A Digital Remedy for Reinvigorating Manufacturing Processes

co-authored with Meenu Sharma, Ph.D.

When you think about manufacturing, the mind goes to having “widgets” crafted, fabricated, and distributed to the right place at the right time. And no manufacturer is an island. These steps must be intensively coordinated among partners, suppliers, fabricators, shippers, retailers, and – yes customers. Yet, in the digital age – fraught with new competitive supply chain process and technology such as from the likes of Amazon, and Walmart – what’s worked well in the past is now suddenly old, creaky and unresponsive.

Embarking on digital process change can seem scary. Winning business leaders can get started by identifying process stresses that can be alleviated through digital approaches.

Our suggestion. Explore an approach that we call “digital process acupuncture.” Like the 5,000-year-old discipline of acupuncture that is based on the belief that a set of accurately placed pinpoint treatments can impact the entire body, we have found that the precise targeting of process digitization can eliminate friction points and enhance operational performance across the value chain. However, to achieve the full benefits, we recommend that business leaders adopt a customer-centric approach in which key process areas are digitized such that the remedial benefits ripple across the value chain.

Taking a process view of things, manufacturers are more reliant on their extended partnerships than ever before. Leading thinkers like Gary Vee are weighing in, making the case that pressure from below the supply chain, and pressure above from retailers means that inaction is simply, not acceptable.

And partnerships should not be limited to conventional industry players. Technology companies are also entering the manufacturing floor and disrupting traditional, not-as –yet-digitized manufacturing plants. For example, Google is developing an operating system for robots (similar in concept to the Google Play store for Android devices) to foster low cost interoperation of platforms across various industries through artificial intelligence. Another example: A German industrial robotics company – Kuka – entered a deal with Hyuawei to build a global network of robots across many factories by leveraging IoT, big data, wireless connectivity powered with artificial intelligence and deep learning for growth and process agility.

Use Digital Process Acupuncture to Extend Precision to Cyber/Physical Systems

A variety of autonomous and semi-autonomous systems, from 3-D printing, sensors, and robots, are converging to form an integral part of enterprise business architecture. The new automated systems, in concert with manned systems, create new outcomes by better integrating the process value chain through digital approaches. Robots and other autonomic systems are working alongside humans in modern manufacturing floors rather than contained in “just designed for robots” floors. A great example is the Tesla factory, where Artificial Intelligence is applied to analyze huge swaths of complex data to make quick decisions and identify patterns without any human intervention. All of this results in a digital enterprise where manufacturers integrate machines, data and people to create something more powerful than the sum of their parts. With the potent cocktail of advanced machinery working in concert with skilled human labor as part of business architecture, any business process decision made without considering all process constituents is unlikely to generate superior process performance.

Witness the product lifecycle management (PLM) process – the new Maserati Ghibli is manufactured in state-of-the-art manufacturing process on a production line created specifically for this car – right from the stage where components are drafted digitally to tested virtually before they are actually manufactured.

Digital Process Acupuncture: Unlocks New Productivity Gains and Improves Revenues While Saving Money

Robots, machine learning, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, IoT ... these are among the buzz words associated with process change. Effectively they point to the same theme ... processes are becoming digital, instrumented, analyzed, and increasingly operated by smart machines and code rather than humans.

New research from the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work highlights digital process change, on average, propels top and bottom-line results by more than 18%, which equates to true capital gain. The leading benefits cited by respondents were related to improving value chains surrounding customer-facing and front-office functions. In fact, well over half of our survey respondents said digital process initiatives have resulted in significant or high levels of process value chain integration.

In the context of a business process, the end-to-end value chain is critical, but the biggest opportunity to spark positive change lies in applying a targeted digital remedy to close the gap between the organization and its customers. C-suite leaders must begin to evaluate how the impact of digital process change can ripple through the value chain — or risk missing out on a powerful new method for enhancing customer loyalty and improving operational efficiency to drive top- and bottom-line performance.

Remember: existing intelligent automation approaches merely speed existing “as-is” processes and doesn’t change the process DNA. Real change — digital change — means not just automating processes but using digital change to totally obliterate legacy sub-processes that get in the way of re-thinking better ways of work. Put more simply: Don’t just “automate,” obviate — with digital process acupuncture.

To learn more, read the white paper “Digital Process Acupuncture: How Small Changes Can Heal Business, and Spark Big Results”.