Siemens’ Andrew Macleod writes about the level of accelerated digital transformation currently taking place and what it means for companies.
The rapid spread of Covid-19 forced almost every aspect of modern society to transition into the virtual space. Work, commerce, entertainment, social interactions and more shifted to virtual platforms as people sought to maintain connection despite a pressing need to remain physically distant. This physical-to-digital transformation has been marked by challenge, uncertainty and adaptation, but also some surprising benefits.
In many cases, communication in the professional and private world has become more frequent, leading to stronger relationships between colleagues, teams, friends and families, no matter your professional role. Siemens’ deputy CEO, Roland Busch, wrote in a recent LinkedIn post: “One of the benefits of life in lockdown is that I have more time to connect with colleagues and customers, now that I spend less time traveling.”
New connections have also been formed through this increase in virtual collaboration, allowing people to exchange ideas, collaborate or just have fun with colleagues and friends alike. Both professionally and personally, many people have been surprised to discover the positive contributions digital technologies can make to their lives.
This has even been true for those who were experiencing ‘digital fatigue’ before the pandemic. Between social media seemingly creating more division than unity, trolls stoking controversy for sport and the ubiquity of misinformation online, many of us were ready to unplug before the coronavirus struck. Yet, spurred along by necessity, most of us are online more than ever and using familiar technologies in new ways.
‘A clear digital transformation strategy is critical, no matter whether the catalyst is a global health crisis or the new local competitor’
Much the same holds true about the impact of a digital mindset in business and industry during the time of Covid-19. Companies that were further along the path towards digitalisation have fared better as they weather the coronavirus storm. These companies had digital tools on hand that they have been able to adapt and use to support effective remote work. Some companies, for example, have been able to use advanced modelling tools and virtual reality to create shared virtual design studios, allowing designers to collaborate as if they were in the same room.
A clear digital transformation strategy, strong organisational commitment and employee support are critical, no matter whether the catalyst is a global health crisis or the new local competitor. Such a strategy should outline all the aspects of the digital transformation and factors critical to its success. These may include the process to be improved, technologies to be implemented and the software solutions necessary to support the transformation. But they also need to consider the people behind the processes, domains, disciplines and departments.
Enabling connection and collaboration
We talk a lot about integrating engineering and process domains, data continuity etc, but we often forget to acknowledge the people involved. Indeed, a big thrust of our strategy is to focus on human-centred innovation. Engineering domains are made up of people all working hard and doing their job to the best of their abilities.
Connecting these various people can be especially difficult, leading to the often discussed ‘silos’ between engineering disciplines, process domains (design, manufacturing etc) and organisations, which hamper product development and optimisation. As in any family, communication between members of the same organisation or team is critical. Innovation is increasingly found at the intersections of engineering domains, but these domains have traditionally been steeped in different languages. Creating a common internal language is, therefore, another part of the collaboration challenge.
It’s also about forging these new connections externally, between customers, suppliers, software vendors and more. Collaboration among these various organisations has long been a necessity, but a difficult part of the product development and manufacturing process. These organisations each have unique processes, methodologies, data formats and more that must be negotiated during communication and collaboration with a partner company.
By supporting the people involved with better collaboration tools, much of the headache can be removed. The result is not just better products, but strengthened customer-supplier relationships, and more rapid innovation for societal benefit.
Digital transformation facilitates this collaboration by giving the engineers, designers, product managers and more a common vocabulary that serves as a mutual medium of communication, with which they can exchange information and ideas conveniently and quickly.
Furthermore, robust digitalisation allows new information and ideas to be incorporated directly into product or production designs without translation by the engineer responsible. Data is presented in a way that makes sense to people of all disciplines and roles, through intuitive interfaces that support insight and decision-making rather than cause fatigue.
This allows a company to synchronise product and production design, factory planning, manufacturing and even the product in the field. This level of synchronisation allows companies to leverage data from throughout the product lifecycle to optimise its design, production and utilisation in the real world.
In fact, data collected during real-world use can even be reincorporated into the design of the product or production processes, enabling faster and more responsive optimisations or updates to fix issues. And once again, this all comes back to the creation of new connections between individuals, teams and departments.
Digital transformation drives competitive advantage
Now, more than ever, finding ways to reinforce the ability of your company to do business in spite of external forces is crucial to conducting business and beating competitors. Today, that may mean reconfiguring manufacturing facilities to comply with social distancing requirements. Tomorrow, it could mean incorporating new technologies to meet demand for sustainable, customisable products.
Companies of all sizes and in all industries have been forced to undertake major change in a very short amount of time. As a result of this disruption, competitive advantage will be redistributed, with those who most fully embrace digital enterprise technologies winning out. The most important thing is to be proactive now to secure a better position for your business tomorrow.
Andrew Macleod is the director of strategic marketing and branding at Siemens Digital Industries Software.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Siemens blog.