There’s digitalization – and then there’s digitalization

By Karsten Theis

In the last newsletter, I wrote “To stand still is no option for us” with reference to the difficulties facing the management of companies in an age of global uncertainties. And then came the lockdown and suddenly (almost) everything ground to a halt. Admittedly, the coronavirus pandemic was not entirely unforeseeable, but we were unprepared for the scale with which it hit us. I do, however, feel that one point I made has been confirmed: The situation can only be mastered using an agile approach. And with an even greater level of digitalization, I would now add.

PROSTEP has been agile in its response to the lockdown. Our employees have been working from home from day one and can be contacted by customers. They are probably even easier to reach and are able to work more efficiently due to the fact that they are saving time they would normally spend visiting customers or attending events. Our software solutions support remote maintenance irrespective of location – if customers are not already using them as a cloud-based service. Thanks to the use of appropriate IT tools and methods, we are even able to conduct consulting workshops online. I’m surprised how well they work, even with new customers, with whom we first need to establish a sense of trust. It is possible to do more online than I anticipated, even if we cannot and do not want to dispense with face-to-face meetings entirely in the future.

The coronavirus crisis has shown us just how important digital technologies are when it comes to staying in touch with colleagues, partners and customers, and working together with them efficiently despite the lockdown. The crisis has not only provided a boost to digitalization in companies but also in official agencies and authorities, schools and medical facilities that we would never have been able to imagine a few months ago. And despite years of complaints about a lack of Internet bandwidth in Germany, everything is working surprisingly well.

The digital progress made over the last few months will irrevocably change the way we work and our mobility behavior, especially as the virus will be around for some time to come. There’s digitalization – and then there’s digitalization. The boost to digitalization triggered by the coronavirus applies in particular to communication processes, which can be digitalized relatively easily with Teams, Skype or Zoom and a good Internet connection. However, it is not yet possible to predict how long-lasting this boost will be for other business processes in which the end-to-end utilization of data and information is particularly important. Because in these cases simply introducing a few new tools is not enough.

The fundamental problems with end-to-end digitalization in product development and manufacturing cannot be solved by digital communication processes. Digital information flows are still hindered by heterogeneous system landscapes involving a large number of individual data silos and poorly integrated processes. The solution to these problems requires not only technical answers but also changes to the organization and to the process landscapes of the companies and, more importantly, a long-term digitalization strategy.

One of the most important lessons learned from the numerous strategy consulting projects that we have carried out in recent years is that companies are not fully exploiting the potential offered by their existing PLM landscapes. The reason for this is not necessarily the PLM systems, which have also become increasingly powerful in recent years, but to the way users work with them. In many cases, they are performing their work the same way they did prior to the introduction of PLM instead of rethinking their processes and methods and adapting them to take advantage of the new possibilities. Sticking with old approaches leads to highly customized PLM solutions. This not only has a negative impact on the ability to update the solutions but also makes it more difficult to respond agilely to new demands placed on PLM landscapes due, for example, to the increasing networking of products and new service-oriented business models.

My hope is that once the coronavirus crisis is over, companies will not immediately return to business as usual but instead will use the time during which business is still somewhat slower to lay the foundation for the digital transformation of their business processes. Regardless of which IT systems they are using, they should determine what information they need for which processes and in what form it needs to be available in order to be able to use it consistently throughout the whole product lifecycle. Thinking about the flow of information from the perspective of the end of the product lifecycle can be useful, especially when it comes to providing support for new service models.

The coronavirus crisis offers companies an opportunity to put their processes and methods to the test, to better integrate their system landscapes and, if necessary, to even roll out new IT tools. They should seize this opportunity to emerge from the crisis digitally stronger. We can provide them with effective support. Based on the analysis of their existing and future PLM capabilities, our strategy consultants identify gaps and potential in the process and system landscapes and, together with the customer, design a PLM infrastructure that will hopefully also be able to withstand the next crisis.

By Karsten Theis

Posted with permission from PROSTEP AG.


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