Digitalization in manufacturing. Five factors that determine success.

… and five questions you should dare to ask yourself

Reduce maintenance costs by 30 percent and prevent 70 percent of downtimes – for SMEs in manufacturing, digitalization harbors considerable potential. So why is this potential only rarely exploited?

While some decision-makers are euphoric, others are skeptical, and others are simply baffled: Can the economic expectations of intra-company digitalization be met? Will the investments pay off? The reticence of the skeptics is every bit as justified as the euphoria of the optimists. The fact is: Digitalization is not necessarily the road to success – but, in some circumstances, it is certainly the most likely. This is especially true for small and medium-sized enterprises in the manufacturing sector.

Experience shows that the factors that determine the success or failure of digitalization projects are always the same. That's why it is a good idea to ask yourself a few questions. AND to answer these questions honestly.

Are we throwing too many balls in the air?

Whether we are driven by euphoria or a pressing need for action: too much, too soon is the wrong approach. If you tackle too many things at once, you run the risk of losing sight of the most important point: Every step in any digitalization project builds on the one before it. The solution is to create a roadmap that prioritizes the individual digitalization steps. Realism is essential here – the superpower of successful digitizers. As it turns out, the first steps of digitalization can be quite simple – and they whet your appetite for more.

Do we have the courage it takes?

If you don't know the status quo, you won't improve it through digitalization. Here's the crux: Taking a closer look can be painful. After all, nobody likes to admit to mistakes. Especially ones that have been repeated for years. But having the courage to face the truth pays off: The likelihood of successful digitalization increases in proportion to the extent to which existing weaknesses are consistently identified. For only when existing routines are "mercilessly" examined can you benefit from the full effects of the new technologies.

Do we know our key performance indicators?

Why do so many people fail to achieve their goals? Because they don't have any. The same is also true for companies. Planning and implementation only stand a chance if we know exactly what benefits a smart factory is supposed to generate. Anything else inevitably ends in arbitrariness and frustration. A lot is being done and a great deal is being achieved – but not where it should be. This is why it is important to define key performance indicators and benchmarks prudently – and refer back to the aforementioned roadmap.

Are we confusing the means with the ends?

"To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail", claimed Neil Postman in the 1980s. The same phenomenon is also apparent in the use of technologies. While digitalization is not an end in itself, it is a tool that can decisively optimize production processes. This can only be achieved, however, if the available technologies are used and linked with one another prudently. And that calls for a strategy that considers, plans, and implements solutions carefully rather than one that implements hasty standalone solutions without proper planning.

Do we know what we don't know?

Digitalization requires knowledge. This basic requirement cannot be taken for granted. Every company must build knowledge. Through appropriate employee training, through careful recruiting, and through external consulting. However, this also requires a willingness to learn, openness, and patience at all levels of the company hierarchy. If you know what you don't know – and take suitable action – you will be way ahead of other companies. For almost 40 percent of companies admit that a lack of knowledge is the main reason for the failure of their digitalization processes. You can do better!

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