Taking on Transformation: A Hands-on Start to Gain Digital Momentum

Push digitization forward with a proof of concept

Jason Chester

September 14, 2021

The most popular phrase in manufacturing today is “digital transformation.” Every company now understands the immense value digital transformation can provide. It’s essential for overhauling efficiency, agility, and ultimately, the bottom line. Digital transformation represents the very essence of the future of smart manufacturing.

But even the phrase “digital transformation” sounds overwhelming. Manufacturers must therefore make this seemingly unassailable initiative more manageable by taking a tactical, phased approach. A tactical approach is one that focuses on completing smaller value-focused initiatives while keeping risk, expectations, and potential disruptions in check. As experience is gained and value is demonstrated, the move toward fully “transformed” digital operations is achieved through an iterative process of expansion.

I have argued that the best place to start transforming manufacturing operations is by bringing crucial quality and process data into a modern, cloud-based quality management solution. Changing the way you collect, store, monitor, and analyze data is paramount to increasing efficiency—and identifying areas in your process for continuous improvement. It also provides a real-time view on compliance and conformance to internal and external requirements—both critical elements in modern manufacturing environments.

Here, I’ll address the pivotal question: How?

Proof of concept

What, exactly, is a proof of concept (PoC)? A proof of concept (PoC) is a smart, practical way to start a tactical digital transformation in manufacturing.

A PoC is a chance for your team to test how a digital quality management solution will work through an intentionally limited implementation. The scope is focused on a single, manual data-collection process that will quickly showcase the solution’s potential value. The idea is that you concentrate on a specific goal, generate results using the software, and then evaluate those results before taking on further deployment across the organization.

Let’s explore five key benefits of a PoC:
1. Easier to gain buy-in. A PoC produces tangible results you can use to craft a business case for a larger deployment. Executives love to see hard numbers, and a PoC produces those. From there, you can even roughly forecast expected ROI if your company decides to expand.

2. Simplifies an enterprisewide initiative into manageable steps. Instead of a full implementation, PoC focuses on a single process or line. That focus allows a team to learn the software, configure it to match operations, and then apply that to future expansion.

3. Provides a baseline for current performance. In the cloud, your data are not just collected in real time—they are also instantly available for analysis. This gives you a golden opportunity to evaluate your process capability and performance from the start of the project. It also gives you a baseline for how your process is performing now, before you make any improvements.

4. Demonstrates measurable value. At the start of a PoC, your team sets clear goals in a defined environment. Once complete, you can clearly measure your performance with the new solution.

5. Identifies future areas of improvement. During the process, you can begin thinking about additional processes or lines that can benefit from digitization. With more data online, it becomes easier to understand how digital data can impact other areas of production.

Successful execution

A successful PoC requires three elements:
1. Key stakeholders
2. A focused project scope
3. Trusted software partner

Stakeholders

When you introduce new software, it’s wise to consult and involve the personnel who will be using it. That may sound obvious, but often companies need that reminder. Including all appropriate stakeholders helps address considerations and optimizes configuration early on for a successful adoption later.

So, who exactly, should be involved? Invite key stakeholders to this party, only. Remember, PoC projects are focused, and your project team should mirror that mindset. Consider the following three roles.

Leadership—Executives sign off on major purchasing decisions, so naturally a decision maker should be included in a project that ultimately is moving toward that. An important consideration for this role is to choose a leader who works at the facility where the PoC will take place, or oversees management at multiple plant locations. Even if this person won’t be using the solution every day, their active participation in the PoC is imperative because they need to be confident that the solution provides the value your company needs. Once persuaded, they possess the leverage to secure approval.

Subject matter experts—This will vary depending on your organization, but subject matter experts (SMEs) will provide the insight you need to evaluate a quality management solution from multiple angles. From defining IT requirements to reporting needs to unique production process considerations, SMEs should be able to accurately assess whether a solution is a good fit.

End users—It’s a good idea to involve the operators who will use the software every day. In many cases, the challenge is including just enough end users to procure valuable feedback and create excitement. During the PoC period, end users will perform tasks in the software—data collection, in this case—that will allow you to measure the value. An important consideration when selecting end users is to find people who will be invested in the project. If they have positive, early exposure to the solution, they will encourage buy-in from fellow users and advance adoption once a larger deployment happens.

Focused project scope

Unlike software adoptions of the past, a PoC provides an in-depth opportunity to test and optimize a solution before a larger deployment. Plus, it’s cost-effective.

Success depends on keeping the PoC to one process or line so you can set clear goals to measure performance and limit variables that you would encounter with enterprisewide software rollouts.

Through a focused PoC, your team will:
• Learn how to use the software effectively
• Develop standardization that can be used later across the organization
• Generate measurable results, showing value to leadership

Trusted software partner

With any software project, it’s important to find a trusted technology partner. A great partner will guide your team through the process, ensuring everyone has proficiency in the system—from configuration to data collection to analytics.

At the end of the PoC, you should feel confident that your software vendor, or one of their trusted partners, prepared you for a larger deployment.

Evaluate and plan for the future

After you’ve given the PoC enough time to run, your team has two important tasks to accomplish:
1. Showcase project results to decision makers
2. Build an expansion roadmap

When talking with decision makers, it’s important to let the data drive the story for why your company should move forward with a wider implementation. Clearly communicate your starting goals and end results, showing the efficiency gained. Then try to take it one step further by extrapolating the data, previewing the expected value of using the solution across the organization.

From there, build an expansion roadmap that includes the benefits of cloud technology and digitization. Remember, the cloud’s architecture makes it easy to reuse configurations that you set up during the PoC. It’s cost-effective, eliminating dollars spent on hardware, and it easily scales as your business grows. Also, centralizing data improves process visibility, which has a huge impact on continuous improvement initiatives.

Learn how cloud-based quality management can help your company achieve its digital transformation goals. Visit the InfinityQS cloud solutions page and discover how you can optimize processes in manufacturing.

About The Author

Jason Chester’s picture

Jason Chester

As director of global channel programs for InfinityQS, Jason chester is responsible for the implementation, management, and overall success of the InfinityQS global channel partner programs. With more than 25 years of experience working directly within the enterprise IT industry, he has gained a deep understanding of how information technology capabilities can deliver significant and sustainable business value to end-user organizations. Currently, his main area of interest is the business impact of next-generation information technologies on industrial and manufacturing sectors—a topic he frequently writes about both online and in the press.