Digitally Transforming the Industrial Processes

Srinivas Narasimhan

Industry processes are being completely reimagined using the Digital Technologies, some of which are so extraordinary that they seem like stuff from Science Fiction. In this post we will take at some of the important aspects of this transformation. As an Industrial unit, your entire operations are governed by multiple processes, all supplementing or being a part of your core production process. It must be noted here that Digital Transformation is not to be confused with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation.  ERP is a suite of applications that help you automate the erstwhile paper-backed processes in your organization. They often replicate your existing processes faithfully, step by step. However, with Digital Technologies, we are talking wholesale rethinking of your business processes that the end result of the transformation results in a very different company from the one we started with. What are the factors?

Extreme Automation

Automation has been a recurring theme in the modernization of industry, but the Digital Technologies have finally made it possible to implement end-to-end automation, not just in parts. Moreover, these technologies are ushering enterprise-wide automation, not just a specific business area or a function in the enterprise. Traditional automation employed a single technology to perform a specific task or set of tasks. Extreme automation has come about due to the convergence of multiple technologies which may be combined in a single workflow like RPA + Analytics + AI, to bring multiple diverse tasks under one automation umbrella. In the Digital World, processes tend to be data-driven, self-healing and have the capability to adapt in real-time. While efficiency and productivity gains used to be the focus of old school automation, additional goals such as adaptive, resilient and flexible business models, enhanced customer and employee experience are also part of Extreme Automation.

Autonomous Systems

The Digital Era is characterized by Pervasive (or Ubiquitous) Intelligence, as everyday devices around us have embedded chips giving them computing power and intelligence. These devices are also equipped with the facility to communicate with one another, leading the way to the creation of smart systems that function autonomously. Industrial Robots, Driverless Cars and Smart Appliances are examples of such intelligent systems that perform their work without human intervention. Starting with machines that can scan drawings and program themselves to produce the components, to and systems that can plan and execute the logistics with your enterprise’s supply chain and completely unmanned smart factories,  autonomous systems are taking over not just simple routine tasks, but also complex cognitive tasks from humans in the industry floor. The artificial intelligence that powers the behavior of the autonomous systems learn their intelligence from the enormous amount of data generated by their own operations and interactions with other systems. Hence data can be considered the lifeline of the autonomous systems. To generate this data we must first digitally transform manual or analogue operations in in your company. This implies that you must adopt a staged approach to digitalize your operations, first bringing in digital systems that capture the data in adequate quantities and then using this for training the AI models that will enable fully autonomous operations

 Collaborative Ecosystems

The Digital Era is already upon us. The technology companies, general public, startups and even governments have largely embraced it. It is the traditional industry that has significantly stayed behind and are slowly being dragged into it. Therefore the ecosystem of your industry has already gone digital. The hallmark of digital systems is their ability to collaborate to accomplish common goals. Your operations need to adopt digital transformations needed not only to improve how they operate, but also to leverage the collaborative ecosystem to stay relevant and to thrive in this era. An awesome feature of this collaborative ecosystem is that humans and autonomous systems communicate using the same internet and through compatible devices. For example, a person uses her smartphone to transfer from her bank account, or to turn on the air-conditioning system at her home. The banking system and the home control system perform her instructions to each one and they confirm their compliance and the result of the execution of these instructions to her via the same smartphone using SMS or equivalent app. For your industry, this means that you will be able to provide your customers (and partners) a much better experience and many more conveniences using collaboration mechanisms that are abundantly present in the ecosystem. Opening an e-commerce outlet to sell your goods and services is an example of leveraging an ecosystem collaborative mechanism. This in turns up whole new business models to exploit.

The Exponential Benefits of Digital Transformation

While each of the factors described above, namely Extreme Automation, Autonomous Systems and Collaborative Ecosystems, are individually capable of bringing significant benefits to your operations, their synergetic combination brings in benefits on an exponential scale. Extreme Automation enables processes to be managed remotely, at scale, and adapt to real-time changes. When this automated workflow is composed of autonomous systems, they can be configured in multiple different ways, including systems that are part of the collaborative ecosystem to turn your existing business model on its head. For instance, you could set up your assembly line to take custom inputs from each customer in a phenomenon known as Mass Personalization. If until now your focus has been on producing the consumer good at scale and at minimum cost, this ability to offer a premium service at no great extra charge gives you more opportunities to engage with your customer and sell your products, and also completely redefine the customer experience. Similarly, when your industry partners are also digitally enabled, your systems could possibly combined with your partners’ systems bringing significant benefits to all stake holders. Such changes can be brought in in a rapid manner because your operations are automated, with collaborating autonomous systems operating in a collaborative partner ecosystem. A comprehensive picture of how traditional business models are transformed in the digital context is given in the accompanying image, reproduced from Deloitte Insights on Digital Industrial Transformation which can be found here.

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