Industry 4.0: Harder Than We Think

Young man against cloudy sky, shielding eyes, side view, close-upI feel for manufacturers. I really do. Transforming raw materials into a finished product is hard work. There have been many advances in technology that improve productivity and efficiency of manufacturing operations, but the innovation promised in the 4th Industrial Revolution effects much more than the production and planning processes. As data-driven insights ripple through to effect action on everything from product development and sales to sourcing and delivery, organizations need to embrace wholesale change in structure, strategy, and execution. Most manufacturers are on board with the opportunity – a recent poll found that 99% agreed that the 4th Industrial Revolution will be about getting actionable insights from data. But more telling is the result that almost 60% of those interviewed reported that they are still getting to grips with the concept and are less certain about what it actually entails.

In the cold, harsh light of the dawn of Industry 4.0, there are many reasons why the factories of the future are not much more than a very futuristic vision. The changes fueled by the digitization of manufacturing are hard and manufacturers have a lot to wrestle with before they see the promise of Industry 4.0 realized.

Everyone’s Got an Opinion

Getting advice on how, what, and when to begin the transformation is a lot like having your first child. Everyone you know – and even people you don’t – are very happy to share with you the secrets they’ve learned about raising a child. And more often than not the advice from one well-intentioned friend will be in direct conflict with advice from another. Manufacturers are being bombarded constantly with ideas, insight, recommendations and proposals for implementing solutions that will revolutionize their operations. But who really knows?

Stakeholders, Stakeholders Everywhere…

…and not a common vision for what exactly this all is supposed to do and for whom. There’s not a single constituency within a manufacturing organization – production, operations, design, engineering, marketing, sales, finance – that doesn’t expect to get something from the new way of manufacturing. They’re all excited about it. But there’s really no collaboration between all these groups – everyone is off building their own piece of the pie and no one is asking about how it will work with anything else.

 Solution Swamp

Not too long ago I created a map of all the technology companies that are messaging their solutions as the answer to Industry 4.0. It looks a lot like one of those modern art pieces where there are just thousands and thousands of dots – and they don’t come together to create a beautiful image – they are just dots. How is anyone who’s got to meet delivery deadlines expected to sort all that out?

Combined, these three conditions add up to one big headache for leaders. Odds are good that every day they see a new report on the imperative for making progress toward building connected operations. They’ve told their stakeholders and shareholders they are all in. They may have built cross-functional teams to focus on the opportunity and ask for regular updates on progress. It’s all good. Until leaders can articulate in concise and specific language the reasons why and how their own company will measure the impact of Industry 4.0 on operations and customers, it’s just noise.

I’m not saying the promise will never be realized. I’m excited that it will actually happen. What I think though we all need is a long, deep breath and a little reflection on what we want to achieve with Industry 4.0, and how we’ll know we’ve achieved it.

How are you breaking through the hype to change your operations? What do you see as the most powerful result of the new model for manufacturing? Tweet me @jim_lawton.

Originally published on Forbes.