Achieving Operational Excellence Through Digital Transformation

John Q. Todd, Total Resource Managment, Inc. (TRM)
Tags: business management, continuous improvement, IIoT

Embarking on the journey of digital transformation in maintenance and reliability requires strategic alignment of three very important things: the people, processes, and programs of your organization. Operational excellence through this transformation entails mastering seamless data utilization and control alongside equipment maintenance. Yet, challenges abound — from aligning software solutions to managing evolving master data.

This article navigates these complexities, offering insights and strategies for organizations at every stage of their digital evolution, including where an organization can begin to improve, no matter where they are on the digital transformation journey. I hope to provide a strategy to formalize this change by way of the people, processes, and programs that make every company function. I'll also point out where some bumps in the road may occur.

Of course, before beginning we must first define, “operational excellence through digital transformation.”

Imagine this scenario: Your organization has attained operational mastery, encompassing not only equipment operations but also strategies for data collection and leverage. Achieving excellence demands a well-defined, evolving, and flexible digital approach, thoroughly understood across the enterprise.

Digital transformation requires thoughtful implementations of Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) / Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Asset Performance Management (APM) solutions. In fact, any digital/software solution either in place or planned, needs to be in full support of your digitization and process efforts. You need to be very clear as to the requirements your organization has regarding the software solutions. One common tripping point is having redundant features/functions across solutions, all of which you are paying for.

The increasing necessity for master data requires a management framework to maintain its cleanliness and long-term usefulness. Seamless collection of operational and process data should be an inherent aspect, ensuring ease for users and guaranteeing consistent, high-quality data. Designing systems to invisibly gather data enables users to concentrate on their tasks without distraction.

The transformation of businesses from paper to digital is nothing new. What is new is the scope of what can and should be made digital. What was not even considered a candidate for digitization five years ago is now just another record in a database waiting to be retrieved for analysis. A casual picture of a leaking valve from a smartphone, texted to a supervisor, is now a critical maintenance record!

Plan for any significant change in your plant to take a full year to begin generating tangible results. It could take less time, of course, and it shouldn't be more than a year to start to see a difference. Achieving digital and operational excellence is truly transformational, but it must be scoped and phased correctly, or it can become paralyzing.

Who Can Benefit from Digital Transformation?

Digital transformation can apply to large and sophisticated organizations who already have many different sources of data and software interfaced together. These entities are already on the excellence and transformation path, and most likely, have the needed infrastructure in place. Perhaps they have multiple business units, some of which may need further transformation. Organizations such as these are in refinement mode where they are seeking to get as much out of what they already have.

However, those who have established manual processes where they use some software tools to facilitate those processes can benefit, as well. Perhaps they continue to rely upon a significant amount of manual data capture, analysis, and reporting. By taking advantage of their foundation of good processes and the established sources of data, these businesses will be able to ascertain where they can improve and which tools can be used to move them into a truly digital environment.

Digital transformation streamlines operations by eliminating manual report creation and unused metrics, saving significant time and effort. Vital business and process data are visually displayed and easily accessible to all organizational levels, ensuring transparency in work activities and statuses. The era of inefficient email exchanges for information retrieval ends with digital transformation. Leveraging powerful business intelligence software allows for seamless data retrieval and analysis, empowering informed decision-making.
A key objective of digital transformation is to drastically reduce manual processes, opting for automated, user-friendly input methods such as browser-based applications or mobile apps. Minimizing entry errors through picklists and reducing reliance on traditional office equipment enhances efficiency.
Quantifiable business outcomes, facilitated by fully developed metrics and KPIs, lead to improved equipment reliability and reduced maintenance costs. Strong interconnections between people, processes, and programs streamline operations, minimizing manual data capture and entry efforts. Calculating the cost of manual tasks underscores the efficiency gains achieved through digital transformation.

Your Business, Your Strategy.

Without a very pragmatic, phased approach, organizations cannot be successful at executing change of any significance.  The problems you face can be too great and costly, so you must divide and conquer.  Act now on your most significant problems, and solve them with the appropriate solution, whether it involves processes, leadership/training/people, or technology. 100% perfection is not necessary and is often proven impractical. Every organization exists at various levels of maturity simultaneously and is capable of multiple and parallel improvement initiatives at the same time.

The initial decision in your digital transformation journey depends on your business's size and nature: whether to transform the entire operation at once or proceed site by site. The 80/20 rule applies here, emphasizing an iterative approach to maintain momentum and drive impactful changes. For initiatives focusing on management and process alterations, 80% of the impact and savings stem from effective planning and scheduling, followed by emphasis on inspections versus corrective maintenance.
Similarly, aligning computing systems with business processes yields significant impact, with 80% attributed to achieving alignment and enhancing data quality. Enhanced data enables more informed and efficient decision-making.
Operational initiatives, particularly in condition monitoring and failure prevention, drive 80% of their impact. Emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) further enhance operational efficiency, showcasing their potential for transformative change at a rapid pace. Regardless of project scope, a consistent strategy focusing on people, processes, and programs remains paramount.
Often the last element listed in any list is the need to practice Organizational Change Management (OCM). You will be far more successful at change if OCM is performed from day one and all along the journey and continues as simply part of how you do business. A regular internal newsletter (in a digital format of course) is very simple to produce and does wonders at communicating change.

The next step is the holistic assessment of your people, business processes, and programs (software solutions). This across-the-board assessment will not only determine areas of improvement but also what is working, as well.

Do not discount current processes, even if they are manual or tedious in nature. There can be processes and procedures that simply cannot be digitized and provide value to the business in their current state. Do not redefine a practice that is working, especially if it's established as part of a "best practice". Leverage and embrace proven approaches only where they exist or can provide a tangible benefit without causing organizational disruption.

Take full advantage of what the assessment results are telling you. Dramatic results can come from small refinements to your people and processes and even your software tools. You may find that simple things such as timing or clarity of notifications are enough to make real digital transformation. You will also need to be willing to make personnel changes based upon the assessment results.

Breaking Down Major Change Into Workable Solutions 

Anticipate the assessment revealing significant work required for a true transformation into the digital realm. Ongoing advancements in software and equipment technology have replaced many manual tasks of the past. Adapting your current business practices may be necessary to move forward.
An outcome of the assessment is to pinpoint specific requirements for technology implementation and configuration based on your people and processes. Addressing gaps revealed in the assessment may involve necessary software changes to support daily activities and data collection. Address inefficiencies your workforce faces when navigating software, as this is the time to rectify such issues.
Clearly align your processes with functional areas of your software solutions. Aim for staff to utilize a single software solution whenever possible to enhance efficiency. Support early proof of concept activities to test new ideas and configurations for practicality and substantive change. Flexibility is key; allow for changes to be made as needs evolve over time.
Additionally, allocate resources for refining solutions after the initial implementation. Further adjustments may be needed to optimize the technology for real business cycles or seasons. Maintaining a flexible approach ensures adaptability to future changes.

Documentation, Documentation, Documentation

In a digital format, documentation is indispensable, spanning from strategic planning to specific computing system configurations. However, many individuals shy away from this task. Consider hiring individuals who excel in documentation or engaging technical writers for short-term projects.
Process documentation, in particular, holds enduring value for organizations. Revision control and regular reviews are essential, as processes may quickly become outdated. Solidify processes through discussion and commitment to paper, establishing a robust system for storage, management, and accessibility across all levels of the organization. Document the role of software solutions in processes, ensuring their relevance and utility. After all, if software isn't enhancing business processes, what purpose does it serve?

Rinse and Repeat

Your digital transformation strategy exhibits a circular, iterative nature. Though initial efforts may yield measurable success, the ever-changing business landscape necessitates adaptability. Flexibility in strategy breeds flexible results and engaged teams. Continuous feedback from process workers and software users is invaluable, but timely implementation of their suggestions is crucial to maintain participation. Regular reviews of enhancement requests, involving sponsors, implementation teams, and requestors, foster staff buy-in.
An assessment's effectiveness lies in its repetition. While the initial assessment provides actionable insights, its true value lies in establishing a baseline for future evaluations. Annual reassessments allow for tracking progress and identifying areas for improvement, forming a critical component of your strategy. Embrace your achievements and use them as benchmarks for future success.

Wrapping Up

Every organization embarks on its unique journey towards digital excellence in maintenance processes. While some are already well-advanced in their digital transformation, others are just beginning to recognize the imperative for change.

Start by envisioning the desired outcome and crafting a strategy to achieve it. Engage your staff in this vision and witness their enthusiasm for shedding manual tasks and embracing digital efficiency.

Remember, it is your people who drive processes, leveraging the programs you provide to ensure business success. Empower them with the latest digital tools to maximize efficiency and excellence.