Digital Breakthrough: accelerating productivity growth without betting the company

Steven Barr and Ravi Gidoomal reflect on experiences at the front line of digital, with SME manufacturers and their customers, and discuss the importance of collaboration.

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Your people are the real experts in your business – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Are you struggling to make the business case add up for digital technologies? Maybe you see the potential but the reality of business-as-usual means “project digital” is on hold.

The customer may be king but cash flow has more day-to-day influence on what you do. You are not alone.

We have been privileged to work with many ambitious companies and to see them grow. Looking from the outside in, we’ve seen how they can use digital technologies in ways that make good business sense for their particular situations and opportunities.

And as we’ve come to know them better we’ve seen how the most powerful force can be marshalled to maximise return on digital investment – people.

These are the workers, suppliers and customers, together with technologists prepared to take a broad view of what’s best for the business and all that it values.

The digital power of the people

It may seem unlikely that people hold the key to digital manufacturing. After all, people are not robots, they don’t have artificial intelligence and they are not 100% reliable.

But the people who know the business and its markets best are exactly what’s needed to establish the vision, the roadmap and the business case foundations for productivity-led growth enabled by the right use of digital at the right time.

This article first appeared in the July issue of The Manufacturer magazine. Click here to subscribe

Our focus as EDGE Digital Manufacturing is on helping these people – the real experts in your business – to collaborate for the success of your business and your partners.

But surely too many cooks spoil the broth? How can collaboration be efficient and effective? Consider three manufacturing teams on their journeys towards maximising value from digital technologies.

Accelerating progress from Digital Observer to Digital Pathfinder to Digital Trailblazer

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‘Digital Observers’ have heard about the potential benefits but lack the time and the cash to investigate more deeply. On their side they have people in the workforce who are eager to learn, and perhaps are already proficient with personal digital devices.

But without a way of channelling enthusiasm into value-adding innovation they are in danger of remaining on the inside looking out as their rivals get ahead. Government-backed programmes for SMEs, such as Made Smarter, recognise the importance of converting Digital Observers into Digital Pathfinders and beyond.

“We understand that businesses are somewhat afraid of change and of losing control but Made Smarter is about helping business-owners and decision-makers understand the opportunities,” said Donna Edwards, director, Made Smarter North West Pilot.


‘Digital Pathfinders’ have made sense of the digital landscape for their business and have developed a clear vision for what they want to achieve. They have a roadmap for getting there with the help of appropriate digital technologies. They are managing risks appropriately and already achieving quick wins, growing in confidence, and investing in projects with a strong business case.

“We recognise the power of digital to keep us ahead in our industry, and it is our people who will lead the drive by putting customers at the core of our digital culture,” said Rob Taylor, general manager, Pym and Wildsmith, a specialist industrial finishing and coating company.


‘Digital Trailblazers’ are the exemplars of digital manufacturing. They are the subjects of our case studies and awards. Most importantly, they are productive and profitable. But don’t be fooled: they are not all operating “smart factories”.

Digital Trailblazers maximise the value of digital technologies for their business, following their Digital Roadmap and achieving their Digital Vision.

And they don’t stop at the first peak. Once a Digital Trailblazer, always a Digital Trailblazer with continuous challenge and renewal of plans to suit emerging opportunities that become visible from the digital highlands.


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Making digital strategic

Government funding is once again a serious force for SME productivity and growth. The North West Pilot of Made Smarter is quickly getting up to speed. Innovate UK has a rolling programme of innovation funding including REACH, available through the Manufacturing Technology Centre.

Constituent country and regional programmes are numerous. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is being shaped by industry to address priorities including supply chain connectivity and productivity.

All of this welcome – if fragmented – state support for digital manufacturing only makes a difference if SMEs see the sustainable, managed pathway to a return on their digital investment. Few of you want to bet on the company to get there.

Many are the routes to success using digital technology. Some are well-worn, using familiar technologies.

Yours will be specific to your markets, customers, people, operations, products and services. What’s your own roadmap to maximum digital value? How will your people and partners navigate the challenges ahead? How will you manage the risks and scale the summits of business opportunity.

To help answer these questions we developed EDGE Digital Breakthrough, a highly effective and affordable service to accelerate you in the right direction and make digital strategic in your future success.

EDGE Digital Breakthrough

By collaborating with manufacturers large and small we’ve refined our EDGE Digital Breakthrough service and proven its value. Thanks to you the service is short, sharp and resolute in helping SMEs to break through from their internally-focused experience to an outward-looking cross-business vision, roadmap and business case for a digitally-enhanced manufacturing future.

Each of the parts of the EDGE Digital Breakthrough service is designed to accelerate teams of your people from Digital Observers to Digital Pathfinders to Digital Trailblazer.

Digital Insights are an essential starting point to understand your potential to be more productive and grow your business with digital.

Combining data from freeto-use tools, such as those from DRLTool.org, KTN 4Manufacturing, Scottish MAS Manufacturing 4.0 and WMG Supply Chains in Practice, together with independent research on financial capacity and future developments, we can diagnose and benchmark your digital readiness and identify quick wins and development priorities to get you going in the right direction.

A Digital Vision is founded on a crossbusiness perspective on the issues you are facing and the goals you want to achieve, and creates a collaborative view of how targeted use of digital technologies could drive your business forward.

Collaboration is the key

Collaboration is the key. Common problems are identified and synergistic solutions created between leaders from all parts of your business. Fitting the short workshop into busy schedules of people who might not otherwise interact in this way means there’s an immediate benefit in team spirit.

A Digital Roadmap turns your Digital Vision into a coherent plan for action across the vital aspects of your business, from leadership to culture to technology to systems to processes to partnerships to workforce to finances. Once again collaboration is the key, with the real experts in your business (workers and partners) identifying where digital technologies will make a difference.

Quick wins are set up, and the Digital Roadmap is your pathway to business value and return on investment from digital technologies. Just as importantly we’ve helped companies avoid setting off in the wrong direction and making expensive mistakes.

Digital Buy-in

Digital Buy-in is about gaining commitment to the Digital Roadmap, making sure the leaders in your business are building the initiative in all aspects, and getting corporate sign-off on the business case for investment of time and money. This is a true test of the strength of collaboration that has accelerated cross-business engagement to this point and your readiness to press on and maximise your business results with digital.

That’s Digital Breakthrough. We don’t stop there, because you don’t stop on your digital journey. Let us help you to accelerate from Digital Observer to Digital Pathfinder to Digital Trailblazer. Our Digital Breakthrough service is short, sharp, easy to fit in to schedules, delivers quick wins and avoids expensive diversions.

Above all Digital Breakthrough gets you on the road to long term success and business value – without betting the company!

EDGE Digital Manufacturing is the advisory services partner of The Manufacturer and an accredited solution provider of the Digital Readiness Level Tool. We can help you make sense of the digital landscape and find the right way forward for your business.

Why not take the free Digital Readiness Level Tool benchmark assessment and book a complimentary 1-2-1 call at info@edge-digital.co.uk to discuss the findings with us?

Follow us on LinkedIn to learn more about how we are helping suppliers, makers and their customers to make their digital breakthrough.

Dr Steven Barr is a chartered engineer and expert at turning manufacturing business strategy into tangible results. He is managing director of the not-for-profit community interest company DRL-Tool.org

Ravi Gidoomal is an experienced banker and management consultant who is focused on implementing growth strategies.