People: The real enabler of business growth

Posted on 6 Nov 2018 by Maddy White

Too often, conversations around the fourth industrial revolution focus on ‘systems’, ‘equipment’, and ‘pieces of kit’. Though every digital journey will leverage new technology, the real driver of business growth will come from your people.

Disruption is nothing new to manufacturing, but the current speed of change is like never before. This makes investing in new systems and processes to assist your workforce and propel your businesses forward has quickly become fundamental.

Stock - 4ir skills recruitment workforce staff employee - front office and back office.
Disruption is nothing new to manufacturing, but the current speed of change is like never before.

“You must have the right people in an organisation, undertaking the right roles to innovate, and they then need to be organised in the right way. Fundamentally, it is as simple as that,” James Petherbridge, Executive Partner for Aerospace & Defence at IBM, explained to The Manufacturer.

Transforming a business’s HR process may appear to be a momentous task, but it doesn’t have to be. Taking the right, simple steps and leveraging modern systems can create a more engaged, informed, satisfied and, crucially, productive workforce – which has a direct impact on your bottom line.

The need for change

Helena Parry, Global Market Development of Talent Acquisition & Optimization at IBM, says a lot of manufacturing companies she is working with are rapidly having to change everything.

“They are having to revolutionise skills, processes and systems in order to be relevant in the future and to recruit the right people.”

This need for industry to “reinvent itself” is one of the reasons why Andi Britt, Vice President of Talent & Engagement Europe at IBM, believes HR is so essential manufacturing businesses.

How can organisations achieve such a radical transformation? By employing people who can reinvent themselves, and can therefore transform the wider business,” he suggests.

The other reason Britt says HR is so important to manufacturing in particular, is that specific job roles are narrowing.

“Across sectors, we are all competing for the same people; driven, innovative in their ways of thinking and technology literate. HR technology can help assist manufacturing companies to recruit the right individuals who will propel their business forward, before they are snapped up by someone else.”

Transforming the role of HR

Realising your business case for adopting HR technology is one thing, but surely deployment is a laborious, time-consuming task, right? Not necessarily, says Britt.

“Often, we would start with design-thinking, working with manufacturing employees and managers to identify the specific pain points they have in their current HR processes. Using that as the starting point, we essentially redesign the entire employee experience.”

Automation Smart Factory Digital Transformation Connected Value Chain - Stock
The employee lifecycle encompasses the whole employee experience,

The employee experience – or employee lifecycle – encompasses the whole process, from recruitment and selection, to onboarding, mapping out their individual development plans and managing performance.

Britt says that HR systems – such as the cloud-based SAP SuccessFactors – can transform every aspect of the employee lifecycle, bringing efficiency and a host of other benefits from recruitment through to performance management.

“SAP has designed a solution to enable employees to have a leading user experience,” he explains. “In manufacturing as in any industry employees are now expecting the same intuitive and easy to use consumer-grade IT that they use in their personal lives, at work.

“Why can’t learning be as fun and addictive as binge-watching your favourite programme? Why can’t mapping out your career be like mapping out your run on an app? This is the challenge that manufacturing HR departments have to face if they are to recruit and retain tomorrow’s workforce.”

Another example of reinventing HR to advance an entire business is IBM’s AI virtual assistant, Chatbot.

Britt says: “Most organisations will start by integrating a very simple chatbot or virtual assistant as a way of answering queries a new joiner might have. Over time, however, these chatbots learn and become increasingly sophisticated and take on more complex tasks.”

Technology like IBM’s Chatbot could also help to sustain a safe workforce, by creating a refined dataset of employees’ work history through previous conversations, helping to identify training opportunities and ongoing development requirements.


People remain the backbone of any company. They are essential if businesses are to succeed in these challenging times. Equally important, however, is the need for reinvention and the adoption of new technologies.

Data and connectivity now play a vital role in increasing the efficiency of production lines - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Introducing systems to enable your workers to perform their roles more efficiently is essential – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Introducing systems to enable your workers to perform their roles more efficiently and productivity and to the best of their abilities, for example, is becoming ever more important in the future success of your businesses.

“It is all about creating great employee experiences,” Petherbridge adds. “When people come to work, they can communicate with the employer simply, they can access the information they need at their fingertips, and they can acquire real-time insights instantly.”

By utilising tools like chatbots or other smart systems, businesses can better identify the likelihood of employees leaving or understand what training individuals have undertaken recently, and have real-time data available instantly.

Britt concludes: “We have good evidence to prove, that if we get the right technology and the best employee experience in place, manufacturers can improve employee engagements, and this then drives up their productivity.”

HR is often overlooked, but it needs to be championed through technology, because what it represents is the real driver of business growth: people.