Digital transformation is gaining steam in manufacturing. The digital technologies that enable it, from design to production to sustainment throughout a product’s lifetime, are now well-proven. The only question is how do you best achieve this vision? What is the best measure of success? And how do these initiatives continue forward to continue to drive value to the bottom line? My suggestion to you is this: In the end, the success of your program will be determined by user acceptance. If new processes “stick” that drive new value, higher performance, and employee engagement then count your program as a success!
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As you investigate new technologies, it is always a great idea to not forget the most important factor – your employees and end-users. After all, they will be the ones who interact with this technology daily. Do they have an intuitive experience? Do they want to use it? Can it be deployed, maintained, and updated easily? The number one reason for project overruns is the lack of “real” end-user involvement.
The issue of incorporating end user acceptance in Manufacturing Execution Systems is even more important with today’s new generation of workers who have come of age with digital technology. Studies show that these “digital natives” comprise around half of today’s workforce and will continue to grow in the years ahead.
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Five Factors to Measure Success of Your Digital Transformation Program
Here are several obvious and not-so-obvious factors that can have a big influence on whether your employees will embrace the new technology that is given to them for a digital transformation.
- Intuitive and Standardized UIs. This is an obvious one, but essential. Users these days expect the same, intuitive experience regardless of the device. A web-based HMI framework will help you maintain a standardized user interface that workers will always find familiar. This also makes it easier for you to create and support applications without worrying about which devices people are using – or will be using next year.
- Out-of-the-box Capabilities. You want any new software deployment to go smoothly and the users to jump in and start producing. That applies to your IT staff as well as end-user employees. This argues for choosing a technology solution with robust out-of-the-box capabilities, which can then significantly reduce your IT burden and deliver the solution faster. One caveat: if you go this route, make sure the solution has the real functionality you need, including specific capabilities, integration links, and reporting tools. It’s easy for vendors to claim out-of-the-box functionality, so make sure they can deliver it.
- Low-code Configuration. As good as an out-of-the-box solution may be, you probably won’t want to be locked into the standard capabilities forever, or for every user. Chances are, you’ll want a solution that has strong developer tools, in case you need to customize. A growing number of software vendors offer built-in Software Developer Kits (SDK) that enable low-code configuration for creating custom user interfaces and APIs. These can be used by IT to quickly customize where needed, or even by power users or “citizen developers” who want to do their own customizing.
- Keeping up to Date. Information technology never stops changing. New devices, applications, links, fixes, and expansions all require regular updates to your software. In the not-too-distant future, you will need to choose between staying with your out-of-date version that no longer satisfies your users or undergoing a major update that may disrupt everyone. This very issue is one of the reasons behind the growing popularity of a microservices-based architecture that allow updates and new features to be easily added or modified as often as needed.
- Leveraging the Industrial IoT. Everything in the factory today has intelligence built into it, from the equipment on the production line to the pallets on the shipping dock. All these things produce vast amounts of data that decision-makers could use to improve operations—but only if they can harness it. This requires a robust Manufacturing Execution System (MES) backbone to capture it, and a Manufacturing Intelligence (MI) tool to analyze and understand it. While you can plug a generic Business Intelligence (BI) tool into an MES, it won’t always give you the manufacturing insights you need. MI tools are manufacturing-specific, integrating with live manufacturing data, and have the relevant KPIs already built-in. There’s a lot of data available in your factories. Your users will be far more satisfied if you can deliver it to them.
I have only scratched the surface on this topic of digital transformation. The design of the user interface itself, its ability to adapt to company and user cultures, its language support, and the technical features are all factors that play a role in user acceptance. That is why it’s wise to consider one more thing to ensure user acceptance and satisfaction: include user representatives on your technology review committee! After all, your users are going to tell you what they want – either before you invest in the technology, or after!