UK manufacturing is experiencing its fastest rate of growth since early 2008, resulting in a rise in output and a certain degree of excitement among economists and manufacturers. Yet, UK businesses could still be seen as a long way from competing with the world’s production powerhouses, such as China.
One of the secrets to long-term success and reaching full production capacity can be found in incorporating innovative technology into production methods. Recent findings from the MIT Centre for Business show that companies which have embraced digital transformation are 26 percent more profitable than their average industry competitors and enjoy a 12 percent higher market valuation.
However, digital transformation can be an incredibly complex process. With that in mind, here are five key steps companies need to take to prepare for a successful digital transformation journey.
1. Align your business transformation strategy to your business goals
A massive 96 percent of companies see digital transformation as important or critical to their development. However, to avoid investing in new technology for the sake of it, or because you feel you should, it is essential that businesses identify where technology change is needed most.
Start by assessing your overall business goals and ask what objectives your business wants to achieve in the short, medium, and long-term. Then ask what technology will help achieve those goals. For example, it might be that your primary focus is to expand into new markets quickly, in which case it might be sensible to hold off on that AI investment you’ve been planning, and instead make sure you have a solid cloud infrastructure that can support your mission-critical processes from multiple locations.
2. Invest in the right technologies
Digital transformation means different things to different businesses and certainly, heavy spending alone is not going to guarantee success. The Aberdeen Group has identified three digitalisation technologies that have the potential to impact operations–the Internet of Things (IoT) because of its ability to provide operational intelligence, the cloud for its scalability, and big data analytics, which can transform data into predictive and actionable insights.
But there’s no one size fits all. According to our research, 19 percent of manufacturers are planning to invest in inventory management, 18 percent cloud, big data and customer relationship management, and 17 percent are planning a mobile technology implementation.
There are multiple options, and businesses must ensure that they are investing in the technologies that are right for them. While one business may see immediate benefits from implementing cloud infrastructure, a manufacturer operating out of just one facility might want to look at other options first. For example, they might instead see more immediate ROI from keeping data on-premises, but implementing an ERP solution that uses big data to track orders against stock and supply chain information in real-time. However, if they choose right, their ERP technology should be flexible enough to accommodate growth and an eventual move into the cloud.
3. Ensure buy-in from key stakeholders within your business
After you’ve identified how digital transformation can support your business goals, now is the time to bring stakeholders on board because successful digital transformation strategies change how businesses work. They impact people’s jobs, how they complete tasks, and also how they work together.
Unfortunately, for many businesses, engaging with stakeholders is easier said than done. According to a recent Interoute study, 51 percent of UK IT leaders struggle to get executive sign-off on their transformation strategies.
However, staff from the boardroom and beyond need to feel they have a personal and professional stake in the changes being made. Helping them understand the reason for the business’s investment will make it easier to overcome any potential resistance to new processes. This is particularly important when digital technologies are being implemented to automate tasks that are otherwise completed by staff members, or when it might not be immediately obvious how an investment will deliver ROI.
4. Turn insight into action
Businesses today are collecting more data than ever, but simply amassing vast amounts of information as a result of digital transformation, is not enough. The key lies in being able to use insights effectively, to guide change or identify new revenue streams.
The latest data analytics suites can provide businesses with crucial information about customer trends and predictions, or information about how products are performing. Some businesses are already using this sort of data, to turn insights into action.
For example, UK manufacturer of fasteners and latches, Southco, has optimised the assembly line in its smart factory in Worcester. Intelligence from the Epicor Mattec MES system demonstrated the business was only benefiting from 20 percent utilisation of its static assembly lines. Many products were previously only assembled on their own ‘exclusive’ assembly benches. However, once it was highlighted that in some cases a bench would only be used for eight hours a month, Southco deployed semi-automated plug and play assembly machines which are now used for multi-assembly tasks. This has pushed average bench utilisation up to 60 percent.
5. Continually reassess your digital strategy
Understand that digital transformation is a journey that is never complete. New technologies are being launched all of the time—from robots that complete tasks on the production line quicker than humans, to machines that can fix equipment problems without intervention. All of these bring with them multiple possibilities for UK manufacturers.
As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change”. This applies to more than just the natural world. It is just as true for manufacturers in the current UK economy.
It’s important to therefore constantly adapt your digital transformation strategy to new possibilities, reassess your journey, and question your rate of digital change—does it match up to your customer expectations? How does it stack up against your business goals? If these change, perhaps your technology should too.
Adapting to the digital world can be a challenging undertaking, however there are plenty of online resources that can help you along the journey. An international study by Epicor shows that two-in-five industry professionals agree that digital transformation will offer them strong opportunities for growth in the future—proving that the benefits at stake outweigh the costs.
Innovative enterprise resource planning solutions (ERP) solutions, combined with Industry 4.0 developments, are already helping to automate production lines, streamline supply chains, and provide the intelligent data manufacturers need to react quickly to changing consumer demands. For UK businesses to take a place among the world’s production leaders, deploying advanced technology to drive manufacturing efficiency is going to be the way forward.
Terri Hiskey is the Vice President of Global Product Marketing for Manufacturing at Epicor