By Mark Taber, PTC
Industrial organizations of all types need to digitalize their products and processes in order to stay competitive in the Internet of Things (IoT) era. This includes making data accessible throughout the organization, ensuring all stakeholders are on the same page, and making information traceable throughout the product lifecycle. Frankly, if now is the first time your organization is considering digitalization, you’re already behind.
Changing one’s organization’s product development process can be challenging. Indeed, organizations can take small steps toward digital transformation, rather than completely disrupting their systems in one fell swoop. And while it’s important to not delay, there are a few “trigger moments” when the entire organization may be especially ready to embrace change. In fact, these moments have helped many organizations across industries move digitalization projects to the top of their agendas and rally behind this new mindset.
1. A foray into connected products
From the Amazon Echo to the Fitbit, consumers are clamoring to get their hands on smart, connected products. Interest in self-driving cars is paramount and features such as self-braking and parking assist are at the top of every car buyer’s wish list. If your organization hasn’t already considered making its products smart and connected, then expect it will be in the next year or so.
Alternatively, an organization may consider ways to offer its product as a service. Trane, for example, sells its customers “conditioned air” rather than an air conditioning or heating units. By maintaining the unit on the customer’s behalf, Trane has taken on the burden of ensuring that the space—whether movie theater, office building, or other public space—is at a comfortable temperature for occupants. This is a major benefit and selling point for potential customers.
Before pursuing either of these innovations, however, the product development process itself must be IoT-enabled in order meet customer expectations of a smart, connected product or product-as-a-service. Being able to manage data end-toend—from engineering to the field and back again—allows manufacturers to take real-world information on their product and use it to either improve future generations of the product or to preemptively determine maintenance needs.
2. A merger or acquisition
Imagine that your organization has just merged with, absorbed, or been absorbed by another company. During the process, one of the key projects that the integration team will look to tackle is making sure that all employees are working on the same systems and platforms for easy collaboration among teams. This is the perfect time to look to transform the new, larger organization’s product development process. As the enterprise systems being used by both organizations are being evaluated, it is possible to determine where the greatest need is: whether building a digital product definition, offering universal data access, or ensuring digital product traceability throughout the lifecycle.
Rather than welcoming the acquired company to the team with credentials to the existing enterprise system structure—credentials that will most likely be overwritten in a few short years to make way for a digital transformation—it makes sense to immediately introduce all teams to a system that will aid the organization in its longer term IoT strategy.
For example, after car parts manufacturer ZF Friedrichshafen acquired TRW Automotive in 2015, it determined that it needed to deploy a unified product lifecycle management (PLM) system across the enterprise. This move would not only help all divisions remain aligned, but improve systems engineering and support global production as well.
3. The decommissioning of a legacy system
Perhaps you have had your PLM system for the past decade. It originally worked great and as your organization began to customize it to fit your needs, it became even better. But at some point, the PLM provider came out with an update to the software and, because of all of your customizations, you weren’t able to take advantage. Where once it had been a benefit, it was now a burden. Business decisions change over time and technology advances. Yet your team is stuck in the past because of its legacy system.
This is exactly what happened to one Fortune 500 engine manufacturer. Its outdated legacy system was becoming more and more expensive and took too much effort to maintain. The added desire to modernize its system and gain more analytical and digital capabilities was the catalyst to move away from this system and to invest in a new one that would enable it to digitally transform its business.
At some point, organizations face the fact that a legacy system isn’t working for them and is causing the business to suffer. As the legacy system is decommissioned, it’s time to consider digitalization. By considering your organization’s needs now and in the future, you’ll ensure that your long-term strategy in the IoT era will be met.
4. A need for compliance
For manufacturers in highly regulated industries—such as the automotive or the medical device field—maintaining industry standard compliance is of utmost importance. Medical equipment manufacturer Terumo BCT, for example, made the move to digitalize to ensure that it is able to continuously improve the quality of its systems and processes and maintain compliance.
But compliance isn’t just important for highly regulated industries. Perhaps your organization just won a very large OEM contract. To ensure you are able to keep the contract, you’ll have to be sure you are following organizational standards.
Either way, compliance is key. Indeed, there is nothing worse than realizing your processes are blind, that you have no visibility into compliance status. No one wants to be responsible for heavy governmental fines, a large customer recall, or losing the biggest customer win of the year.
Digitalizing one’s product development process will ensure that compliance is maintained throughout the product lifecycle. For example, with digital product traceability, you’ll be able to trace back to the root cause of issues and look ahead to see if changes made will affect other parts of the products down the road.
5. A growth spurt
The final trigger moment is also the best possible scenario: business is booming. The organization is taking on an endless flow of new customers and internal headcount has multiplied to meet production needs. To continue to meet customer expectations, it’s imperative that you begin your digitalization process. For example, an integrated platform that pulls product data from all enterprise systems for easy use by all stakeholders, ensures that users are quickly accessing the latest, most accurate product information in the course of their work.
The digitalization of product development processes is a top priority for any organization that wishes to remain competitive in the IoT era. By determining the best time to begin making the transition from dumb and disconnected to smart and connected, one can ensure a smooth transition that everyone in the organization can get behind.
Behind the Byline
Mark Taber is vice president of marketing for PTC. In his current role, Taber is introducing the digital engineering transformation by which organizations can take advantage of the fundamental change in products—the Internet of Things. He has more than 30 years of experience working in the areas of process automation, application integration, cyber security and product development. Prior to PTC, Mark was CEO of Active Endpoints (acquired by Informatica), a process automation firm. A graduate of the Wharton School, Mark currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.