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Gartner’s insights on Smart Manufacturing and Connected Workforce

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57% of manufacturing leaders feel their organization lacks skilled workers to support smart manufacturing digitization plans.

This statistic was obtained from Gartner’s ‘smart manufacturing strategy and implementation trends survey’ conducted at the end of 2020. Gartner, the ‘world’s leading research and advisory company,’ arrived at this figure by interviewing 439 manufacturing leaders from both sides of the Atlantic. The result highlights a peculiar challenge of digitization and the full report provides valuable insights on the collective state of digital transformation in the manufacturing industry.

Reflecting on the result was the vice president analyst of the Gartner Supply Chain practice, Simon Jacobson. In this article, we examined some of Mr. Jacobson’s thoughts and expound on how leaders across manufacturing can learn from his ideas to avoid mistakes during their own digitalization process.

On manufacturing’s digitization challenge

‘Our survey revealed that manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitization journey toward smart manufacturing. They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency, and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills. A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.’

Our two key takeaways from Mr. Jacobson’s above statement are the need for manufacturers to:

  1. Create (and nurture) a data-driven workforce
  2. Bridge the skill gap across both spectrums of this workforce – empowering the new workers to gain factory know-how and the tenured workers to gain digital skills

No matter how much raw data digital transformation provides, if workers cannot comprehend it (derive information) and translate this into business impact, gathering data becomes pointless. Data literacy programs are critical to the success of digital transformation initiatives. This way, workers increase competence to manage data from field assets and obtain insights from which decisions can be made.

Also, a great deal of skill transfer can be accomplished by scheduling more integrated collaboration between new and tenured workers. This will instigate practical, hands-on ‘training’ so that these groups can learn from each other. Digitalization bears an advantage here as it provides a means to enrich the quality and effectiveness of training procedures.

On whether manufacturers fully grasp the scope of digitization

“It’s interesting to see that leadership commitment is frequently cited as not being a challenge. Across all respondents, 83% agree that their leadership understands and accepts the need to invest in smart manufacturing. However, it does not reflect whether or not the majority of leaders understand the magnitude of change in front of them – regarding technology, as well as talent.”

While many leaders acknowledge the necessity of digital transformation, they may not really understand just how big a change is required. In reality, digital transformation is a massive venture into a known unknown. Yes, the end goal (having been outlined at the outset) is known and may cut across improving agility, streamlining operations, and/ or use technological capabilities to empower workers to perform tasks safer, productively, and effectively. But underneath the known, are several unknowns that can easily sink the transformation process. These unknowns, gathered from other businesses’ experience include: potential worker resistance, botched recruitment, doing too much too soon, or falling into a technology-operation maze – where operational areas are not improved with digital technologies or employed technologies are inconsistent with the business’s growth strategies.

Effective change management, based on knowledge of what can go wrong, is crucial in digital transformation.

On what organizations should do

“The most immediate action is for organizations to realize that this is more than digitization. It requires synchronizing activities for capability building, capability enablement, and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making.”

Digitalization – despite its wide importance and application – exists for workers, and not the other way round. The core purpose of which is not to tick a box in a business’s development column, but first and foremost, to empower workers with helpful modern tools – and enhance capacity so that they can utilize these tools. But while new workers may be receptive to this ‘empowerment’, older workers may not be as open to change.

Regardless, they play a significant role in bedding in change, and part of the management’s strategy should be to convince these workers of the importance of digital transformation, seek to collaborate with, and engage them throughout the process.

On silos and long-term projections

“It’s great when workers use digital tools to build their own experiences, and in turn improve productivity. It’s the manufacturing leaders’ job to make sure to minimize the risk of shadow IT and ensure that digital knowledge is shared among factory workers,”

By shadow IT, Mr. Jacobson refers to projects performed in silo i.e., that are managed without the knowledge or input of the IT department. Puzzlingly, division of labor, the same concept that enhances productivity is also what breeds organizational and operational silos. For expertise focus and productivity, management will usually split workers into groups and assign roles consistent with their qualifications. Naturally, team members will build trust and gravitate toward group members in a display of professional allegiance – the starting post for a silo mentality.

For this reason, the focus should not merely be to overcome silos as it is to create an environment where interdepartmental collaboration is easy. Workers should be encouraged to build professional relationships beyond their departments and management can foster these relationships by setting cross-functional ‘service’ as a yardstick for promotion. The company’s vision should be clear and the role each department plays in maximizing digital knowledge should be clarified and celebrated.

Moreover, ‘liaison officers’ can also be staffed (or assigned) roles where the job description will simply be to stimulate knowledge-sharing, communication, and collaboration across teams in the organization.

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