A Best Practice Guide for Implementing Digital Transformation

 Everyone in industry and business uses the term digital transformation, but there are myriad definitions and meanings behind their casual use of the words. This can be confusing for an enterprise just considering or embarking on its digital transformation journey. Recently in InTech magazine, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts and Emerson’s philosophy on what digital transformation is and how to implement it, regardless of what step your company is currently working on. Here are some of those ideas.

Common Themes
No matter what a user’s definition of digital transformation is, it generally involves achieving these business benefits:

  • Optimize efficiency
  • Ensure quality
  • Minimize downtime
  • Improve sustainability
  • Support problem solving
  • Increase safety

Significant business outcomes mean that digital transformation has to start at the plant floor and proceed all the way to the cloud. This requires beginning at the OT (operational technology) level and transporting valuable information to the IT (informational technology) level.

Plan First
Even if an organization is enmeshed in implementing digital transformation at some level, if the planning step was skipped, it can be worthwhile to go back and answer important questions. For newcomers to digital transformation, it’s essential. Here are the questions:

  • What problem is being solved? What is the root cause of the pain?
  • Who is affected? Identify all internal and external stakeholders at every level.
  • Why does the problem need to be solved? What are the benefits of resolving it?
  • Is the problem worth solving? What is the cost vs projected value of success?
  • What information is needed to solve the problem?

Identify the Automation Maturity
What step is taken first depends on the organization’s automation maturity.

  • Manual operations: Data is collected by hand and trapped on paper or in isolated databases.
  • Islands of automation: Control systems collect some time-series process data, but they may not be connected to higher-level systems.
  • Connected automation: Control systems data is aggregated by historians or other higher-level computing assets, with some level of interconnectedness.
  • Enhanced connectivity and analysis: Data is widely available for analysis, and other non-process information, such as equipment diagnostics, is also collected and stored.
  • Insight-driven operations: Data is collected throughout the organization, from the shop floor up to cloud-based enterprise systems, with advanced analytics software in place, leading to actionable insights and forecasts.

Other key factors are the current comfort level of personnel with technology and the data that can result from implementation and how much technology the company already has in place to handle the problems to be solved.

Start Small, but Plan for Scalability
Once an organization realizes the extraordinary benefits that can be achieved through digital transformation, the temptation is to do everything at once. That approach, however, can be overwhelming and bring the entire operation to a standstill. Instead, identify individual problems to be solved that can produce lucrative results and implement them. Every step of success bolsters confidence in the plan and keeps the budget under control. It’s essential, however, to plan for growth and easy scalability. Otherwise, the organization can create more dead ends and automation islands. Choose technology solutions wisely to assure a clear, affordable path of scalability.

Pick a Platform Carefully
Because digital transformation focuses on solving business problems, and many stakeholders are non-technical, it’s good to select hardware/software platforms that conform to accepted stands, provide interoperability and give the organization maximum flexibility. In the long term, this approach will ensure faster, more affordable implementation. It’s essential that users select platforms that encompass solutions from the floor to the cloud:

  • Field devices: sensors, actuators, motor controllers.
  • Computing hardware: protocol and network conversion gateways, programmable logic controllers (PLCs)/programmable automation controllers (PACs), edge controllers, operator interfaces, industrial PCs.
  • Software: control development environments, human-machine interface (HMI)/supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), data servers, analytics for productivity and energy management, edge computing, and connectivity.
  • Services: implementation expertise supported by a team of engineers and developers

The digital transformation journey is different for each organization, but I’ve touched on common best-practice guidelines that can be followed to improve success. The primary goals are connecting smart technologies to valuable field data, providing visibility, and delivering actionable results through analytics to help users optimize their operations.

If you’d like to read the entire article, check it out here. And get more information on the Floor to CloudTM approach to digital transformation here.

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