Will the CIO Bear the Burden of Leading the Digitalization Team?

Oct. 13, 2016
With talk of complete digital disruption around the corner, what can the CIO and the IT team do to make sure the burden is manageable? This is the second installment of a three-part series on how digitalization is impacting specific roles in manufacturing.

As CIOs in manufacturing start to grasp the full potential of digital technologies and map out possible roadmaps for the future, many are coming to realize the vast scale and scope of transformation is intimidating. Yes, the potential is exciting, but the reality of the man-hours of intense work that’s likely needed may seem quite daunting. Who is going to carry this burden? Is the CIO going to be the lone torch bearer, heralding the opportunities, evangelizing the new mindset and sweating the details? Does the job come with a super hero cape?

Nearly everyone has experienced a team gathering where the participants eagerly throw out ideas and become excited about the latest great idea, until it is time to divvy up assignments  and set due dates. Suddenly the room is a vacuum of silence and participants are rushing to answer emails and take care of “something” that can’t be ignored a second longer.

This is a common phenomenon for IT managers and their teams who often bear the arduous responsibility for researching, evaluating, selecting, negotiating, overseeing deployment and training users when the company invests in a new software solution. It can be a tedious process with many long nights, countless unexpected headaches, and few rewards—until the project is ultimately up and running successfully. For some implementations that could be a two or three year journey.

That approach will have limited success when it comes to full-scale digitalization. The scope and complexity of change is simply too vast for one individual or one team to manage. The burden of responsibility must be shared, not just to balance the workload, but so multiple stakeholders have a vested interest or “skin in the game” and can bring differing perspectives. Digitalization will impact many teams; those teams need representation in strategy sessions as well as execution timetables.

The current IT team may be ill-equipped to manage the task alone. The IT departments of many manufacturing facilities have been slimmed down to the bare bones during the Great Recession. Skeleton teams are trying to manage the routine maintenance, onboarding, security, and reporting tasks of the plant, while also recommending and deploying the various IT solutions which are must-haves in order to remain competitive. Keeping up with the workload can be a challenge. Difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified technology team members can exacerbate the problem.

IndustryWeek recently reported that an estimated 2.7 million jobs are likely to be needed as a result of retirements of the existing workforce with another 700,000 jobs likely needed to cover natural business growth. Overall this creates a gap of 3.4 million jobs, with more than 60% of the gap directly tied to a talent shortage or skills mismatch.

With talk of complete digital disruption around the corner, what can the CIO and the IT team do to make sure the burden is manageable? Simply “waiting it out” does not seem like it is going to be a feasible option when IT department starts to be flooded with requests to help integrate sensors, tablets, shop floor kiosks, mobile devices, laptops, portals, wearable devices, internal plant assets, shipping containers, delivery fleets, service vehicles, operating machinery, online shopping sites, fulfillment tools, and products.

Like most massive projects, the secret to success is in early planning, managing expectations, setting realistic goals, and building the right team. 

The CIO should remember that the ideal team will include more than people with an IT background and should include personnel at all levels in the organization, including members of the C-suite. Top managers must inspire, motivate, set the standards, and reward successes of the overall organization.

The team can also involve people from outside of the organization. According to a Forrester study, “Eighty-eight percent of firms use a third-party solution provider for at least one component of their digital transformation.”

This makes sense since the typical digitalization initiative involves many technologies, multiple vendors, several applications, and various stakeholders. It’s no simple task. It is quite likely the average CIO hasn’t tackled a full-scale digitalization endeavor before and will benefit from working with experts to help strategize, assess business value, prioritize, roadmap plans, build, prototype, keep things moving, and successfully implement the digital opportunities. Forester offers this advice on selecting a partner:

“Find partners whose capabilities complement your own. Even digitally mature companies will have new gaps in capabilities as the technology continues to evolve. Enlisting third-party solution providers to help navigate change and implement new strategies is often cheaper and faster than building those capabilities internally. Find partners that understand your broader strategies and have specific strengths in the functions and areas that your company lacks.”

Infor has an entire team, Hook and Loop Digital, which specializes in consulting with companies on their digital transformation. Hook & Loop Digital and Infor Services help manufacturers create a top-down business approach that also incorporates bottom-up experience. This leads to big-picture answers with the essential details needed for deployment and execution. The team leverages disparate products and services, as well as existing technologies, to create, build, and manage enterprise-level digital ecosystems. View case study

Whether your organization decides to take on the challenge of deploying a digital strategy with internal teams, outside consultants or some combination of both, the most important consideration is that the team can manage complex change, boldly envision new concepts, and build consensus among many individuals and departments. And, the team needs to get started soon. Waiting will not make the task any easier. In fact, being in a catch-up position will add stress and risk to the project.

Deloitte recently offered these words of caution to any organization which is considering delaying action:

“…The mounting pressures of a rapidly shifting business landscape are turning digital from a choice into an imperative. The longer a business waits, the more marginalized it will become.”

For more on the four steps to implementing a digital strategy, read the Perspectives paper “Building a digital transformation strategy.”

Mark Humphlett is the director of Industry and Solution Strategy responsible for Infor manufacturing. With 17 years of experience in technology and more than 25 years in the manufacturing and distribution industry, Humphlett joined the Infor team through an acquisition in 2006. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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