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(Editors Note: This opinion piece is a follow-up to an an earlier article titled How to Avoid ‘Pilot Purgatory’, a Major Impediment to Industry 4.0 Manufacturing Technology Adoption that was published in Robotics Business Review in September 2020. That earlier article focused on the negative impact of Pilot Purgatory on start-ups, and included recommendations to address the challenge.)
I recently wrote about what startup companies need to know to avoid ‘Pilot Purgatory‘, the state where pilot projects are not deemed unsuccessful, and remain in place, but with no real hope of rollout or seeing upfront expenses recouped (to say nothing of the lost time). Pilot Purgatory is often cited as a key reason for the slow pace of adoption of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR or Industry 4.0) technologies into the manufacturing sector.
Having been fortunate enough to work in both startup companies and large global corporations, I would like to share my experiences from the other side of the table, and explain why large companies must know the pitfalls to avoid and best practices that will make new technology adoption a success, including manufacturing technologies such as robotics and automation solutions.
Global Lighthouse Network
The World Economic Forum’s Global Lighthouse Network has identified best in class transformation cases and published both the transformation story and the tangible results from these efforts. A key takeaway in this ongoing work is “E2E (End-to-End) front runners have demonstrated that having clear governance to provide value assurance for an enterprisewide programme is essential to success. Lighthouses that achieve scale across E2E and sites have established governance models to support exchange and prioritization of best methodologies, with a focus on impact and solutions, as opposed to focusing principally on technology.”
Let’s dive into what this means in practice.
In my career, I have worked on many mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures efforts. A common predictor of success is how well developed the company strategy is prior to beginning the external acquisition activity. In successful deals, the company has a thesis to expand to geography, acquire new technology, or enter a new market.
When doing postmortems on struggling deals, I often find the strategic rationale to be weak or misunderstood across the organization. With successful deals, alignment and execution are clear.
Digital and Manufacturing Transformation
So, how does this align with Digital and Manufacturing Transformation? Corporations who have done this successfully share a common mindset, namely the focus is not merely upgrading current manufacturing infrastructure. Instead, it is the acquisition of a new manufacturing and/or operational capability. Successfully acquiring a new capability, or a new company, is remarkably similar in practice.
A common predictor of success is how well developed the company strategy is prior to beginning the external acquisition activity.
Cross-functional Participation Key
Just as successful acquirers map their strategy, develop a thesis, and only then develop a target list of companies to engage in the deal, the same process is critical to acquiring new technical capabilities. An executive who is exploring digital transformation should build a cross-functional team to identify and rank their technology gaps and needs. Cross-functional participation is critical to ensure the financial, operational, IT infrastructure, and people’s needs are part of this process.
Once the capability gaps are identified and ranked, a target list of technologies to pilot and companies to engage should be developed with a plan of action. This targeting will provide the blueprint for technology pilots with agreed-upon success metrics, go/no-go criteria, and next steps. A pilot scorecard will track these initiatives and provide visibility of progress to the cross-functional team and sponsoring executives.
This strategic, transparent, and cross-functional execution will ensure the visibility of effort, investment, and timely success. The key antidotes to ‘Pilot Purgatory.’
About the Author
Carl Vause has held a variety of senior positions in global technology companies including 3M and Smith & Nephew where he held global P&L responsibility for more than $500M in revenue. In 2013, Carl partnered with Dr. George Whitesides of Harvard University to explore commercial applications for the ground-breaking soft robotics work pioneered in the Whitesides Research Group, in partnership with DARPA. In late 2013, Soft Robotics Inc. was formed to commercialize this research and Carl joined as CEO.
Carl is a thought leader and regular speaker on robotics, AI, machine vision and other Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies and their adoption across industries. Having worked in both large publicly traded and venture backed startups, a passion of his is the important intersection of strategy, people, new product development and disruptive technology adoption to solve customer challenges. He holds a BSEE from Virginia Military Institute and an MBA from London Business School. He began his career as a Naval Flight Officer in the United States Navy, retiring from the Naval Reserve in 2013.
- How to Avoid “Pilot Purgatory”, a Major Impediment to Industry 4.0 Manufacturing Technology Adoption
- Start-up Profile – Veo Robotics
- The Hidden Costs of Autonomous Mobile Robots – And How to Avoid Them
- Considerations When Working With Prototyping Outsourcers
- Flexibility and Manufacturing Productivity: Part 1 – Inflexible Automation and its Consequences
- Flexibility and Manufacturing Productivity: Part 2 – Human Capabilities Overcome Technological Limitations