Using digital labour and skills as core ingredients of the future operating model

Posted on 24 Jun 2022 by The Manufacturer
Partner Content

Recent events and their impact on manufacturers’ supply chains have highlighted the need for change in operating models. Just as manufacturers recognised before most other sectors that they could produce better goods faster and with less waste when they automated processes, so levels of understanding are growing that this thinking can extend beyond making products – into every aspect of their businesses. 

This is being driven by three powerful trends. The first is the shortage of skills and experience in the sector, which was already a problem before the pandemic but has since accelerated. According to the 2021 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Manufacturing Talent study, US manufacturing is expected to have 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030. 

The second trend is the need for manufacturers to become more agile and resilient, especially when dealing with global shockwaves. Organisations that had advanced the furthest with digitalisation strategies were widely reported to be in a better position to pivot and adapt how they operated during the lockdown.  

This leads to the third trend, which is the wider adoption of powerful technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IOT).  

Together, these technologies enable manufacturers to automate resource-hungry, manual and semi-manual processes in areas such as planning, forecasting, reporting and predictive maintenance. 

Like robotic arms used on the factory floor, digital workers can operate 24/7, without errors and more cost-effectively than humans could ever do. So the next stage for manufacturers is to start re-imagining their labour forces to achieve levels of service and productivity that are not possible with a human only workforce. 

Digital first: the new normal 

Introducing new processes with a ‘digital first’ mindset enables manufacturers to think again about how they manage their teams and how those teams interact with customers and suppliers. The key point to recognise that a digital worker can access core business and operational systems in the same way as a human worker would when either accessing or entering data. 

Back-end systems can remain intact: what changes is how digital and human workers orchestrate data and move it from one place to another. Instead of a human worker accessing and reading maintenance records to work out when a machine may need to be serviced, for example, a digital worker can constantly scan SCADA data to create proactive alerts before problems emerge. 

And unlike human workers, digital workers enable manufacturers to create dynamic composable workforces that can respond quickly to changes in the business without the time lags involved in recruiting new staff. 

From single tasks to the value chain 

While RPA and digital workers have traditionally been mostly used to speed up and improve individual processes and tasks, manufacturers gain the most value when they think about digitalisation of the entire value chain, and when they target outcomes based on strategic objectives. 

Another area where automation can have a big impact on manufacturers’ operational models is in research and development (R&D), especially when blended with ML and AI. Manufacturers can look for patterns in massive volumes of data using such technologies that would be impossible for humans to find without unsustainable growth in team sizes and associated costs.  

The concept of digital twins, where entire processes are mirrored using real world data to create simulations, enables manufacturers to predict how a product or process will perform even before it is rolled out. 

A unified workforce 

The ideal workforce for manufacturers is one that includes both skilled humans and digital workers. It delivers a winning combination of reduced costs of maintaining expertise – while faced with churn, skills shortages and the expense of training – and supporting a better employee experience with digital capabilities. 

Digital workers can be repurposed to meet the ongoing needs of a business, creating a flexible solution that evolves with a business and its digital maturity. As your business evolves, digital workers never need retraining, unless you update your process and they never deviate from the instructions that they have been given. 

Not only does this increase business stability whilst minimising risk, but it also results in increased stakeholder value moving forward. In an era of global skills shortage, manufacturers need to be able to demonstrate they are taking action on adopting new operational models, and that they are using modern technologies to improve productivity, profitability and agility. 

Join us to explore how a blended approach to organisational design and workforce management can release growth potential in your business. 

By Tom Gurd, Director, Manufacturing Industry Strategy, SS&C Blue Prism