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New research sees buy-in for digital transformation growing among manufacturing stakeholders

Nov. 9, 2023
Webinar deals with why industry should embrace data ops, but eye-opening statistics lead the way about how manufacturing overall is “going through a renaissance” and moving beyond being a “dirty" business and is more fully adopting new technologies.

New findings emerged from an eye-opening online forum this week that digital transformation is sinking in with industrial professionals at much higher rates. As one of the webinar’s speakers put it: “Manufacturing is going through a renaissance,” that it is transforming from a “dirty” business and that “manufacturers are embracing new technologies” these days that go well beyond hyped technologies of the day such as artificial intelligence.

The research, gleaned from polling of 158 manufacturing professionals across operations, engineering and IT, dealt with digital transformation’s market penetration and yielded some notable findings.

See also: How to harness operational data to meet sustainability targets

The results were reviewed during a Nov. 7 webinar, “State of the Market: Why Manufacturers Are Using DataOps to Outperform Their Peers,” presented by IndustryWeek, a sister brand to Smart Industry, and sponsored by industrial software development vendor HighByte, a producer of data ops tools, in collaboration with IW and Deloitte Consulting.

The webinar, moderated by IW executive editor Jill Jusko, is available now for viewing.

What came through from the research? “Attitudes about digital transformation are optimistic,” noted one of the webinar's three speakers, Brent Robertson, co-founder of Fathom. “Those making investment in data ops are higher performers.”

Added John Harrington, HighByte's co-founder and chief product officer: “It’s exciting to see that manufacturers are embracing new technologies, that manufacturing overall is going through a renaissance, that it's transforming from a ‘dirty’ business.”

Brian Zakrajsek, Deloitte specialist leader, smart factory, chimed in: “Getting the executives aligned is a hurdle. Digital transformation is not a part-time job.”

Top-line findings show digital transformation efforts well underway

Overall, 86% of the manufacturing professionals surveyed in the IndustryWeek research said their companies are moving forward with digital transformation. The survey asked where participants were in their transformation journeys; what investments were being made; how well data ops is understood and applied; and what impact culture and attitude was having on their digital transformation progress.

“It’s wonderful to see the change in attitudes,” Robertson remarked.

See also: AI is taking KPIs to the next level for the factory floor

Of the respondents, 17% were executives, 34% were VPs or directors, 49% were managers or supervisors, 30% were in operations or plant management, 25% were in engineering research and development and technical management, 21% were corporate and executive management, 16% were in IT/technology management and information systems, and 8% were other unspecified professionals.

The respondents listed system integrations, lack of executive vision and support, and the need for proper training and an adaptive workforce as their top digital transformation challenges.

Broadly, the findings also revealed:

  • Attitudes about digital transformation are largely optimistic.
  • Manufacturers between $500 million and $900 million in revenue are ahead in the transformation journey compared to their peers.
  • More than half of the respondents have begun a data-ops implementation.
  • Of the respondents, 10% said they were ahead of any industry in their transformation; 23% said they were ahead of their specific industry or peers; 48% claimed they were in line with their industry or peers; 15% said they were just getting started; 3% said they hadn’t started but had a plan; and only 1% said they hadn’t started and had no intention of making the journey.
  • Attitudes about digital transformation varied among the respondents, with 45% saying they had a positive attitude, with larger-scale teams engaged and significant utilization; 28% were "curious," with individuals actively engaged and pockets of utilization; and 18% were all-in, with a vast majority of their teams “actively and passionately” embracing digital transformation and applying it. Much smaller percentages of the respondents were neutral and passively engaged (8%) or negative and actively pushing against this technological progress (1%).

“We’re beyond the skepticism, which is great,” Harrington noted during the presentation. “Five years ago … people would snicker at it, and now we’re beyond that.”

Some of the findings contained even more granular detail, showing where and in which data-ops technologies the 158 respondents were increasing their investments. Topping that list was cybersecurity, where 56% were bolstering their buy-in. Others were:
  • Robotics, with 42% investing more.
  • Cloud computing, with 39% investing more.
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, with 38% investing more.
  • Sensors, where 38% were also investing more.
  • Data automation and operations (the main topic of the Nov. 7 webinar), with 35% investing more.
  • Machine learning (ML), with 35% investing more in that technology.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI), with 34% investing more.

“I’m excited about the balance," Harrington observed. "If you were to read the industry press today, you’d think everything is about AI. There’s investment everywhere, the breadth of investment. People are constantly pushing.”

Middling familiarity with industrial data ops

A slide in the Nov. 7 presentation made one fact, among all the rest, clear: Familiarity with data ops is not common, with only 29% saying they are somewhat familiar with “the orchestration of people, processes, and technology to securely deliver trusted, ready-to-use data to all the systems and people who require it.” Only 12% said in the research they were extremely familiar with industrial data ops, while 18% of the 158 respondents reported they were completely unfamiliar.

See also: Why manufacturers' data is best analyzed at the edge

But one thing came into focus during the webinar, according to the speakers: Those who are adopting industrial data ops are in a much stronger position than those who are not adopters. And the correlation between utilization, progress on digital transformation, and overall revenue performance was clear and consistent from the findings, according to the presenters.

“People are realizing that data is critical to their success," HighByte's Harrington remarked.

"You need to create a discipline of data within your organization. You need to leverage data more effectively.”

About the Author

Scott Achelpohl

I've come to Smart Industry after stints in business-to-business journalism covering U.S. trucking and transportation for FleetOwner, a sister website and magazine of SI’s at Endeavor Business Media, and branches of the U.S. military for Navy League of the United States. I'm a graduate of the University of Kansas and the William Allen White School of Journalism with many years of media experience inside and outside B2B journalism. I'm a wordsmith by nature, and I edit Smart Industry and report and write all kinds of news and interactive media on the digital transformation of manufacturing.