How do you actually make technology work?

© Enterprising Barnsley 2017. Photo: Timm Cleasby

We were recently invited to speak at a Connected Manufacturing event at the Digital Media Centre in Barnsley to share our experiences of how we have applied technology within the manufacturing industry.

We had five minutes to answer the question - “How do you actually make technology work?”. A tall order, but we gave it a go!

Here’s a summary of the content from our talk.

What does the future look like?

In the future are all employees robots? Maybe, but I am very doubtful that this is going to be the case during my lifetime. It won’t happen overnight. The world and what we do is far more complex than that.

What can we do right now?

OK, so maybe we won’t have a fleet of completely autonomous robots right now but what can we do to improve and become more effective?

We can create dashboards that provide us with timely, actionable information. Information that provides a real insight into what is really happening in our business.

We can automate repetitive tasks.

We can create smart work benches to bring workers up to speed quickly on complex build procedures. This increases quality, whilst capturing vital information that tells us how to improve the process.

We can also take all of the information collected and use it for predictive analysis; allowing us to take action before a problem arises. We can use this to help us order raw materials at the right time, so we don’t over stock or understock or overpay.

Identify repetitive tasks that we can automate

Identifying repetitive tasks is the first step. These tasks could be on the shop floor or in the office; anything that can be replicated by a machine. This frees up time for the people in your business to spend more of their time on tasks where human input has the most value, such as:

Spending more time with your customers. The more you understand your customer and their needs, the better the service you can provide to them. Improving relationships with your customers helps you retain them and sell more to them.

Spend time innovating. We aren’t just talking about the next world changing product, process or material, we are talking about innovation focused on marginal gains. For this to work, open feedback loops need to be in place to learn.

Do this to survive and prosper. We all know that if we stagnate and stop evolving we are seriously hindering our longevity; evolve or die.

So how then do we actually make technology work?

Start with people. This seems fairly obvious but in so many cases this doesn’t happen. The people come first and the technology after. People are more difficult to change than technology so we should make sure the technology fits the people. We have to understand the needs of the people before we add technology to amplify and support what they do.

Make them super human. Technology should amplify the ability of the people. The smart work benches do this by providing timely, relevant information. Dashboards do this by uncovering insights that can inform decisions. Predictive analytics gives insight and future modeling without having to rely upon gut feel and thirty years experience. We have been talking about Intelligence Amplified (IA) for some time and how it can be used to assist rather than replace.

Don’t roll out with a big bang. This is possibly one of the most common mistakes we have seen made, where technology has been brought in and just switched on one Monday morning to replace an old system or process. It almost always ends in disaster. Following on from starting with people, learn what is required first, start rolling out the changes gradually and learn from every incremental release. The big bang approach is high risk and can be very costly.

How have we done it?

The manufacturer Your Own Brand (YOB) Golf, had the challenge that their production process was completely paper based and difficult to track and understand. By starting with our discovery process, we were able to understand what was really needed and to ensure that people were at the centre of the solutions.

From this a highly tailored production system was created as a minimal viable product (MVP). This is currently being run alongside the paper based system to allow for a gradual transition and the opportunity to refine after each release.

We have also been working with the specialist model retailer Rails of Sheffield, who needed to unlock growth by replacing their paper based processes with automated systems.

Digitising processes and, crucially, tracking actions and decisions enabled us to provide predictive, timely information about stock. This enabled Rails of Sheffield to increase stock lines from two thousand to ten thousand without the burden of manual stock control.

In both cases we enabled:

  • Procedural refinement - ensuring the most effective processes were in place and being constantly refined.
  • Organisational optimisation - enabling people to concentrate on the tasks to which they can add most value.
  • Understanding of customers - knowing what a customer needs and being able to respond to those needs and increase their lifetime value.
  • Trends & insights surfaced - providing the right information at the right time so that informed decisions can be made and knowledge can be shared.

This all sounds great but it means nothing unless you actually do something!

Our final message to manufacturers and anyone in business looking at how technology can make a difference is to stop thinking about it and DO SOMETHING!

Start small, measure, learn and refine.

Watch Our Talk