How to create a strategy for digital transformation

The benefits of digital transformation for factories are clear. But with only 24% of the industry having a strategy in place, it’s time to take a closer look at how to make tech work for your shop floor. 

In today’s blog, we’ll cover:

Let’s take a look!

What is a digital transformation?

Depending on your business and objectives, digital transformation can mean a complete overhaul of your processes and tools, or it can mean simple fixes and upgrades.

No matter the planned scale, digital transformation is about integrating smart technology into existing processes, replacing analogue methods with their digital equivalents.

The promise of digital transformation is massively improved productivity and profitability, and reduced waste.

By paying close attention to your processes and how they work, you can find opportunities for digitalisation to drive these benefits. 

Why is a digital transformation relevant for my factory?

Every factory wants to improve profitability and reduce waste. But doing so can be difficult if your tools don’t give you all the information you need.

Many factories are burdened with outdated systems that provide minimal insights into expenses and productivity. This is an obstacle to true competitiveness.

By transitioning towards digital tools to help you gather and analyse data, you immediately gain traceability and visibility over different aspects of your factory that were previously hard to monitor.

Information management is just one aspect of your factory that can be digitalised quite easily.

Broaden the scope out to hardware and machinery and you can imagine the results; a better connected, leaner, and future-proof organisation.

So how can you get there without disrupting your current processes? What’s the best way to invest in your digital transformation?

Let’s take a look at how to shape a strategy to suit your factory.

How many digital transformation strategies are there?

For every factory, there’s another potential strategy for change. Let’s go through a few great starting points.

People management

How your employees are trained, upskilled, and positioned on your lines is crucial to getting the most from your factory’s resources.

It’s hard to know exactly how to improve your workforce management if you can’t easily see where their skills lie and what they need help with.

Your digital transformation strategy should start with looking at how to improve this. 

Introducing digital technology at key touchpoints through an employee’s onboarding, for example, helps you identify problem areas in their development. Similarly, it helps you surface skills and knowledge that would be deployed more effectively in other teams.

Starting with your employees is a great way to ensure you get the most from your existing set-up with minimal disruption. 

Once you’re confident with how skills and people are managed across your factory, you can then move on to other aspects of your business.

Information systems

As mentioned earlier, how your factory gathers and processes information is crucial to your long-term success.

But even the most established continuous improvement process has its flaws when conducted on paper.

Each point of your production line is a source of valuable information that could help you save money and improve efficiency. So, digitalising how this data is collected would be a great first step in a successful digital transformation strategy.

Where possible, you’ll want to replace analogue systems with digital, connected equivalents. 

The trick is to ensure that this is carried out seamlessly, with all staff and stakeholders aware of how and why this change is happening.

Machinery and hardware

It’s undeniable that cutting-edge technology has a significant role to play in manufacturing. From 3D printing to artificial intelligence, there’s potential to completely transform how your production system works.

You only have to attend a tradeshow to understand how excited the industry is by these developments. But, as with most new technologies, it’s understandable why businesses are hesitant to go all-in and completely upend their existing tools.

Nevertheless, a hardware-based digital transformation strategy brings spectacular results in the long run, provided you don’t move too fast.

Committing to a hardware-first approach to digital transformation means you’ll also have to upgrade associated processes and systems, such as employee training materials and safety measures, giving you plenty of work to do.

How do I choose the right digital transformation strategy?

To answer this question, you must first answer a different one: How well do you really know your factory?

To pursue an effective digital transformation strategy, you need to be aware of the problems you’re actually solving. Lose sight of these, and you could quickly lose sight of your project scope as well.

A true understanding of how your factory operates doesn’t come from the office but the shop floor.

Gemba walks help you get information from where the action happens. They could be a major source of insight into how your factory’s processes communicate with each other and where the gaps are.

Combine this firsthand knowledge with a broader view of how your factory is performing and where you need to be, and you’ll have a sense of what needs to happen next.

Top tips for creating your digital transformation roadmap

Now you know a little more about what you want to achieve, it’s time to put a plan together.

Before you do so, let’s take a moment to go through a few pointers you’ll need to follow to ensure your strategy pays off.

Involve your staff

Employee buy-in is crucial to the success of digital transformation, particularly in its early stages. 

You’ll be dealing with people who have specialist knowledge and training relating to existing processes and tools. Fail to bring them on board, and you risk alienating them.

As we explored in a previous blog, employee engagement has a significant impact on your bottom line. Give them a stake and a voice in your strategy and you’ll reap the rewards.

Patience is key

A report from the Harvard Business Review shows that it takes time to see the real rewards of digital transformation. In fact, most businesses with a successful strategy have only unlocked a percentage of its benefits.

Therefore, you need to be in this for the long haul. And you also need to bear in mind that, 10 years from now, factories that didn’t take steps to improve their long-term viability will struggle against competitors that did.

Set realistic short, medium, and long-term targets, and be prepared to invest money and time. It’ll be worth it in the end! 

Pick the numbers that matter

This pointer is really a reminder to always refer back to the original scope of your project.

Any strategy that relies on a diffuse set of aims and measurements to prove its success is probably going to lose focus. 

You should be very disciplined with how you define and intend to measure your digital transformation strategy. It helps to have a simple mission statement to refer back to in reports, presentations, and project documents.

For example, ‘the aim of this project is to improve how we standardise processes through digital technologies’ is a mission statement that very clearly defines what the strategy is about. 

You might also want to include what the strategy is not trying to achieve to make this as clear as possible.

Try as much as possible to stick to 2-3 core numbers to assess the overall performance of the project, and make these as visible as possible to stakeholders and interested parties.

These numbers should form the basis of your reporting.

The right software makes all the difference

This final point is about connecting the dots. 

To even begin to think about a strategy for digital transformation, you need to have a system for collecting and analysing data, as well as greater visibility over the whole plant’s operations.

Otherwise, administration and stakeholder management may swallow up too much of your time. A software that gives you this system, and all the visibility you need, will give you a scaffold you can build the rest of your strategy on.

It will also hand you the initiative. Software that helps you consolidate information from across the factory allows you to make quick informed decisions, and helps you see in advance which parts of your line would benefit the most from a digital upgrade.

Look for tools that offer help with information management, standardisation, analysis, and more.

Ready now? The mlean Production System (mPS) could be just the tool you’re looking for.

mlean & digital transformation

Since 2013, mlean has been involved in the digital transformation of manufacturing.

We’ve helped over 500 factories around the world adopt lean manufacturing practices and increase their productivity and profitability through our flagship software, the mlean Production System (mPS).

Our vision is to see a sector free of waste, and the practice of continuous improvement upgraded for a connected age.

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