Leaving Information Island
Democratizing information is a cornerstone for a successful Digital Transformation
In projects that aim to improve the information workflows at product development companies I like to start by mapping out the current sources of information and the processes that work in-between them on a whiteboard. It gives context and a greater understanding of organizational needs and challenges. In most cases the whiteboard turns into a map that overlooks an archipelago of information islands.
Those islands have been shaped by years and years of demands of information-sharing between systems, departments and people. In most cases the customer is aware of its weaknesses and that a more thought-through solution could replace it - "but it works for now".
Nothing is static
Companies need to start challenge and evaluate their processes. The phrase "this is how we've always done it" has served them well, but just doesn't cut it anymore. I firmly believe this is a do or die type of situation for many companies, where the ones that evaluate their processes and start to transform over the next years will be the ones that survive.
As development gets more challenging, with complex products and more launch dates on a lower budget, employees must receive the correct information at the right time. This can only be effectively done by collaboration during the product's full lifecycle. Collaboration between departments, systems and processes will help to eliminate non-value adding activities and keep development costs down, all this while also increasing productivity and improve quality. To be at the forefront in any industry, now perhaps more than ever, you need to make an effort where it matters.
Manufacturing companies face challenging times. Apart from the ongoing crisis and the possible aftermath it could cause, there is also the inevitable fact of the aging workforce. Many have been with the company for a long time and know all of its processes in detail. They helped shape the information islands and they inhabit them. Great parts of that information could very well be lost as this aging workforce walk out the door, leaving for a well-deserved retirement in a few years. Their knowledge can simply not be taught in university classes, online training's or in YouTube tutorials.
New people need to be employed and trained from the ground up. However, this is a new generation of workers that in general are individualists. They won't stay with a company for decades like many of the current employees have. They need to be constantly challenged to stay interested and they will challenge their employee in their methods of working. When they inherit the knowledge from their more experienced colleagues, they might as well be on their way to new exciting adventures at other companies and you would have to start all over again.
The ageing workforce and information islands are two examples of challenges where digital transformation will play a vital part in the solution.
In my experience, the customers with the most successful digital transformation journeys are the once that have tread softly. They have moved with small but dedicated steps towards their goals, which has given them a more in-depth knowledge of how their company act and work, and the opportunities that digital tools have to offer. The insights often result in the journey changing its course and it's easier to make decision changes to a set of small projects rather than a huge one. By treading softly and including people in the process, there is also a better chance of the employees embracing the new ways of working.
Leaving the island
So how do you start? My advice is to leave these information islands. Any digitalization journey will require you to have control over your data and eliminating isolated information is a necessary first step. It will improve not only the quality of your data but also the quality of products and services. It will lower the time spent on non-value-adding activities, secure information as the aging workforce retires, and attract new talents with modern ways of working. This results not only in a quick return of investment but also an excellent start for your digital transformation journey.
For a continued read, I would suggest this article (in Swedish) by Aleksander Patz on PLM, Product Lifecycle Management, a tool that has gotten a renaissance in this era of digitization.