OK, but what does digital transformation mean to me?

Emerson Automation Solutions

By Martin Kolos
Friday, 09 April, 2021

OK, but what does digital transformation mean to me?

The term ‘digital transformation’, or DX, probably surpassed peak familiarity in the industrial automation sector a few years ago; however, common agreement on the definition, I think, still lags. To offer one perspective on this, DX can be thought of as a continuation of the digitalisation that has been ongoing in the industry for at least three decades, and involves adopting modern technology to help to transform human behaviours. Any industrial producer will tell you that they will embrace digitalisation wherever it makes sense to their operation. But, as one example, they may not be aware of the opportunities that exist to reduce manual data gathering and processing, and instead rely on workflow automation and analytics to support decision-making. It’s the change in the way people do their jobs and prioritise activities that is the real transformation part of DX.

The way that DX initiatives are currently being applied in our industry is as varied as the individuals, teams and businesses applying them; in other words, it’s a wide and multi-coloured spectrum. Anything from the simplest problem-solving purchases to a sweeping, organisation-wide rollout of new systems, software and training; and, of course, everything in between. However, the one theme that is common amongst the vast majority of cases, is that MORE must be done with LESS — less resource, less time and, above all, less forgiveness if things don’t go according to plan.

And this can be tricky: expectations tend to organically set themselves within the minds of those who judge us. But having expectations based on a concept that is so varied in definition and relevance can lead to a misalignment of what is achievable with prescribed resources. So what’s the answer to minimising your risk?

Many will say “start small” or “be focused” or “map out your KPIs in advance, so you know when you’re successful or not”; and this is all excellent advice. But what I say is that you are delving into a concept that is relatively new in the context of industrial automation, and there is a chance you won’t succeed. The majority of engineering disciplines have progressed throughout history in a conservative, yet certain manner — and the one thing that has always occurred during that time is that lessons have been learned, and lessons have been shared (even if it sometimes takes a very long time). In DX, this should be the same: take your time, have a plan, listen to the experience of others and share yours.

I’m an avid reader of science fiction, and there is a plot device used in the Dune saga by Frank Herbert, whereby individuals can share their life experiences across many millennia using genetic engineering. This is referred to as ‘other memory’. Now, in the real world, we don’t have the convenience of such technology; but the next best thing is a proactive and open attitude to sharing knowledge. It is my hope that one day we’ll take for granted the myriad DX methodologies that improve safety, reliability and sustainability because they’re simply part of our industrial collective memory.

*Martin Kolos is a Digital Transformation Lead with Emerson Automation Solutions and has a passion for future energies, emerging techniques for solving industry’s toughest challenges and collaborating with people who aren’t afraid to try something different.

Image: ©stock.adobe.com/au/WrightStudio

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