Digitization is the ‘next normal’ of Industry 4.0 – 4 practical steps you can take to get ready now

Jun 23rd 2020

If you asked me in January what my work week would look like in mid-June, I would have told you I would probably be sitting in a squeaky banquet room chair listening to another conference keynote on how plants and industrial facilities will soon be run from a mobile device. Today, like every other day over the past three months, I am sitting in my squeaky dining room chair switching between video meetings, email and group work chats trying to make sense of a new world that requires new strategies along with new (lower) budgets.

There is no way to avoid or change the “new normal,” and expending energy to do so is a waste of time. What we can change is how we do business. This is the opportunity to truly rethink the way we work. One of the bright sides of COVID-19 has been the “forced adoption” of digital and remote work. While we have changed the way we embrace technology, we have also changed our expectation of what can get done this year.

The flipside of our new reality? Financial resources. Let’s face it, budgets have been slashed. We don’t know who is in or out of the office today. How can you possibly “move to the plant of the future” when you are just trying to keep up? As I see it, there are four steps you can take to keep moving forward while also staying afloat:

1. Don’t boil the ocean, start with a cup.

You might not be able to do the $10MM digital transformation project today, but can you begin the groundwork needed to start the change? What is the first part of that project for your facility? The multidisciplinary work environment of industry is tough enough to make changes by changing the culture.

Pick an area, group, or process that is foundational to the major transformation and start there. Maybe it’s converting safety rounds from paper to digital and analyzing that data. Find something that is a “quick win” that fits in your budget. The success of that project can pave the way for 2021 and beyond.

2. Rethink how work can be done. What can be done remotely?

Even the most tech-savvy employees were surprised with how much they were able to get done on a laptop at the dining room table. Are there any parts of your transformation that you overlooked when you were focused on the bigger picture?

Take a moment to rethink each of the areas you planned to address and look at them with a new digital-first mindset (while it’s still fresh). Maybe you can address an overlooked area differently than you have before? Could something like risk assessments be done in the field with remote approval by supervision.

3. Do more with less

Doing more with less has become the slogan of the information age. Just when you think budgets can’t get any tighter, you get squeezed again and find a new way to make things work.

Sometimes these “force majeure” scenarios have a way of forcing us to do things we would not have done voluntarily. If your budget has been cut, now is the time to rethink processes. Can you outsource a service? By centralizing information, could it support overhead efficiencies?

Even if you aren’t cutting expenses, you can often increase productivity by centralizing information or work processes. My team has seen firsthand that just putting in a digital tool checkout system reduces the check in/check out time of tools from 2.5 minutes to 1 minute. This cuts down wait time and increases wrench time in the field.

4. Consolidate platforms.

No matter how many times you clean out your closet or attic, you always seem to find “new” things that you realize you don’t need to keep anymore (we probably all did this at some point during quarantine)

The same goes for software that your organization has accumulated over the years. Now is the perfect time to take a fresh look and rethink which ones you need to keep, upgrade or replace. My guess is that some of your standalone applications could be replaced by a suite of applications from one vendor. This one move alone could allow you to achieve step 1,2,3 and 4 at one time!

If you’d like to continue the conversation about how to move forward in a positive digital-direction during this “next normal,” do not hesitate to reach out to me. I’ll be at my squeaky seat and would love to chat.

Good luck, be safe, and Godspeed!

Paul Plauché – General Manager

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