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Industry 4.0 – coming ready or not

Gareth Williams, on why it’s time to hurry up and slow down

We’re well on the way to Industry 4.0, and digital transformation is coming whether you’re ready or not. The bad news is you’re going to have to make some of it up along the way.

Digital transformation is not just another IT project. You can’t just throw money at it. This is less about technology and more about a step change in enterprise culture. So the first thing to do if you’re racing towards Industry 4.0, is slow down and do a sanity check.

Digital transformation requires the acquisition of relatively new technology to enable things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotic process automation. And then you’ll have to connect it all up and take people out of the loop. Because if you don’t, you'll be stuck with the same interfaces and human-based processes that you have today.

Security first, last and always

Let’s be clear about this: you will be attacked many times on many levels. We know that large enterprises already experience literally thousands of security events every month. Most can be defeated. A few have the potential to develop into something more. That’s today. Whenever you connect more kit you connect more risk.

One of the first and most important steps on your journey to digital transformation, then, is to think about how you're going to defend thousands of new interfaces and data points. That could be a challenge. Perhaps the simplest way to protect your organisation in this strange new world is to engage the services of a security provider which (if you can find one) is familiar with the vagaries of your particular industry.

You also need resilience. If a successful attack or some other catastrophe happens, you need to be able to continue with minimum disruption. Detect, isolate, repair, recover and, above all, carry on without interrupting the business of the day. That, too, will probably need third party expertise.

Talks, testimonials and testing

Although there is no shortage of potential digital transformation partners out there, none have the expertise (or tech) in every sector to make it happen. Sure, some of the technology can migrate and adapt but the bottom line is that you know your business and they know theirs. It’s not exactly the blind leading the blind, but there could be gaps which you ignore at your peril.

There are many high-quality seminars and conferences on digital transformation at the moment. You need to attend some. Start networking with your peers in other companies, even (perhaps, especially) if they are competitors. Find out which suppliers are most respected in your industry sector. Start conversations. Keep an open mind.

When you’ve whittled down the list of potentials to one which has the resources, skills and sector-specific experience you need, consider running a proof of concept. Choose a small project. Agree the limits and outcomes, match their spend with yours, and work to see what can be achieved.  Accenture, Tata, Williams, and other famous names have all benefited from such collaborative experiments.

Not only is this a comparatively inexpensive entrance but it lets you see if each other’s teams and cultures are compatible. They talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? Discovering this at an early stage will save you lots of sleepless nights.

Bottom line? Start now, but be thorough and go slowly. There is no doubt that Industry 4.0 is on the way. And it’s coming whether you’re ready or not.

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