Tips for successful digital transformation

LinkedIn can be a great resource for advice and knowledge from experts about all kinds of topics. A May 28 article titled “Digital transformation – A better way” by Jonas Berge, senior director, Applied Technology at Emerson Automation Solutions, is just one great example of what can be found.

This article, which expands on a previous piece titled “Think big, start small, scale fast,” offers a detailed list of digital transformation practices used by successfully transformed plants. He argues that successful plants have bent the rules and are embarking on digital transformation in more cost-efficient and reliable ways.

Berge dives deep into the faults of the previous ways of thinking about digital transformation, and gives alternative solutions from his experience.

Here’s a quick list of Berge’s observations on successful implementation practices:

  • Start with digitally networked sensors, fieldbus or wireless. “Some plants start digital transformation (Industry 4.0) with the wrong projects; where the difference between the old way and new way of working may not be that big,” Berge explains. “For instance, crawlers, drones, as well as tablet computers and smart phones may not always be the best examples of digital transformation, because they still need a human to operate them. … There are digital transformation solutions which are fully automatic: using a permanent sensor to automate data collection, digital data communication, and software to automatically interpret the data.”
  • Track before and after metrics to determine success. Think about how savings and improvements will be measured and demonstrated, and find your current baseline. These before and after metrics can vary depending on the project.
  • “Digital transformation is forever.” Digital transformation needs its own, long-term owner, as it requires continual improvement, Berge explains. He suggests the individuals from the I&C team should be tasked with the Digital Operations Infrastructure responsibilities, while those from the IT team should be given the ERP system responsibilities.
  • Involve all operational departments within your plant to encourage a digital culture, and use tried and trusted solutions.
  • Extend your existing historian with a reliability historian to prevent data replication in multiple locations.
  • Use your existing historian as your platform. “This way, plants also avoid conflict with legacy support requirements; by using what they already have in order to move the digital solutions into full production with scalable access to data from across the enterprise,” Berge says.
  • Save time, frustration and money – use readymade solutions with proven track records. “When a system integrator (SI) writes custom software apps, it is new and unproven, so there will invariably be shortcomings in the functionality because the SI and users in the plant cannot think of and specify all the features required and desired in advance,” Berge explains. “Therefore, the plant will spend many months, and maybe even years, with programming and testing multiple versions of the software before it becomes adequate.”
  • Use standard OPC-UA to make data accessible.
  • Deploy direct sensing for reliable data. “The most practical way to do it is using digitally networked sensors, wireless or fieldbus, preferably non-intrusive,” Berge says.
  • Deploy easy-to-use software. Readymade software with engineered analytics that’s easy to learn avoids extensive training.
  • Get data to maintenance engineers where they are. A digital workflow can send notifications to engineers on their smartphone and issue a workorder ticket to the CMMS/ERP system, Berge explains.
  • Remember: You don’t need to use the cloud. “Most plants do not use cloud for digital transformation,” he says. “99% of plants instead do digital transformation on premises (‘on-prem’) within the plant perimeter, without internet connection to the cloud.”
  • Use familiar protocols that staff are already familiar with, such as WirelessHART, Modbus, FOUNDATION Fieldbus and Profibus, along with their IP versions.