Tick. Tick. Tick. Committing the time to make your IIoT strategy successful

Nov. 30, 2020
"We changed our view of IIoT from 'a project' to 'making this an integral part of our strategic plan.'

By Aneesa Muthana, co-owner, CEO and president of Pioneer Service

One of the biggest challenges we’ve had on our IIoT journey has been the amount of time needed to make this happen. The truth is that it takes more time than you think it will. And we went through a pretty steep learning curve back in 2018 and early 2019 to figure this out.

As a small manufacturing company, our team member responsibilities have always been laser-focused on making quality parts, meeting delivery requirements and understanding customer needs. We started our journey in 2018 with the view that IIoT was a “project” that we needed to undertake. As the company owner, I saw tremendous value in becoming a data centric organization—using new technologies to access information that would allow us to make better and faster decisions. So, I assigned a couple of team members to this “project” (and by a couple, I really mean one person on my engineering team).

I don’t think it would surprise you to know that for many months, our engineer made little progress. There would be two steps forward…and then nothing for a month or so. Customer “needs” always took a priority and the IIoT “project” always fell to the bottom of the list. I was frustrated, our engineer was really frustrated, and this resulted in some frank discussions with our senior leadership about how to correct this.

We ultimately changed our view of IIoT from “a project that needed to be completed” to “making this an integral part of our strategic plan.” This meant we started talking about IIoT on a daily, weekly and monthly basis as well as setting short term and longer-term strategic plans. And then to ensure that this was integrated into our culture and processes we:

1. Added the IIoT tasks and goals to job descriptions. This became part of team member “job responsibilities.” We were clear about what tasks each team member was responsible for regarding the research, planning, implementation, tracking and analyzing components of IIOT.

For example, some team members are mainly responsible for monitoring articles, webinars and social-media content for IIoT projects at other companies. Some are responsible for reaching out to connect with companies using technologies we are interested in. Others do the initial conversations with vendors. Some are part of the implementation group. Some do the documentation of process maps and work instructions, some for reporting and analysis, etc.

2. Added the IIoT terminology, technology and process-work reporting to our employee, team, and company meetings. We wanted and needed everyone to be on board and included in the conversations/upgrades/changes that were happening and how important these were to the success of the company and the satisfaction of our customers.

3. Created the clear expectation that team members will commit 5-7 hours each week (approximately 30 hours a month).

We are big on time-tracking in our organization as a way for team members and their supervisors to make sure everyone is focused on their high-payoff activities, and to help individuals set their daily/weekly/monthly priorities.

Every team member knows that I am expecting them to commit 30 hours a month to make meaningful progress toward our goals. Ideally I would like to see the time committed on a daily or weekly basis because this means we are truly integrating this into the fabric of our company, but there is room for team members to move time around based on what they need to get done.

Now to be clear about this, we are a 40-person company, and we have three people on the team that have clear IIoT responsibilities, but our training programs for all team members include discussions about what we are doing in these areas, and there is cross training for some of these responsibilities to cover when the primary team members are on vacation or out of the office.

4. Created a reporting structure and process for the team to provide updates on progress, stumbling blocks, opportunities, etc.

We set goals, tracked progress against timelines, budgets, and results. People are individually responsible for their work, but also share in the responsibility for the overall success of the team.

5. Focused conversations about any “misses” on lessons learned. We’ve had some little wins, big wins, and some painful (and costly) misses. We talk openly about what we’ve learned from all of these and encourage questions.

Every team member is expected to evaluate their own performance and report on lessons learned and corrective actions needed. There is also a clear understanding that every team member has the right and responsibility to question results, ask for clarification, ask for help when they need it, and to push each other for changes that will improve the outcome.

There is no question that the time commitment to IIoT has created some stresses in the organization, as many of our team members weren’t sitting around waiting for something more to do.

• The additional tasks and responsibilities created the need for a wide array of cross-training plans across many departments so we could shift workloads around to be able to take on these new goals. It also meant benching some other goals in the short term. Some of these were difficult decisions to make.

• The II0T project has also opened our eyes to new opportunities to develop some team members skill-sets with the new technology, the new data, and the speed at which this information is now available. Training efforts can be difficult to fit in when you are smaller company without a dedicated HR department to assist with those efforts.

• In general, the response on our production floor has been positive, but we have definitely had to up our game at the amount of communication about what we are doing, why and what this means for them. Our goal has always been to increase our capabilities and capacity, not reduce our staffing levels; this needs more repeating than I thought it would.

I don’t think our experience on the IIoT path has been all that different than many organizations. I want to encourage anyone who. is thinking about jumping into this arena that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and that the key element to take into consideration is the amount of time you will need to commit to the process.

It will be worth every minute.

Want more from Aneesa? Check out her recent Base Camp Digital webinar on demand right here.

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