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It may be a cliché but it’s true: the last two years have been extraordinary. In just 24 months, we’ve seen a decade’s worth of transformation, much of it driven by emerging technologies, such as data analytics, AI, blockchain and Web 3.0. Meanwhile, the likes of voice recognition, neural networks and cognitive systems, all of which have been talked about since the 1980s, now have both the computing power and cost of storage required to unlock their full innovative potential.
For manufacturers, the impact has been — and will continue to be — considerable. Why? Because it’s led them to move away from traditional formulas of success. Rather than focus on areas like productivity and efficiency, these new tools and technologies have let them start asking a range of different, often better questions such as “What are we doing to digitize R&D?”, ‘’How can we develop connected products and services?” and “What steps should we take to digitize our workforce?”.
Data, and particularly unstructured data, is at the heart of this new wave of progress. When you look at some of the technologies mentioned earlier, the algorithms powering them often haven’t changed a great deal in recent times. Rather, it’s the type of data sets they have access to that’s constantly evolving.
Production spreadsheets, CAD, Word document policies and procedures, all this information has traditionally been spread unevenly and disparately across manufacturing firms’ operations. Now, thanks to document intelligence platforms, firms can bring it all together in one place and, crucially, turn that unstructured data into precise, real-time insights that drive better decisions, increase quality and decrease risk.
This puts manufacturers in a position to respond far more quickly to opportunities and threats, many of which they can now predict and plan for in advance. Perhaps most importantly, it enables them to look beyond just product features and functions and center their strategy on creating better customer experiences. That way, they can start solving real-world problems for their own company and for the people and businesses they serve.
Diversity is the key
Yet, technology is nothing without people — especially right now. Much of what’s currently driving innovation is disruption, whether due to the pandemic, trade tensions or the war in Ukraine. To successfully analyze and address these diverse disruptions, manufacturers need diverse perspectives and skill sets among their employees too.
That doesn’t just mean looking at gender or race either. Firms require an increasingly eclectic mix of geographic representation, educational background, ages and more — essentially anything that promotes a different way of thinking and working at all levels of the organization. Similarly, manufacturers wishing to lead the industry tomorrow should be creating a culture of continuous learning today — one that encourages and supports staff to develop adaptive skills like problem-solving, critical-thinking and creativity alongside their technical competencies. This will enable them to better collaborate with modern technologies to drive innovation.
Of course, no manufacturing leader can simply click their fingers and expect that culture to appear overnight; it takes investment and focus, which is exactly why the EY organization developed the Neurodiversity Center of Excellence (NCoE) after recognizing a need to drive growth for businesses by accessing the tremendous untapped talent of neurodivergent individuals. Within the NCOE program, individuals with cognitive differences such as dyslexia, ADHD, autism and Asperger syndrome partner with the company’s existing teams to develop fresh thinking and approaches for clients.
The potential of centers like these when it comes to transforming how manufacturing companies seize growth opportunities and mitigate risk is enormous — and exciting. Yet, to truly embed innovation in their culture, firms must also stop viewing it in terms of silver bullets. Rather than looking for the one big, hot idea that’s going to drive growth and accelerate performance, they must see innovation as a collaborative and experimental process. A series of ongoing steps in which progress is made, risks are taken and mistakes are commonplace but learned from.
The key is to treat each idea, whether successful or not, as a chance to learn and improve for the future — something the EY organization seeks to do at its Innovation Hub run in collaboration with Nottingham Spirk. The Hub brings Industry 4.0 to life in a real-world production environment — from cyber attacks and scenario planning to new scheduling and visualization tools on the shopfloor.
As Steve Jobs famously said, “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.” Those manufacturers that embrace this mindset now will find themselves with an unprecedented chance to better engage employees, delight clients, reduce risk and enhance their competitive edge. The ones that don’t are going to spend a long time catching up.
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ARTICLE BY FORBES
Digital Factory, Industrial Automation, Industry 4.0
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