FEATURE – As organizations strive to modernize and ride the wave of new technologies, what should their operating systems look like? How can they adapt to Industry 4.0?
Words: Andrew Quibell
Businesses are placing a tremendous amount of focus on getting their systems and processes aligned with Industry 4.0 requirements (more on this here) and the tidal wave of new innovative technologies and Artificial Intelligence (AI) that will continue to impact many industrial sectors in the future. With all these pending technical advances on the horizon, we will see the gradual replacement of the people who traditionally fulfill labor-intensive repetitive manual and transactional tasks or activities. So, keeping this in mind, how should your modernized operating business and quality system adapt in the 4.0 era? How should they end up looking and be configured?
When we look at how today’s operating systems appear, the picture may be in many cases overly complex, as we have a vast mix of input media and devices people pull from and use on a daily basis. As we look to the future and the dominance of digital technology coupled with AI, it becomes clear that our platform for a business or enterprise operating system needs to be set up to have simple and direct processes. It sounds obvious enough, but it’s amazing to see how much humans can overcomplicate things when they don’t consider removing or a frustration for the users. How can lean help us to shape these technological platforms, and how can we rethink our way of working as we find ourselves having to remold or replace what we have in place today to achieve better outcomes tomorrow? How can we help influence how these platforms are fundamentally structured, and how might they look in the new digital landscape businesses will have to operate in?
Having given this a lot of thought and attention through my journey, here are some key steps to consider when you are faced with such a challenge in your business.
- Map out the current state of where existing systems, processes, and information reside, in what media form, home location or system architecture, and this can be accessed – hard copy, digital interface, remote, centralized, decentralized server file type set up, cloud configuration.
- the current state of system and process information flow on a whiteboard or office wall, using colored post-it notes – colors should denote differences in type, function/department, and area/location (you can decide the specifics, based on how your business is currently set up).
- Overlay onto this current state the user experience acceptance rate (can be subjective feedback/survey ratings), what people really think about the system or process they use today, and information on whether they perceived as being helpful and beneficial or a hindrance or burden.
- Now look for redundancy, the negative feedback, the time it takes to retrieve or use what is shown on the current state map, what could or should be replaced, upgraded or decommissioned. What can be streamlined, reconfigured, obviously improved. It may be a startling picture.
- Establish one main entry/access jump off point into your operating systems and associated processes, the window or primary dashboard in. You should place emphasis on how this looks and operates – keep it clean, simple, direct, with eye-catching icons and visuals and with the minimal number of mouse “clicks” to access the next sub-site or directory.
- Consider when to rearrange or create your new platform from the current state, how the data will flow, and the applications that will interface with the platform. Are APIs secure, easily established, and compatible for any new replacement digital technology you wish to build or migrate to the improved operating system? Also look at how and by when (timing and responsibility) apps can be moved with minimal disruption or interference to current business activity.
- Any new or existing system or process you want to create or migrate to a new digital application should be thoroughly piloted and evaluated by potential users before being released into the general user population that will use the new platform (key point). Why? You need to ensure high user engagement at the outset for this to stick. So, in advance, survey former users on all the negative traits of the previous system or process to be replaced or upgraded and incorporate their feedback, lessons, and experiences into what you intend to launch (this goes back to point 3).
- Arrange your operating system as if the user or navigator is not necessarily familiar with the technical view or understanding you (as the builder) or a traditional technical user might have (another key point). What I mean here is to create a simple path or sequence of steps (minimal mouse clicks), so most people who are unfamiliar can follow a logical and common-sense sequence, without feeling intimidated or lost upon first use. Also try to include typical well-known words and terminology at the higher-level access points to a sub-system or process. The technical jargon should only appear after the user has drilled down, clicking two to three levels deeper.
- Make sure you have a secure cloud backup service provided to everything operating on the platform that is perpetually storing whatever data is present and being inputted 24/7, so you are not high and dry if a local or remote media/server device goes down. Everything on your platform should always be retrievable and current. It’s important to plan for it, because it is inevitable that you will experience outages, disruptions, or hacking attempts into your system.
As a lean thinker, I have used all the above points and coached the technical experts in given functions and disciplines to consider the obvious and not-so-obvious touch points. They often could not see them: technically driven people can become blinkered with tunnel vision, laser focus down a fixed path. Sometimes, they can’t “see the wood for the trees”, as the saying goes. I have often had to pull the blinkers off, open up the picture and ask “why” to provoke them to stop and think. Without providing an answer or solution, I have tried to impress upon people the need to eliminate waste in our created systems and processes, remove unnecessary or complex steps, level out unevenness or complexity in connections, and to create simple and direct pathways. I have also emphasized the importance of eliminating burden and frustration from the user experience in order to get the best from what is built.
To help you grasp the point I have made in this article, I include a generic diagram (see below) representing a potential digital platform with a selection of typical system and process applications (in this example, these are biased towards the Quality and Environment Operating Platform model). I hope this provides a guide for those of you who may be struggling to visualize what you might want a platform to look like in your own business.
Andrew Quibell is Head of Manufacturing Quality and Lean at VISTA Print.