A Blended Approach to DX
So which approach yields the best results? As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I've found that the answer is a combination of both.
Facility-level folks can move fast. They can quantify the return on investment of a DX project easily because they know the business impact and how to tie in the facility-specific digital systems. They also have the domain expertise to apply to manufacturing problems — they know in detail how their equipment and processes work — something data scientists and DX technology gurus don’t necessarily have. As you introduce new digital technologies, it’s important to ensure that facility operators are willing to change and adopt the new digital tools or work practices the DX project has put in place. You can have all the greatest technologies at your fingertips, but nothing will happen unless the facility folks execute the “new digital way.”
However, at the facility level, team members are not likely to consider how to reproduce a successful in-plant digital program across a fleet or find enterprise-level uses for their data — and they almost certainly don’t have the funding to do so. Furthermore, they are often not as comfortable with advanced technologies, such as those that can help them move data outside of their own facility to the cloud. The big risk is that they create a set of facility-specific solutions with high support costs that the rest of the organization can't leverage.
Corporate-led programs will typically pay great attention to the broad applicability and standardization of an architecture or solution. Corporate IT organizations are also generally very good at governance and making data widely available and reusable. But sometimes they don’t know the specific data types and connections they need for a unique application, which can create “data lakes” that are difficult to use. They lack the needed domain expertise, so they may miss critical functionality or deliver applications that don’t deliver results. And if they don’t work hard to gain the buy-in of facility folks on their projects, they run the risk of it all being for naught if no one will execute or “close the loop."
In my experience, digital transformation only works if there is a tight connection between corporate digital teams driving the vision and field-level plant operations targeting specific, measurable problems to solve. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to establish a DX team tasked with bringing corporate- and plant-level IT, operational technology (OT), engineering and business leaders together to prioritize problems they want to solve and then implement pilot projects. It’s important to find “champions” in facilities who will lead these projects and share their experiences with other facilities. The trick is figuring out how to scale those solutions across the enterprise and avoid “pilot purgatory.” If you don't, both groups might have illusions of progress when in reality, they're just creating more silos of limited-deployment solutions. That's why you should combine the business and operations knowledge of plant personnel with the technological and support savvy of central IT and engineering to create a winning team for digital transformation.