Identifying gaps and misalignments in the flow of labor, material, and information can help identify business outcomes that can be used to direct digital transformation projects.
Digital transformation (DX) initiatives at industrial clients promise significant business process, competitive and technology adoption advantages. Many of these initiatives are also hamstrung with limited buy-in or support as they make their way from proofs of concept to scale across a client’s enterprise.
Typically, DX initiatives are driven from the top down, given the business value justification required for what many clients are realizing is a multimillion-dollar spend. To many, this is counterintuitive to the ease and flexibility with which modern technology stacks can be deployed. I am certainly one proponent of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) who feels that such costs and affiliated concerns are misplaced. However, through many experiences with customers lately, and hearing from industry peers, they aren’t denying the benefits all things new and Wi-Fi ready have to offer; in many instances, it’s simply that they’re looking for solutions that extend the capabilities of existing platforms or are easily bolted on. The implicit request then becomes: “Give me something that is easily managed and maintained by existing teams.”
Speaking from the operational technology (OT) realm, this request can be addressed by solutions in the long tail of automation. Such solutions would leverage cutting-edge sensors that today cost a fraction of what they would have when the first industrial automation project was deployed and are truly the bolt-on variety that customers can rapidly test and deploy. Focusing on sensors at the OT layers becomes critical because these are data sources for all higher-level systems delivering analytics for business decisions. This approach can help with the quick wins to gain momentum and funding for continued DX interventions.
Taking a step back and looking at the customer’s bigger picture, DX is a way for them to align the flow of labor, material and information. To this end, OT-centric interventions need to be coupled with IT solutions to provide a measurable ROI through increased business process integration of such solutions.
Let’s take the example of energy management. Energy is a required input for manufacturing. However, customers often report challenges with allocating this input as a variable cost. A DX intervention in such an instance would be built on OT solutions such as smarter meters coupled with real-time dashboards and further enhanced with IT solutions such as workflow automation, allowing real-time reporting to individual cost centers.
There are numerous mid- to low-complexity areas of improvement across a customer’s operating assets. I believe there is also a vast array of technologies that can be integrated to create low-cost and scalable solutions and help clients unlock business value.
OT-centric interventions need to be coupled with IT solutions to provide a measurable ROI through increased business process integration of such solutions.
The challenge then remains at the starting point. I am convinced that the long tail of automation provides the types of projects that are outstanding given perhaps the limited business value to a plant or asset. However, such projects, when aggregated and implemented across an enterprise, can have a significant impact on a manufacturer’s bottom line.
The call to action for customers and solution providers is to identify gaps and misalignments in the flow of labor, material and information. These gaps can help identify business outcomes that can be used to vector DX interventions. A great place to start is at the OT layer, where many systems are unconnected or operating on islands.
This article was originally posted to Automation World's blog.
Starting a Career
As cheesy as it may sound, my first day at Avid felt like the first day of the rest of my life. I’m not usually one to be dramatic, but every step, every person I met, every action, felt momentous. I was a working woman! I had complete control of my future. Everything was so new then, but it would feel normal eventually, right?
I had worked many part-time jobs in the past, but “starting a career” had always been a distant concept in the cushioned bubble that is Blacksburg, Virginia. It was a long and strenuous journey getting through school and obtaining my degree, but at least it was somewhat guided. Out of the infinite possibilities, I ultimately chose a career in the process automation industry due to its rapid growth and diversity of applications.
Even after being at Avid for a couple of months, that hopeful first day feeling hasn’t completely worn off. I am constantly inspired by my co-workers to grow technically and professionally. As one of the other new hires, Jonathan Schmohl, gracefully put it, “the working world provides a more challenging form of learning. In college, you study for a test for a few days leading up to it. In the working world, you are truly needed. There is never a dull moment because there is so much to learn and so much to accomplish.” Fortunately, we have extremely supportive and knowledgeable coworkers, awesome mentors, and team leaders who are willing to help further our knowledge and accomplish our goals.
Because Avid works on many different platforms for a wide variety of clients, that same exciting first day feeling happens regularly. Every project presents an opportunity to learn many new things, make an impact, and be challenged.
Work Life Balance
There was something both refreshing and scary about starting a new job in a new city. It was a difficult transition moving from a college town filled with many similar-aged people to a new city knowing no one. Fortunately, everyone starting their lives in the work world is in the same boat.
Unlike in college, free time, or time not spent doing work is plentiful. However, the number of responsibilities you have can build up quickly if you aren’t diligent about managing your time after work.
There are dishes to do, bills to pay, doctors appointments to go to, laundry to wash, meals to prep, dogs to feed, errands to run on top of hanging out with friends, exercising, hobbies, and not to mention sleep! Another recent new grad, Nate Beekman, advises future new hires, “Try to establish a good sustainable routine early on. Eat healthily, work out, try your best to get eight hours of sleep each night (it really does make a difference), and make a schedule.” How else would we have the energy to kill it in the work world and still have fun after?
While it’s easy to find something do to after work, office life is much different than student life. While my hours are flexible, I can’t just put down my calculator and play frisbee with my friends on a whim. I’m not walking in between class every hour and there isn’t a dining hall next door, but that’s okay! Snack breaks, regular walks, and standing desks keep me happy, active, and productive while I’m at work. Others blow off steam playing ping pong, the iconic Avid pastime.
Your desk is where you will begin spending much of your time, so it's important to make it a homey, comfortable environment that promotes productivity and sets you up for success on the job. I have a picture of my dog which motivates me to work harder so I can provide her a better life. My dual monitors maximize my productivity, decreasing time spent flipping between windows. I get cold rather easily, so I also have a blanket to truly make my desk feel like home away from home. Comfort is key.
Exiting the cushy college bubble can be a scary endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be! Now that I have a degree and a job, life is 100% what I choose to make of it. Happiness can be found in day to day life through appreciation for great coworkers, delicious office snacks, and a fuzzy creature to return to in the evening. Though I can’t predict the future, I can at least improve it by taking every available opportunity to learn. Every day is a new adventure and I plan on keeping it that way!