Digital Transformation - Overcoming the Pain Points

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Author - Dr. C. S S Bharathy
Founder - Fusion VR
Certified Industry 4.0 Professional

Publication - Industrial Automation India
Date - July 01, 2021

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Read From Source: Industrial Automation India

What are the factors that make companies wary about digitalisation in their plants?

Companies tend to be wary when they are unsure about the benefits that digitalisation brings about. It needs to be quantified and a payback period clearly indicated. It is critical that companies have a champion within the organisation to explain to all levels of leadership the pros and cons of any digitalisation project. Another factor is obtaining the required funding from approved budgets. The investment could be significant for companies without the necessary infrastructure in place to take advantage of such digitalisation opportunities. Another factor is about starting from scratch and mobilising an experienced workforce to implement and manage a high technology project. This requires significant financial commitment to execute, operate and maintain such initiatives. Unionised companies worry about handling employee unrest should this lead to job cuts or layoffs. Companies are also wary if there exists a gap in their domain knowledge that makes the organisation vulnerable to exploitation from commercial, life-cycle, security scenarios. Companies are also concerned that digitalisation could make them vulnerable to cyberattacks and service disruptions. Finally, leaders think about the existing culture within the organisations and their ability to embrace such disruptive change and at the same time ensure that customers, suppliers and employees remain unaffected.

How can companies ensure their digital transformation succeeds? What measures do they need to put in place?

Here are six things that companies need to do to succeed:

Stakeholder Engagement – The IT department and the end-user department need to identify all stakeholders and how they would be impacted

Charter and Implementation Strategy – Develop a documented charter with the scope, goals, resources requirements and execution plan.

Expert Partners – Identify and deploy experienced digitalisation partners who also have the necessary industry/end-user function background. Hand-holding during implementation and technical support is crucial to success

Phased Implementation – Begin with a pilot project, scale up gradually and have a step-by-step approach with well-defined deliverables and milestones.

KPIs and RoI – Ensure the RoI is calculated and well understood by leadership. Key Performance Indicators need to be determined for each phase of the project and tracked regularly. Leadership needs to monitor performance and execution teams need to be held accountable for quality, cost and schedule.

Project Assessment and Continuous Improvement – The post-project assessment of digitalisation projects is important. There will be teething challenges and champions need to be assigned to help the project sail through choppy waters. Benefits need to be quantified and used as a basis for future projects. Companies also need to ensure they stay abreast of technological developments and implement the latest and most appropriate technologies in their projects to maximise future benefits.

What are the common mistakes companies make while embracing digital transformation and how can these be avoided?

It is not uncommon to see companies making mistakes during the adoption of digital transformation initiatives.

Firstly, they get carried away without understanding the true capabilities of the technology. Then they fail to choose the right use cases that deliver the maximum benefit for their organisation. Proper selection of use cases is essential for quantifying and tracking RoI accurately.

Secondly, they fail to engage the right digitalisation partners. Such decisions may be driven by cost considerations that often lead to choosing inexperienced partners for conceptualisation, scope development and execution. This is sometimes amplified by trying to develop in-house expertise. Companies also do not invest in analytics for insights on their existing data which facilitates the digitalisation effort with the partners.

Thirdly, companies also tend to err in not involving all stakeholders, particularly end-users at key stages of project development, execution and operations. In addition, there is less attention to knowledge transfer and training for effective utilisation of the digital tools.

Finally, there is a misguided expectation on fast implementation and returns on investment (RoI). Quite often the preparatory work for the transformation and its implementation could take a significant investment in time and effort. This should be supported by proper capital allocation and budgetary flexibility to support necessary changes brought about by these disruptive technologies in smart manufacturing. This is essential to maximise advantage.

The world is now well into the second year of Covid disruption. How has digital transformation helped the industry during this period?

There has been an unbelievable scale of digitalisation during this Covid-19 pandemic. Some of this is largely unseen by the general public, but closely followed by industry experts. Here are the notable ones.

Realtime data collection on infected patients, available medical support and critical medical logistics is efficiently done through IoT. AI driven Covid data analytics and live dashboards have helped in quick, accurate and efficient decision making.

Critical Data collection platforms built upon Blockchain technology have ensured the trustworthiness of the information, whether it is the virus outbreak status or vaccination distribution status or pharmaceutical supply chain. With the highly transparent and immutable decentralised block chain ledger, the monitoring of a vaccine from production till patient administration is accurately tracked, including any adverse effects on the patient.

3D Printing technology effectively helps in handling the sudden and exponential increase in demand for respiratory support systems such as ventilators, valves & adopters and PPEs such as face-shields, quarantine booths, fittings and accessories.

Drones have enabled emergency medical supplies distribution, disinfection of controlled areas and the surveillance/enforcement of quarantine and lockdown rules.

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) has been widely used to spatially map contextual Covid spread and medical support related complex data with tools and dashboards to analyse relationships and patterns for effective and quick decision making.

Virtual reality (VR) Simulator Training has been implemented for better understanding of virus impact on internal organs, damages and treatment procedures for the medical fraternity.

Remote collaboration platforms and Augmented Reality (AR) wearables have enabled experts to provide support for all manufacturing industries thereby avoiding physical contact. Digital Twins has allowed owners and operators of critical assets to monitor, manage, improve, and restore with minimal physical interventions.

These developments are just the tip of an iceberg. The hidden potential of digitalisation is huge and just waiting to be utilised.

In the Indian context, despite government initiatives, the digital divide persists which risks leaving large segments of the population outside. How can these issues be addressed?

In India, only 24% of the households had internet access as of 2018, only 27% of the population have smartphones, only 4% of rural households and 23% of urban households have a computer and there are 55,000 villages without mobile network coverage. These facts tell us how big the gap is. Majority of the population is suffering from lack of information, knowledge and communication. This digital divide creates tremendous instability and inequality among citizens especially in terms of economy, medical access and education.

Education has been the most affected by this digital divide that needs tremendous focus, particularly after Covid-19 hit and with restrictive measures such as the lockdown in place. While schools in urban areas resumed online classes during the pandemic, rural and government schools were unable to offer classes for months together. The access to technology and connectivity has largely impaired rural kids and those in the economically weaker sections of society. A large portion of the students from rural and government run schools might possibly miss the opportunities for getting quality higher education. It’s hard to imagine the impact this is going to create in the next few years on higher education and the broader economy.

We do have solutions to tackle the divide we see. This gap has evolved over the past two decades and can’t be bridged overnight. But, definitely it's possible to reduce the gap with long term strategic plans. While the majority of this gap can only be filled by visionary initiatives by the government, private sectors can also be encouraged to support through their CSR activities. Government investment in education, technology and infrastructure is necessary. Government schemes to provide free laptops or Tablets for students below the poverty line will bridge that gap faster. These should not be viewed as freebies but considered as essential learning aids for kids to learn and compete in a digital world.

Internet coverage must be rapidly increased to reach every small village and town. Connectivity or free data access must be free or subsidised to improve learning access with necessary parental/school controls particularly for poor children. Online collaboration and teaching hardware, software platforms to be locally developed and supplied to schools. Teachers also have to be trained on effectively utilising them. Free online education portals with high quality e-learning courses and e-books can be created by the government education departments.

Women need to be trained in these, so that families are empowered to take advantage of government initiatives. This will also help families access information necessary to attain higher standards of healthcare. A well-informed citizenry, aware of the technology available can deploy them in any facet of life.

We need to close the divide, flatten the playing field and make digital technologies more accessible and affordable.

Dr C SS Bharathy has 25 years of professional industry experience in plant operations, consultancy, training, research & product development in Singapore and India. As a Founder of Fusion VR, he is engaged in helping Chemicals, Oil & Gas, Automotive and Manufacturing Industries excel in their Plant Operations & Safety through various Extended Reality (XR) Technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR) Technologies.

Custom Designed and Successfully Executed Virtual Reality Operator Training Simulators (VR-OTS), VR Maintenance Training Simulators, VR Safety Training Simulators, AR Maintenance Training Simulators, AR Remote Assistance Tools, MR Remote Support Modules, Immersive Digital Twin Industry 4.0 Solutions and Corporate Digital Experience Centres for various Domestic and International Clients Over the Past 10 Years.

Dr Bharathy has a Doctorate in stereoscopic 3D, and is a certified Industry 4.0 Professional and an evangelist for the adoption of Smart-Manufacturing and immersive technologies in India and internationally. He is one of India’s pioneering experts and Keynote speakers in this immersive technology field and has several impressive achievements.

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