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Visionaries take control loops further

Feb. 14, 2020
Organizational 'sensing' and 'rapid, recurring feedback' needed to break digital ceiling

As practitioners of the art of process instrumentation and control, we’re long familiar with the ability of digital tools to increase the efficiency, productivity and reliability of industrial processes.

Indeed, ever since digital transformation became a near universal objective of enterprises worldwide a few years back, we automation professionals have continued to focus on technical implementations that, for the most part, advanced and refined the status quo. Our own surveys of you, dear readers, indicate that incremental gains in productivity, utilization and costs have remained the primary drivers of “digital transformation” investments for the past several years.

Not that that’s not a bad thing. But according to a study released by the Infosys Knowledge Institute (IKI) at January’s meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, many organizations—including industrial ones—have reached a “digital ceiling” in their transformation journeys. The report (just Google “Infosys Digital Radar 2020”), which surveyed more than 1,000 executives globally, classified the most digitally advanced companies “Visionaries,” followed by “Explorers” then “Watchers” according to their uptake of 22 digitally-oriented initiatives.

Even as more companies have advanced from the ranks of Explorers to Watchers, the number of Visionary organizations has remained stubbornly constant at about 20% since the survey’s first iteration in 2018. The reason? Most companies (68%) of those surveyed stated operational efficiency and increased productivity as a primary transformation objective. (Sound familiar?) But those successful companies that had broken through the digital ceiling focus their efforts more strongly on people, including employees and customers, the report states.

Companies also reported dramatic year-over-year declines in the impact of technology barriers on their digital transformation efforts. Factors such as inability to experiment quickly (down 49%), insufficient budget (down 40%) and cybersecurity challenges (down 40%) were all seen as significantly less onerous than a year earlier. However, companies made far less progress against cultural barriers, including lack of change management capabilities (down 7%) and lack of talent (down 6%). 

The other key differentiator of successful companies should strike close to home for those of us in the process automation realm. While stragglers continue to rely on traditional, linear transformation methodologies that result in improvements that already are outdated by the time they come to fruition, the Visionary cluster is far ahead of others in digital initiatives tied to quick cycles, with 75% of Visionaries operating at scale in Agile and DevOps methodologies, compared with an overall average of 34% for the entire group. Top performers implement recurring rapid feedback loops to accelerate transformation and keep updates relevant, the report states.

“The most successful businesses in our survey have an employee focus and a circular transformation mindset, which enable top performers to kick off a virtuous cycle in the company,” says Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and global head at IKI. “The result is a ‘living enterprise’ that's constantly sensing, improving, and attuned to its customers and employees. This living enterprise is suited to serving a larger circle of stakeholders—employees, customers, suppliers, local communities and larger society—not just shareholders.”

"Traditional program models are not keeping up with the rapid pace of market change," Kavanaugh adds, "and companies face a distinct barrier in reaching top levels of digital maturity."

Sounds to me like those of us in the process automation community are aiming our sights too low, or at least too narrowly. If it's organizational "sensing" and "recurring rapid feedback loops" that are needed to accelerate transformation across the organization, then we need to step up.

About the author: Keith Larson
About the Author

Keith Larson | Group Publisher

Keith Larson is group publisher responsible for Endeavor Business Media's Industrial Processing group, including Automation World, Chemical Processing, Control, Control Design, Food Processing, Pharma Manufacturing, Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Processing and The Journal.

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