Change management and people are key to a successful digitalisation transformation

10 June 2018

Suzanne Gill was at the Emerson Global Users Exchange 2018 in March, where Mike Train, executive president for Emerson Automation Solutions, talked about the importance of people in the digital transformation process.

Technology disruptions have always had an effect on the nature of work for people. Street cleaners of the 1920s were put out of work when cars finally started to outnumber horses. However, the rise of the automobile created far more jobs than were lost, and automation is no different. While robots can now do many of the jobs traditionally undertaken by humans, they will still always need people to maintain and feed them.

Technology is constantly changing our lives and the expectations of the work environment. “In recent years we have seen industries undergo huge technology shifts,” said Train. “One of the fundamental challenges facing industry today is how do more with less. Despite huge efforts performance gains are getting smaller; expectations are getting higher; and competition is getting tougher.

Diminishing returns
"The efficiency era is starting to see diminishing returns. Today it is no longer possible to ‘efficiency’ plants into top-quartile performance – those in the top 25% of performance among their peers.”

Train went on to say that he believes we are at an inflection point with enterprises starting to rethink their business models and looking at technology to provide the advances needed. However, he stressed the importance of taking people on this journey too.

“We know that companies who invest in technology outperform their peers at a lower rate of head count loss than those who perform in lower quartiles. The more profitable you are the more you can invest. I believe that data power, combined with human talent, is going to be the next secret sauce to help companies achieve top-quartile performance.”

Train predicts that, in the coming years, control operators will morph into performance optimisers – production experts focussed on business outcomes, with technologies like Emerson’s new Delta V Version 14 control system helping align the worlds of Operational technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) worlds to make this possible.

Maintenance technicians will become asset doctors, focussed on ensuring the wellness of the plant instead of just reacting to failures, with Plantweb Optics helping to create new maintenance teams. “Production supervisors will have 24/7 visibility to plant performance but might also be able to have a personal life too,” said Train. “It is the adoption of new technologies that will make this possible – analytics and decision support software, mobility tools, augmented reality and on-demand expert services.

“So why, when technology is becoming more intuitive and thoughtful and situationally aware, are we seeing some companies reach top-quartile performance, while others lag behind with lower-revenues, higher operating costs, more safety incidents and less profitability?”

What’s the difference?
Train believes that the difference between top-quartile and lower quartile performances is down to how they manage change and understanding that the use of advanced technologies also requires organisation changes to leverage it. “Technology alone will not allow you to reach top-quartile performance,” he said. “There also needs to be a focus on the new digital workforce. Leaders need to understand that, regardless of how advanced technology becomes, they will still need people to make decisions and to take the right actions.”

Emerson believes that there are five essential competences necessary to ensure successful digital transformation:

Automated workflows – To eliminate repetitive tasks and streamline standard operations. Decision support – To leverage analytics and embedded expertise.
Mobility – To ensure secure, on-demand access to information and expertise
Change management – To accelerate the adoption of operational best practices 
Workforce upskilling – To enable workers to acquire knowledge and experience.

According to Train, change management is the toughest of the above competencies to instigate as old habits die hard, while workforce upskilling is the most transformational competency. “Leading change is a big responsibility,” said Train. Never forget that people that are the key to achieving top quartile performance.”

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