In manufacturing, Operations has always been where the action is. Engineers continually refine assembly-line robots, chemists concoct light and sturdy composite materials and organizational experts optimize the most complex of production floor processes. Information Technology, meanwhile, has often been viewed as a poor relation. As a sector, IT spend as a portion of revenue has traditionally ranked low compared to other industries, while manufacturing CIOs have focused on delivering basic functionality as efficiently as possible. In this environment, the idea of IT innovation has simply not been on the radar – a CIO commenting in Digitalist magazine recalls being told by manufacturing executives that if they needed innovation, they could simply acquire a start-up, because start-ups was where innovation happened.
As a result of this dynamic, IT and Operations have tended to function as discrete silos, each with its own culture, nomenclature and set of priorities. Today, the demands of “Industry 4.0” and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are rendering this traditional model dangerously obsolete. Specifically, the need to connect myriad, intelligent devices into a “system of systems” and enable real time data sharing requires a convergence between IT and Operations.
What does this mean for manufacturing IT organizations?
In terms of delivering functionality, CIOs must effectively leverage digital technologies that include cloud computing and mobile networks and methodologies such as Agile – while at the same time maintaining security as a top priority. By enabling seamless communication, secure connectivity and the analysis of massive volumes of data in real time, IT plays an increasingly central role in addressing manufacturing needs around faster designs, prototypes and testing, self-diagnostic tools on the assembly line and intelligent sensors in finished products.
Beyond ramping up their technology skill sets and capabilities, many manufacturing IT organizations require a cultural makeover. Specifically, IT teams must overcome their isolationism and break down the Chinese Wall that has for decades separated them from their colleagues in Operations. They must integrate into the shop floor, learn its language and develop an understanding of its objectives, priorities, challenges and opportunities. While collaboration is a two-way street that also requires a new mindset from Operations, the onus is primarily on IT to bring business insight to the table and integrate innovation and emerging technologies into the plant environment.