The Human Elements of Digital Transformation: How empowering your workforce with digital technology will enable new gains in performance across the entire integrated value chain.
Transforming operations using Digital Technology
A couple of years ago, I travelled to Perth on the Western Coast of Australia, to visit Roy Hill Iron Ore – a mining and shipping company that was building a greenfield mine in the remote Pilbara region. There, the General Manager Demand Chain, Mike Lomman, explained how he was transforming his operations using digital technology.
The investment he made in new digital systems had affected far more than the supply chain, it had changed the way his entire workforce approaches planning and problem solving on a day-to-day basis. Now, “we see there is an interconnectedness now between people, processes, technology, data and equipment, driving the organisation to think from a systems perspective. This means that people start to think in a way that takes into account these interdependencies and that interconnectedness,” he said. It was a privilege to witness that interconnectedness in action, and to see how it has transformed profitability and efficiency at the entire site.
Roy Hill is just one example of digital technology’s power to transform entire industries, affecting every aspect of operations, especially within industrial manufacturing and infrastructure. The industrial internet of things (IIoT), augmented/virtual/mixed reality, artificial intelligence, increased automation and machine learning are increasingly becoming part of today’s landscape for industrial operations. Many of these topical areas (e.g. Machine Learning, or AR) have moved beyond ideation or proof-of-concept and in to mainstream implementation to improve a targeted area of the business (e.g. predictive asset analytics or augmented operator rounds). In other cases, we have seen much broader applications where various technologies and process innovations have transcended the entirety of the business value chain – creating some amazing results.
Transforming entire operating processes
Leading companies are starting to develop full digital twins of not only their process plants and key assets – but also of their entire operating processes and end to end value chains. That is, digitising all elements of the asset-centric value chain as well as the operational or production value chain. This leads to significant improvements in workforce and process operations, which in turn provides material improvements in reliability, quality and performance.
In times of rapid change – especially in cases where emerging technologies are involved – traditionally only the most progressive companies have been able understand, adapt and then selectively implement these kinds of initiatives to realise demonstrable and material results. But that’s changing as these practices and technologies are becoming more widely accepted. This more mainstream availability, coupled with increased market pressures or market dynamics – is driving a sense of urgency that is forcing the hands of leaders to seek out solutions that can span their entire corporate value chain. This has deep implications across operations, maintenance and – of course – impacts the workforce.
The digital transformation of people will make a much wider universe possible in terms of the control and operational possibilities. Mobile, cloud and AR/MR integration will soon expand control capabilities beyond what is currently possible. In time, having a central control room cascading instructions down to the operators in the field will seem as antiquated as paper-based checklists are today. In fact, it may be possible to eventually do away with the control room entirely, hosting all required information in a network of processes easily available via mobile devices. Companies like Italpresse Gauss, are doing exactly this to improve field-issue resolution, training and remediation.
This means an unprecedented level of operational flexibility. Companies will be able to quickly and easily adjust their operations, responding immediately and resolving problems before they affect the business. This means improvements in operational performance and efficiency, due to quicker response time. Because of this improved response time, companies will be able to optimise their operations to increase overall profitability.
By Rob McGreevy
Rob McGreevy is the head of Portfolio Management at AVEVA. Rob enables improved integration between product portfolios through the development of cross-portfolio solutions aligned to core product roadmaps and incubating and launching new business initiatives. In this role he is also responsible for key external elements of portfolio strategy such as technical alliances, partnerships and M&A opportunities. Rob comes to AVEVA with over 20 years of experience working in the software business with a focus on manufacturing and industrial applications.