The steps needed for a successful digitalisation project

A successful digitalisation project can transform a business function. But, how can businesses ensure it is a success?

Most business leaders are aware of the opportunities presented by Industry 4.0 and the need to respond in order to compete in an increasingly competitive market. But for many, and for SMEs in particular, the array of Industry 4.0 technologies available, coupled with the perceived urgency to adopt them, can be overwhelming.

No less daunting are statistics that suggest up to 70 per cent of digital transformation projects fail, even among multinationals whose scale of ambition and innovation is backed up by significant financial and skills input.

However, it is possible to navigate your way around the barriers to successful implementation, by following one simple rule at the outset: look beyond the technology.

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Establishing a bedrock for a digitalisation project

While advanced modelling, simulation, virtual reality and the like can bring huge operational and commercial gains when applied astutely, the real driver for improved business performance is through the creation of digital strategies, business plans and roadmaps to develop, deliver and sustain a change project.

Companies which reap the benefits of Industry 4.0, regardless of their size or financial clout, tend to be those whose executives have a clear future vision for their business, and the skills and authority to guide them from inception to implementation and beyond. They recognise that digitalisation is not a giant leap, but a ‘small steps’ process with a firm focus on the long-term.

Before any investment is made in hardware or software, they will have first analysed functions within their business, taking into account the data and digital skills and tools they already have to work with. A SWOT analysis of business functions will have been carried out to establish where a digital approach, rather than a doing what we currently do digitally, could deliver enhanced performance, and future drivers for business, such as environmental sustainability, will also have been considered.

Change can create workforce uncertainty. There is an understandable, if perhaps misinformed, fear that digitalisation leads to job losses. Securing the support of your workforce is therefore crucial to any digital change project, and a well-designed and delivered strategy can support this.

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Effective moves towards digitalisation

Digital technologies have the potential to disrupt business performance across all functions, as well as fostering increased commercial value for the company as a whole. An implementation team should, therefore, take into account all business functions.

The benefits of a holistic, well executed and dynamic digital strategy, which is not fixed in traditional static planning cycles, should both reap immediate results and set the agenda for continued innovation and growth in response to evolving technologies, business markets and customer demand.

It should be stressed that Industry 4.0 is not the preserve of big organisations. SMEs are generally agile in nature and this characteristic can enable them to adopt new digital tools and techniques much more quickly than larger organisations.  A growing number of SMEs have seen the benefit of incorporating smart technologies to generate valuable real-time data and are using this information to help them make better decisions to grow their business.

University based digital impact centres offer a wealth of expertise, unbiased advice and practical support. For example, the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC), which is part of the University of Liverpool, and its regional partners recently launched the LCR4 START initiative, offering targeted support to Liverpool City Region SMEs, to deploy digital technologies to achieve business gains, growth and savings.

The Made Smarter Review estimates that UK industry could achieve a 25% increase in productivity through digital adoption by 2025. The chance to capitalise on opportunities to embed operational efficiencies, accelerate speed to market for products and services, and enhance competitiveness and profitability, is one that should not be missed for want of a viable and sustainable strategy.

Written by Dr Andy Levers, executive director of Liverpool University’s Virtual Engineering Centre

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