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22 June 2022

5 key steps to digitise your industrial know-how

In the space of 2 years, the number of Google queries for the term "digitalization" has more than doubled. Following the health crisis, companies around the world have suddenly become aware of the importance of accelerating this digital transformation, without which their competitiveness would take a hit. If the theory is relatively simple to understand, the practice is a bit more complex. Some industries have a long way to go, and therefore have a lot to do to move away from "all paper". 

However, digitalisation cannot be defined as simply switching from paper to keyboard. In fact, the digitalisation of a business involves the use of digital solutions, the primary aim of which is to optimise processes and allow employees to concentrate on high value-added tasks. 

Such a transformation cannot be done overnight. In order to avoid rushing into things, here are 5 ideas that will help you to successfully complete your digitalization project.

Digitization: which direction to take?

The digitalisation of know-how must enable existing processes to be improved. Therefore, before starting the project, a first step is to define precisely : 

> Why you need to digitise your know-how

In other words, what are the concrete reasons for going digital? For example, you may have identified weaknesses in your processes: production costs are too high, it is difficult to keep track of operators' skills, too much time is spent on managing schedules, etc. 

Identifying sufficiently painful reasons will help to involve stakeholders in the project.  

> What are the objectives of this digitisation?

Once you have identified the "why", you must then set the objectives to be achieved. These must be SMART enough : specific (one objective for one problem), measurable, achievable, attainable, and defined in time. For example: 

  • Reduce the number of breakdowns by 50% in the first 6 months.  
  • Spend half the time preparing team schedules as soon as the solution is implemented. 

Communicating on the digitisation project

When processes that have been in place for many years are changed, resistance to change can occur. In fact, a significant number of projects involving changes in working habits fail. This is often due to a lack of communication within the teams. 

It is therefore essential to create cohesion around the project as early as possible.  

The first people to be convinced are usually the management, without whom the project cannot be carried out. You can demonstrate how such a change will have a positive impact on the company's costs .
The importance of employees for the success of the project should not be overlooked either. Indeed, they are often the first to be affected by the digitalisation of their know-how. The success of this project therefore also depends on change management, which should not be hesitated to begin before the deployment. 

Take stock of existing processes

It is now clear what the objectives of the digitalisation of know-how are, as well as the support of the stakeholders. It is therefore time to take stock of the existing processes.

Indeed, in order to digitise the company's know-how, it is necessary to know what it is. This is not the simplest stage, but it is crucial for the rest of the project. In concrete terms, it is a question of listing and detailing all the know-how that you want to digitise

As a reminder, a know-how is defined as a "Competence acquired through experience in practical problems, in the exercise of a trade" (Larousse). 

Thus, the aim of this inventory is to list and describe the resources and knowledge needed to carry out a process. For example: to produce a bottle of perfume, we need X machines, which require Y operators with Z skills. We can also evaluate the current degree of digitalisation of each skill. This makes it possible to define which actions should be implemented as a priority.

Define the specifications

Digitalisation also means digital data management, which implies questions that need to be thought through in advance. Drawing up a specification is essential to provide answers to these questions while setting the technical scope. This will provide details of the technologies adapted to the objectives set by the company.  

Data management is also important to consider. In particular, you will need to define who will have access to the data, where and how it will be stored, how it will be secured etc. 

Planning the digitisation project

At this stage, there is a clear picture of the current situation. The next logical step is to plan the digitisation project. 

In order not to miss any steps, it may be advisable to start with a use case that can quickly demonstrate initial results, and that can be easily deployed on a large scale. 

The planning phase also involves bringing together the right people. In general, the project is carried out by a multidisciplinary team including the management, the CIO (Chief Information Officer), IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operational Technology) profiles. Including technicians and operators is also a good way to manage change. 

Depending on the complexity of your specifications, it is possible to call on the skills of a external service provider specialised in Industry 4.0 challenges. Such a player will be able to support you, from the definition of the roadmap to the large-scale deployment of your new digital tools. 

In summary

The digitalisation of know-how is accelerating in many sectors. In the industrial sector, it is now synonymous with productivity thanks to the optimisation of business processes. However, the transition to digital implies having a clear vision of the existing situation, as well as the objectives to be achieved. This transition cannot be achieved without strategic thinking, communication (a lot!) and quality support. 

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