Practical Advice for a Digitization Strategy

By Martin Cloake, CEO & Founder, Raven.ai

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One of the best things about the time I spent in my early career, working at a mid-sized manufacturing plant, was how simple it was to get things done. Once plant leadership and the operators were on board with a plan, the only thing holding me back was having enough hours in a day.

Although I am proud of our technology at Raven, I know that the real results and improvement depend on the teams’ actions on the shop floor–not our technology.  Technology can only help if a strong continuous improvement culture exists. It’s a tool, not a magic wand. If you’re implementing new tech at your plant and are worried about getting a good return on investment, here are a few hard-earned tips to remember.

Focus on the goal – rapid improvement

Disregarding Industry 4.0 and other tech trends like AI, IoT, and the cloud feels like a risky proposition today; but hanging back from the rush for innovation may be the best choice in many cases. The consequences of a large, unsuccessful digital transformation project can be catastrophic both financially and culturally.

Over-scoping technology projects comes from an obsession with technology. Some people become so enamored with the technology that they lose sight of the goal.  The goal is not to digitally transform; our goal is to accelerate improvement. Technology can help, but it’s a vehicle, not the destination.

Start small and keep it simple

When implementing new technology, start simply, and get operators engaged from the start. Make the initial implementation so easy that there is virtually no learning curve and operators are the ones pushing for more features and functionality.

The key is for operators to see that the tool is theirs to wield. Once they realize that highlighting the issues with data forces their leaders to fix problems, you’ll have their genuine buy-in.

Create a culture of CI & engagement

It’s easy to get obsessed with KPIs and metrics, especially when these are the initiative’s benchmarks of success or failure. We need to remember that a healthy process predicts good performance, and an unhealthy process predicts poor performance.

When it comes to continuous improvement, the best way to measure the health of the process is to see what actions people are taking. Are managers attending standups? Are daily boards being maintained? Is 5S being maintained? Are operators labeling downtime events? Is maintenance responding to alerts?

If these things are happening, it is highly likely that your KPIs will also be going in the right direction.  Once the KPIs start going in the right direction, expansion of the initiative is the natural next step.

Stop calling it digital transformation

For many of us, investing in digitization can seem daunting. Fortunately, medium-sized manufacturers don’t need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to see the value. If we invest in our continuous improvement culture, our teams will demand better tools to help them find and solve problems more effectively.

  1. Start small, accelerate fast
  2. Focus on engagement
  3. Hold your technology provider accountable to produce ROI

Manufacturing is still fundamentally a people business.  If you have a good CI culture, then consider bringing in digital tools to help them be more effective.  If your CI culture needs help, fix that first before investing in technology.

Martin is the CEO and Co-founder of Raven.ai.  Raven.ai’s platform delivers increased profits and 10X+ ROI to top global manufacturers by guiding actions with real-time insights. Martin is an experienced executive and award-winning technology entrepreneur with a background in manufacturing, data science, IP, and operations management. Martin holds multiple patents and is a Mechanical Engineering and business graduate from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Martin can be reached by email and at LinkedIn.

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