CEME champions digital transformation for the ‘mighty middle’ SMEs

Bill Williams, Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence (CEME), and Paul Calver, Data Analysis Bureau, outline the vital role Digital Transformation Champions can play.

UK manufacturers are faced with a massive opportunity – if we can implement comprehensive digital transformation strategies faster, our gains in productivity, quality and ultimately sustainable profit performance may grow higher than international competitors who are already ahead of us.

It has been recognised for some time that there is a shortage of skilled engineers and technicians in the industry. Indeed The Manufacturer’s Annual Manufacturing Report 2020 (The Manufacturer/PwC) highlights that many remain sceptical of the educational system’s ability to produce the skilled young people manufacturers really need.

But what skills are required and who should be trained?

There is a call for digital manufacturing skills but little has been said on exactly what skills are required. Deloitte, in its 2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Skills Gap and Future of Work Study, highlighted five key skills needed to succeed in the fourth industrial revolution. A key element is critical thinking and creativity, currently in decline as proven by the dwindling take-up of the Design & Technology GCSE over the last 10 years in favour of the restricted ‘academic’ curriculum being pushed by government.


Source Deloitte analysis_The Manufacturing Institute skills gap and future of work study


However, what we have found is that there is a significant knowledge gap in understanding how to work with digital tools and techniques and thus leveraging the digital toolbox (‘Working with Tools and Techniques’ as referred to by Deloitte).

Paul Calver, Chairman and CFO of CEME’s artificial intelligence and machine learning partner, the Data Analysis Bureau, says:

“The first thing manufacturers want to know is what can machine learning do for them. They are unaware of its power. While many manufacturers are now familiar with 3D printing and robotics few know about the holistic suite of digital techniques and tools available to them and how to integrate these to create a factory of the future.”

Adopting a digital strategy

That said, there are major players in the UK who are already well on their way on that journey, or at least are some way ahead of their supply chains.

What about those supply chains, those SME manufacturers who are referred to here as the mighty middle? Thousands of UK manufacturing, engineering and innovation enterprises creating and delivering value but how are they doing in adopting digital strategies? Slowly, if the press report and articles on UK productivity are accurate.

Why? Easy question to ask, multi-faceted answer. It is not uncommon to find that the CEO/MD/owner of these mighty middle enterprises are behind in their knowledge of modern technologies. Many were brought up in the chalkboard era and do not have that natural affinity with digital technologies you tend to find with millennials.

If a business today wants to truly adopt an enterprise-wide digital strategy that incorporates individual excellence across and between the constituent parts of the organisation, it needs a 5-year digital vision, targets, budgets and plans as well as an executive sponsor or board leader to provide the momentum to allow this to happen.”

At CEME we work with hundreds of senior leaders in the UK mighty middle. My observation is that in many of those organisations there are pockets of digital development, sometimes excellence, but rarely a fully joined-up strategy of enterprise-wide adoption. As we know, this is where the game changing productivity gains can so often be.

What is the barrier?

Confidence! Leaders in their 40s and 50s today can impressively articulate the benefits of digital, but they also need to ensure someone is in a position of budget control and board influence to fully comprehend the art of the possible and pursue a strategy – a Digital Transformation Champion (DTC).

If we can accelerate that now, the gains can be massive. If not, there may be a 10-20 year wait until folk with that confidence arrive in the boardroom. We must not wait.

CEME Digital Programme

CEME has undertaken significant research in this area and is developing an accredited training and development programme aimed at educating at board level the art of the possible, then creating Digital Transformation Champions within organisations that have an in-depth knowledge of the digital tools available to them, how they can be implemented and how to plan and execute a digital transformation road map.

CEME is in discussions with a number of industry sponsors and partners to support the launch of the CEME Digital programme later in 2021. The vision is to provide a high quality, predominately online learning and information programme, for business owners and leaders in the manufacturing and engineering sectors who are keen to grasp the opportunity now, to give them the confidence and tools for the effective implementation of an enterprise-wide digital strategy and all the benefits this will bring.

More information from CEME www.ceme.co.uk and the Data Analysis Bureau www.T-DAB.com


Bill Williams Chief Executive, CEME

Bill Williams is Chief Executive, Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence (CEME)