Some of the most influential and respected UK manufacturers recently came together to discuss how companies can overcome the challenge of adopting new technologies.
The high-level debate also explored the safest approach towards data storage, alongside what impact the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will have on how information is handled.
The dinner was held as part of The Manufacturer Director’s Forum, and hosted on this occasion by leading ERP and CRM solution provider, Columbus.
Adopting new technology
One of the most commonly cited stumbling blocks manufacturers face when transitioning to smart, connected, digital manufacturing is adopting the necessary technology.
One guest raised the concern that the level of technology is now so high, that it is creating roles which never existed previously. Not only does that present a challenge on staff recruitment and training, it also means that organisations – particularly on the SME side – can lack ‘technology champions’.
These vital individuals are the ones who take ownership of and drive forward the cultural change associated with implementing new technology and related processes.
The comment appeared to resonate with many of those around the table, with several acknowledging that an aversion towards change, especially cultural change, was an engrained mindset in too many manufacturing businesses.
The conversation moved on to explore why such a reluctance existed, particularly as there appears to be such an appetite and willingness for change – on the surface, at least.
One attendee suggested that it arose from a lack of understanding, with directors and managers either not clearly or adequately communicating why change was happening and what difference it would have on an individual, departmental and organisational level.
Another stressed the importance of achieving buy-in at all levels prior to any major change programme being instigated. Such a method helps instil a sense of ownership and alleviates some of the concerns employees may have.
According to attendees, there are three main drivers of adoption when it comes to the majority of smart, connected, digital manufacturing technologies – often placed under the umbrella of Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
In no particular order, these were listed as productivity, business resilience, and cost reduction.
Considering the national and international uncertainty almost all manufacturers currently face – regardless of size, sector or geography, it’s of no surprise that business resilience was highlighted as being of paramount importance.
The flexibility, agility and ease in which an organisation can respond to market changes can be greatly enhanced through the use of modern software systems. Take enterprise resource planning (ERP), for example. ERP has evolved to become an all-encompassing business enablement tool, incorporating CRM, HR, finance and other key functions, and delivered via scalable, subscription-based remote access powered by the cloud.
With the majority of businesses already using some form of enterprise-level software, exploring what is now available can be an important, yet easy to accommodate, first step towards better connected, smart manufacturing.
Safe in the cloud
Big data analytics, connected technologies and the increasing digitalisation of manufacturing wouldn’t be possible without the affordable, elastic compute power of the cloud. However, many organisations are still engaged in debates regarding the efficacy of cloud security and whether it truly represents unsurpassed protection for sensitive and/or business-critical information.
One attendee asked how board members and executives can be persuaded that cloud solutions are safer than the server-based systems of the past when so many still subscribe to the notion of, “I can see it so it must be safe”.
There was unanimous agreement around the table that no system is 100% invulnerable; however, once a firm migrates to the cloud, security becomes the responsibility of the service provider – cutting-edge organisations which have vastly superior resources and technological understanding than all but a few manufacturers.
What is GDPR and why does it matter?
After discussing the best way to safely store data, the conversation turned to the data itself and how regulations are set to become far more stringent.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force on May 25, 2018 – less than 12 months’ time. Aimed at protecting the personal data of citizens, it will affect any and all businesses within the European Union.
As one expects for any and all EU legislation, the wording is dense and complicated. At the most fundamental level, GDPR centres on ensuring better data governance.
Any EU-based organisation that collects data will have to adhere to GDPR, providing individuals with: the right to be forgotten; the right to know when their data has been hacked; the right to data portability; easier access to data stored about themselves; security by design and by default; and stronger enforcement of the rules.
Adding an additional layer of complexity is the fact that GDPR won’t solely apply to data collected post-May 25 next year, but that which has been gathered retrospectively – a particular challenge for those manufacturers who are, and have been, amassing large volumes of information.
Many of those in attendance were initially surprised at how broad the regulation shift is, but soon began discussing the best way to prepare for the impending changes.
It was agreed that ensuring the whole organisation is aware of the impact of GDPR enabled processes to be altered ahead of time. Ensuring that everyone, regardless of department, position or level, understands the reasons behind the changes was also important to foster buy-in and facilitate faster adoption.
The conversation concluded with the suggestion that businesses should identify who is responsible for the governance and upkeep of data within their organisation as soon as possible in order to give them time to hire data protection officers or similar before GDPR comes into force.