Jonny Williamson talks to Sanjay Ravi - worldwide managing director, Discrete Manufacturing Industry, Microsoft Corporation - about how today's smart technology is helping to power the Connected Enterprise of tomorrow.
Which technologies are helping drive the idea of a “Connected Enterprise” to a reality?
Today’s advancements in sensors, devices, connectivity, machines and data insights – along with emerging capabilities like the Internet of Things (IoT) – are ushering in a new, fourth industrial revolution.
Businesses are already starting to build rich systems of intelligence using the unlimited computing capacity in the cloud and rich data platforms – what Microsoft refers to as the “Intelligent Cloud”.
Given the rise of IoT and connected devices, the Intelligent Cloud allows manufacturers to transform their business models from focusing purely on production and selling goods, to one offering ongoing manufacturing services [servitization].
This model shift is opening up a whole new era for manufacturers in terms of business opportunity.
Have manufacturers got the skills necessary to successfully leverage this era?
The move to Manufacturing 4.0 requires enabling and transforming people processes.
Leveraging modern productivity practices, manufacturers can empower every employee to drive continuous improvement, streamline factory operations, improve quality, and enhance team coordination for faster problem awareness, understanding, and resolution.
Manufacturers should explore role-based workspaces that integrate people, process, assets and insight together.
Companies are experiencing a step-change in productivity by simply connecting people to the things they do and the information they need via natural user interfaces that are key for their day-to-day role.
Because people are already working in an environment that is familiar to them, the learning curve is low, but the ROI from a connected infrastructure is enormous.
To make the transition to a fully connected, digital world, manufacturers need to completely rethink their business models and processes, particularly around how the business communicates, collaborates and surfaces actionable data to make informed decisions more quickly.
I would recommend three things for manufacturers to consider today to prepare for tomorrow:
Establish a digital mindset: capturing value requires connecting and integrating assets, processes and data. To become a digital business, companies must digitise all aspects of the business to improve efficiencies and drive improvements.
Focus on things to transform business models and add connected services: IoT enables people, processes, assets and data to be connected across the business and operations. To become a digital business, companies must connect line of business assets with other data, systems and processes in the company.
Think differently about how IT impacts business: the transformation to a digital business is beyond the scope of traditional IT. To become a digital business companies must enable operational technology and other technological innovations across the entire company, particularly within departments or processes that are closest to the customer.
To truly become a digital business, companies need to start looking at how technology will impact their business now and begin forming strategic partnerships with companies who can help them move forward.
How can industry balance the technology familiarity of the next-generation with the operational knowledge of the current workforce?
Becoming a digital business is not just about deploying technology alone, it’s about changing the business mindset and the culture so that every organisation, team and individual is empowered to do great things because of the data at their fingertips.
This means bringing together people, IT and developers to create a cultural shift that is just as important as systems and infrastructure.
Essentially it comes down to where the intelligence lies. The expertise of the people familiar with a particular company’s data – and using it to make business decisions – typically comes from years of experience.
This is where the combination of existing enterprise knowledge and experience needs to be combined with the emerging technologies so it becomes increasingly easier for new employees to start leveraging the data and make even more effective decisions.
An example would be proactive maintenance and what steps need to be taken when certain situations arise, initially based on the knowledge of more experienced staff. By capturing this learning and leveraging it into a learning system, more intuitive decision-making can be supported with proactive maintenance recommendations to less experienced people.
Eventually, the majority of decisions can be guided decision-making based on the enterprise expertise and knowledge that has been captured by these systems.
Radically changing your business model can be a daunting prospect. What advice would you give, particularly to an SME?
Capabilities have been greatly democratised. Previously, in order to process large amounts of data to gain greater insights, you may have needed to be a sizeable organisation to make the necessary investment in data centres.
This summer, the Manufacturing 4.0 conference – hosted by Hanley Automation in Dublin, Ireland and sponsored by Rockwell Automation – brought together 100 invited delegates to hear from some of the leading operational and information technology minds about the political, economic and practical consequences of Industry 4.0.
Joining Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kelly to speak at the event were representatives from Hanley Automation; Rockwell Automation; Cisco Systems; Microsoft, and SAS, among others.
But today, anyone can achieve that same level of capability by leveraging the Intelligent Cloud; available without making any upfront infrastructure investments.
Also, as you only pay for what you use, it is scalable to the size of an operation. The scale advantage that might have been a challenge previously for small manufacturers, arguably don’t exist anymore.
In fact in terms of operational costs, it may actually be equally – even more – beneficial to be a smaller organisation as these advanced capabilities can be adopted without sizeable upfront investments.
Would you advocate step change or a more dramatic single leap?
Today, you can drive change and transform parts of your business in quite an agile manner; it no longer requires a two or three year investment to drive a business model change.
Companies can now integrate agile, methodology-phased approaches focusing on certain aspects of the business, innovating processes and discovering the best model, and then take it and rapidly apply it across the organisation locally, nationally and internationally.
That’s crucial because arriving at the right business model is one of the most pressing challenges organisations are facing today.
Again, it comes down to the benefits of cloud. For example, starting with an isolated area of a particular connected business service within a manufacturing organisation, tying it to a select number of customers’ business models and once successfully integrated, the model can be rolled out organisation-wide in a very rapid manner thanks to global platforms powered through the cloud.
In addition, while IoT standards and interoperability are likely to be subjects of ongoing debate and discussion over the coming years, there are already well-established standards in industrial and manufacturing environments that can accelerate the shift to outcome-based models.
Manufacturers should start their transformation by leveraging these standards, along with new IoT capabilities, to deliver new value-added services without waiting for long-term retrofits of the industrial base.
With big data and analytics becoming increasingly important – and vital to making informed, smarter decisions, how can an organisation avoid succumbing to so-called ‘analysis paralysis’?
One of the biggest ways manufacturers can continue to innovate and stay ahead is through their data.
Achieving this potential net value—what Microsoft calls the “data dividend”—requires manufacturers to become data smart and perform some combination of the following four things:
- Bring together even as few as 3-4 discrete data sources
- Use modern analytics tools to glean insights from data
- Surface those insights in a consumable fashion to the right decision-makers across the company
- Ensure that insights from data are shared in a timely manner
To avoid data analysis paralysis, we recommend manufacturers use tools like a cloud-based business analytics service that is easy to use and accessible. For our customers, Microsoft offers Power BI – a service that fundamentally transforms the “business of business intelligence” and lowers the barrier to entry for all.
Using tools like this, manufacturers can use a browser or even a mobile app, to keep a pulse on their business via live operational dashboards. They can deeply explore their business data, through interactive visual reports, and enrich it with additional data sources.
Employees can now harness the power of data once only reserved for data scientists and tap into the power of natural language, self-service business insights and visualisation capabilities that work inside familiar apps.
It’s been said that collaboration within industry is going to be critical in realising the Connected Enterprise. How important is Microsoft’s relationship with Rockwell Automation, for example, in this regard?
Microsoft has always had a great partner focus, something that becomes increasingly important in today’s world. For the majority of the technologies I’ve mentioned, Microsoft is collaborating with partners like Rockwell Automation which is leveraging the Azure cloud platform and our Machine Learning advanced analytics capabilities.
Microsoft believes that together we can bring these solutions to the end customers in not only a faster way, but also in a way that is more aligned to addressing industry’s business problems.
Microsoft strongly believes that the eco-system will have to work together to bring the value to manufacturers in the most effective, rapid way.
You’ve said before that we need to reimagine manufacturing. What happens to the people who aren’t willing – or don’t have the capabilities – to move with the times?
Firstly, disruptions are happening in almost every industry and there are some who are engaged and willing, and others who are seeing themselves being disrupted.
What manufacturers have to consider is on one hand, today’s technologies provide an opportunity to disrupt business models and find new sources of revenue – which obviously comes with a risk; on the other hand, the risk may be too high for some or dynamic innovation isn’t something they are familiar with or want to undertake, but subsequently that opens their business up to being disrupted by a competitor.
Equally, of crucial importance is thinking through and discovering the right business model that will drive success for your company, which is a challenge. Find it, however, and you are in a much stronger position to evolve, expand and actually disrupt some of your competitors business.