Machines & millennials spurring changes in communications

Oct. 12, 2016
While connecting with machines may not be at the top of the agenda for some manufacturing companies today, connecting with talent most definitely is.
A common, armchair description of the Industrial Internet of Things is “machines speaking with machines.” That’s not comprehensive, of course, but it touches on one key element of
the digital transformation. To dig deeper into the evolution of communications in the working world, we connect here with Tony Fink, director of partner & client success with IGear Online LLC.

Smart Industry: What opportunities does digital transformation create regarding communications in the industrial / manufacturing world?

Tony: Time is money and opportunity in a manufacturing or industrial setting, when starting or shutting down a machine at the wrong time can cost organizations thousands of dollars. One of the key benefits of digital transformation with regard to communications is improving the speed and efficiency of collaboration to eliminate lag time and improve responsiveness.

Another advantage to real-time digital collaboration is that it enables organizations to be smarter about their business—empowering them to be more proactive and less surprised about their operational performance. In this way, organizations can make sense of business data quickly to understand the greatest business opportunities and the threats that must be addressed to support growth and profitability.

With more proactive surfacing of important information, organizations can make better, faster decisions for greater operational precision. “Speed is the new currency of business,” said Salesforce’s Marc Benioff.

Smart Industry: What elements of smart industry hold the most promise with workplace communications?

Tony: The Industrial Internet of Things and big data have the potential to usher in a new wave of innovation and reinvention of manufacturing as we know it. But it’s also creating a data explosion, with some 20 billion connected devices expected by 2020 creating a data deluge. But what if you had a way to extrapolate a segment of this data that was of maximum importance to the business and take action on it in real-time? You’d have the ability to laser-focus on what’s really critical and leverage this insight to deliver improved business outcomes for competitive advantage.

The key word here is “focus”—focus is the antidote to that which is inconsequential (noise); so along with the IIoT, you need ways to minimize and parse the data into actionable insights.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are excellent when we address the “business as usual” or business with little variant, but manufacturing-by-design is fraught with exceptions. Therefore, we need other solutions to enable humans to “tune in” and act on only the information that’s significant and relevant.

Smart Industry: Which industries are front-runners in adopting emerging technologies for connecting personnel? Which industries are laggards?

Tony: Because of the high stakes regarding patient health and safety (literally a life-or-death issue), we’ve seen early adoption in the healthcare industry. Interestingly enough, we’ve also seen a great deal of attention on the issue of “alarm fatigue.” Alarm fatigue is when well-intentioned (albeit overwhelming) volumes of alerts overwhelm our human information-processing capacity. As a result, alarms are ignored, critical events are missed and patient health can be jeopardized.

As the IIoT continues to gain steam, everything in and around the shop floor is broadcasting (alerts), which can lead to a high incidence of false alarms. Manufacturers who are just now starting to realize the criticality of harnessing data are staring down the new reality of data deluge, discord and distraction and there’s a tremendous need to prioritize the “wheat from the chaff.” There needs to be a sharing of data, but only data that is vital and when circumstances warrant that sharing. This vital data must be shared with the right individuals in the organization to promote clarity, ownership, accountability, interaction and increased productivity of both machines and people.

Smart Industry: What’s your take on the future of connected manufacturing?

Tony: The amount of data is only going to increase moving forward, and we are moving into an era where data is now “landing the manufacturing plane.” Information must be aggregated, analyzed and surfaced to provide appropriate guidance to the human stewards of the manufacturing enterprise. At IGear, we see the new world of connected manufacturing as one where machines are part of the conversation—collaborating with humans in a common language.

This is an exciting time for sure, but while connecting with machines may not be at the top of the agenda for some manufacturing companies today, connecting with talent most definitely is. The manufacturing sector has thousands of open trade jobs—in the US alone nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next decade.

Considering millennials are expected to account for 75% of the global workforce by 2025, manufacturers need to start seriously courting the new millennial workforce.

To do this, manufacturers need to be seen as relevant and attractive employers for millennial workers. Millennials are digital by default. They are highly collaborative. Organizations must retool their organizations to enable, connect and empower these young workers for the tasks at hand. Next-gen digital communications solutions can help manufacturers succeed in this area.