The fourth Industrial Revolution is here. AI, AR, Machine learning, the IIoT – each, in its own way, promises to change the way businesses of all stripes work. The companies of 10 years’ time will be unrecognisable from those of today.
Alongside these precursors to a utopic ‘smart’ future, however, are myriad challenges for businesses and business leaders. For those quick to adapt to and adopt the fourth Industrial Revolution, there now stand legacy systems which are quickly becoming outdated and ineffectual. These systems stand in stark contrast to the buzzwords of the moment – agility, speed, flexibility.
It’s for this reason that digital transformation has become a hot topic for businesses. In fact over a third of our nation’s major businesses have appointed a dedicated digital leader to make the most of digital transformation. The rest are undoubtedly thinking about new ways of working.
Digital transformation sounds grand, and suggests a complete overhaul in how businesses work. But the reality is one of evolution, an iterative approach to changing processes, powered by app technology. And the culmination of these iterative changes will ultimately lead to new ways of thinking for businesses, transforming the way businesses work.
The importance of digital transformation for enterprise businesses
Many businesses are already embracing digital solutions to improve their processes. At Berlin-based lighting manufacturer OSRAM, the digitalisation of manufacturing operations means employees are kept up to date better, and carry out their work faster, more precisely and more efficiently.
At manufacturing services company Jabil’s Mexican and Malaysian plants, the use of predictive analytics, machine learning and the cloud has increased yield, reduced manufacturing cycle time and empowered employees.
For enterprise businesses, digital transformation can be implemented throughout the value and supply chains, and can involve anything from the smallest of processes to overhauling entire systems. A Boston Consulting Group report reveals how digital technologies can be applied across the entire value chain from planning through to operations, and the opportunities they present, from data-driven design to predictive maintenance.
What’s more, according to the same report, the potential cost savings are huge. Full-scale digitalisation of non-residential construction within 10 years, say BCG, would lead to annual global cost savings of 13% to 21% in the engineering and construction phases, and 10% to 17% in the operations phase. All very good reasons for businesses to think digital.
In many ways, the mindset of technological change is as important as the technology itself. In a report from strategy consultants Roland Berger, Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders says, “The possibilities of the digital revolution must be put to good use. That involves designing, developing and manufacturing our products much more efficiently and much faster. In the aerospace industry, we are currently seeing a level of competition that we have never experienced before.”
But while digitising business processes can improve efficiency and save money, many will be put off by the perceived cost of implementation. There’s no need to replace entire systems immediately, though: there is another solution.
The role of apps and app tech
Research from Computing reveals that dealing with legacy IT infrastructure is the biggest problem facing businesses looking to implement digital transformation programmes. In 2016, for example, a Delta Air Lines computer outage that knocked out both the primary and backup IT systems saw over 2,000 flights being cancelled. Even once power was restored, their systems failed to interconnect for several hours, grinding the entire airline to a halt. The cause? Outdated systems that date from 1982, with additional functionality added clunkily on top over the years.
Creating an entire new IT system for a major airline would have significant costs, which many would be reluctant to spend – after all, the majority of the time, these legacy systems still work well, with plenty of computing power. However, total replacement need not be the answer: what if a business could offer a middle ground, translating existing systems into something more powerful, more intelligent, more accessible and more intuitive?
This is where apps and app tech come into play. While they may not offer the complete system overhaul that is needed in the long run, they solve some of the issues of legacy systems at a fraction of the cost, and demonstrate to staff – and the wider world – that innovation is firmly on the agenda.
For enterprise businesses, this also means greater buy-in from employees: introducing digital solutions to physical problems that work with technology employees already own – such as mobile phones – demonstrates a forward-thinking attitude, and an intelligent, modern approach to issue resolution.
For firms whose systems are even more traditional – those using paper-based systems or basic Excel spreadsheets – investing in mobile apps can create a connected system without the need to commission an entire new IT infrastructure.
Such solutions solve problems and improve efficiency across individual stages of the business process, but apps and app tech can also increase inter-connectivity, building bridges between elements of the value chain to streamline processes and improve productivity.
App tech: the bigger picture
However, there’s a bigger picture when it comes to the use of app tech, and that’s the creation of an entire shift in company culture. The engineering industry is one that, historically, has been slow to adapt and evolve – but times are changing. The process used to introduce such technology can create a culture of innovation and agility across the board, not just within a company, but throughout the industry as a whole.
Industry events such as The Engineer Expo and the Engineering Design Show have a strong focus on technological advancements that benefit the industry – including the use of apps and app tech. Events such as the National Grid’s Open Innovation Day awards a total of up to £1m of funding to innovation project ideas that focus on areas such as ‘unlocking flexibility’.
Engineering giant Rolls-Royce recently announced that they would be partnering with multiple small start ups and SMEs in order to take advantage of their characteristic nimble, innovative way of working.
Innovation days are held regularly by businesses within the enterprise and engineering sectors to address specific issues across their industries, from road markings to water leakage. They’re a chance for personnel from across the sector to get together and focus their attentions on how technological innovations can solve all manner of problems.
For some, these problems may never have been considered in detail before. For others, the days are a chance to share ideas with colleagues from the wider industry. Ultimately, events such as these encourage those in traditionally slow-moving industries to think and act in new ways. They also help the industry to understand how apps and app tech-powered solutions can inspire and engage workforces to do their jobs more efficiently, more effectively and often at a lower cost.
With engineering and construction firms planning on investing 5% of their annual revenue into digital operations solutions in coming years, it’s clear that digital transformation is a key focus for these industries. After sticking with the known – legacy IT systems and late adoption of new technologies – these fields are following the lead of sectors such as fintech that are already utilising app tech in new and innovative ways. It’s good to see experts in engineering and enterprise now coming together to introduce an agility that’s never been seen before, increasing productivity, improving efficiency and ultimately having a positive impact on the bottom line.