As any company that has undertaken a digital transformation knows from sometimes painful experience, transitioning to the digital model of manufacturing includes overcoming many obstacles. Over the last several years, MLC research has revealed that dealing with legacy systems, keeping abreast of new technologies, and developing return-on-investment models for digital manufacturing expenditures are among the most important challenges manufacturers say they face in their Manufacturing 4.0 journeys.
There are several cultural and organizational issues that manufacturers must sort through as well. After all, digital transformation should not be thought of as just another technology project; it is an undertaking the entirety of the organization must be involved with since it will inevitably change nearly every aspect of how work is conducted, how products are built, and, perhaps most importantly, how power and authority flows in a company.
This aspect of an M4.0 journey – the internal organizational dynamics – was highlighted in a recent MLC Master Class Executive Interview program with NTT DATA, an MLC member company. The program centered on a new survey called “The Road to Industry 4.0” produced by NTT DATA and Oxford Economics. In a question-and-answer session I had with Baskar Radhakrishnan, NTT DATA’s Strategic Advisor for Manufacturing, I asked Mr. Radhakrishnan what he thought were the most important challenges faced by manufacturers as they attempt to get underway with M4.0. He didn’t hesitate: “A lack of unified leadership alignment.”
Why is it so difficult sometimes to get key stakeholders on the same page regarding a strategic move like a digital transformation? In some companies, I think it simply could be that not everyone clearly understands the goals and benefits of such an undertaking. But I also think part of the answer can be found in the words of that question. Digital transformations, by their nature, can indeed be strategic, meaning that they could involve a fundamental or major change in the direction of a company. And the word transform – which means “to change in condition, nature, or character” – clearly signals that what came before may not continue ahead.
As we all know and may have experienced in our own business lives, change can be hard and even frightening when patterns of work or even job roles change. And at the executive level, the often-unmentioned additional elements of power and prestige can come into play. One can role-play typical questions: ‘How will a digital transformation affect my area of expertise and control and my career path?’ ‘I have many years in manufacturing, but do I have enough understanding of digital to continue to contribute or will I become obsolete?’ ‘How can I be sure that the company will continue to be successful after a digital transformation?’
Add into this mix the still relatively early stage the industry is in with regards to codifying the payback and benefits of digital transformation and it is not hard to understand why some executives, including those long in place in their careers and jobs, may still have questions or even hesitancy about a strategy that transforms.
Nevertheless, the unified leadership alignment cited by Mr. Radhakrishnan not only needs to be done but can be done if manufacturing leadership takes the right steps and follows through. My interpretation of this is that leadership needs to work hard to clearly formulate and articulate the vision, goals, and objectives of a digital transformation to everyone in the organization, especially the leadership team which will ultimately be charged with carrying the message and developing the strategy and planning needed to see a transformation through to a successful conclusion. This involves a whole gamut of work, from envisioning a new and better business end state enabled by digital transformation to how a transformation can benefit the individual employee. And leadership needs to be open and transparent about the challenges along the way even as those challenges are being defined as the journey proceeds.
Obviously, this is quite an undertaking for leadership, requiring great reservoirs of stamina and persistence. After all, digital transformation isn’t an option anymore. It’s a business necessity if a company wants to not only survive but thrive in the years ahead. And that may be all the motivation a manufacturer needs to press head.
For an additional resource and further insights, access to the recent NTT DATA and Oxford Research study can be found here: