneck because that means there is a new opportunity for improvement. 

Putting it all together, a company is winning at the digital transformation when it is prepared for unforeseen change. Successful digital transformation enables a company to respond quickly to unexpected opportunities with fully digital engineering and business models. 

Digital transformation becomes possible when a company believes it is the way forward. Digital transformation becomes intrinsic when new technologies and new processes look like opportunities, not disruptions. 

Read more blogs by Chad Jackson:

Understanding the Value of the Digital Twin

Written by

Chad Jackson is the Chief Analyst and CEO of Lifecycle Insights. He leads the company’s research and thought leadership programs, attends and speaks at industry events, and reviews emerging technology solutions. Chad’s twenty-five-year career has focused on improving executives’ ability to reap value from technology-led engineering initiatives during the industry’s transition to smart, connected products.

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