For more than a decade, I’ve served in a variety of technology-related leadership roles, specializing in digitization. I’d like to share some of my thoughts and steps on how to move Industry 4.0 forward in this “next normal.”
This summer, I would have expected to be sitting in uncomfortable chairs listening to presentations on how we will run our plants from mobile phones. Today, I am sitting in my living room switching between webinars and Microsoft Outlook trying to make sense of a new world with a new strategy and budget.
We are faced with a “next normal,” and there is no changing that. What we can change is how we do business, and this is an opportunity to 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 expectations of what we can accomplish this year.
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 things moving without having to go backward:
1. “Don’t boil the ocean; start with a cup.” No, you might not be able to do the $10 million transformation project, but can you do the groundwork needed to start the change? What was the first part of that project? 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 starting to analyze that data. Find something that is a “quick win” that fits in your budget. The success of that project can pave the way for greener pastures in 2021 (fingers crossed).
2. Rethink how work can be done. What can be done remotely? Even the most technology-savvy employees were surprised with how much they were able to get done on a laptop on the dining room table. Are there any parts of your major 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 mindset (while it’s still fresh). Maybe you can address an area differently than you have before? Maybe risk assessments can be done in the field and supervision remotely approves it.
3. Do more with less. “Doing more with less” has become the slogan of the information age. Just when you think you 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 reduction?
Even if you aren’t cutting expenses, you can often increase productivity by centralizing information or work processes. I have seen how just putting in a tool checkout system reduces the check-in/check-out time of tools from 2.5 minutes to 1 minute. This cuts down the line and improves wrench time in the field.
4. Consolidate platforms. No matter how many times you clean out your closet or your attic, you always seem to find things you realize you don’t need to keep anymore. We probably all did this while quarantining.
The same goes for software that your organization has accumulated over the years. Now is a perfect time to take a fresh look and rethink which ones you need to keep, upgrade or replace. Perhaps some standalone applications can be replaced by a suite of applications from one vendor. This would allow you to achieve steps 1, 2, 3 and 4 in one project!
Paul Plauche is general manager of MobilOps®, a Turner Industries-owned company whose innovative software suite and set of related services is designed to offer solutions to a wide range of heavy industry business challenges including safety and productivity.