Digital Journey: Start Small, Fail Early and Revisit
Opinion

Digital Journey: Start Small, Fail Early and Revisit

The barrier to digital journey is not technology but it is the culture. Change Management is a must with strategy & vision along with a new operating model. People, Process & Technology (PPT) is taken as a three legged table to march on this digital journey

  • By Vivek Gupta , Joint VP & Head – Instrument & Digitalization, DCM Shriram Ltd | July 25, 2022

Digitalization or digital transformation is top of the agenda for the majority of chemical companies globally and in India. Digital initiatives must be led with a commitment from the top, with a clear communication at all levels to ensure its success.

Digitalization is making a lot of noise but when it comes to implementation a lot of challenges come up and then a clear RoI (Return on Investment) is needed for investment. Digital chasm is required for its success.

One needs to correctly identify the problem which needs to be addressed using technologies. When it is done, involvement of all stakeholders also starts, otherwise who owns it, becomes questionable. Benefits expected then pave the path for selection of right technology.

In process industries where legacy of many years exist, rewards and recognition frameworks tend to reward the existing behaviours and individuals and groups will resist change if they do not believe the digital vision. It is therefore said that the barrier to digital journey is not technology but it is the culture.

Change Management is a must with strategy & vision along with a new operating model. People, Process & Technology (PPT) is taken as a three legged table to march on this digital journey.

PEOPLE

Assets get depreciated over a time period but employees get appreciated with their knowledge and experience gained. That is where the digital journey helps. Experienced staff get retired and newer staff have to be trained on to the system. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) etc. play a vital role to make the system intelligent enough and vacate the time for operators to think strategically and get relieved of daily manual monotonous paperwork. Manufacturers have to do a lot for the engagement of their existing workforce and expand the careers of the people they already have. Capability building programs like knowledge upgrade with re-skilling & up-skilling, job satisfaction to build excitement in the current force and also the next generation who are computer and mobile savvy will need to be addressed.

People should feel that technology has enabled them and it not an extra burden on them, this is very important. The change team consisting of cross functional team (CFT) members will then bring about the desired changes. Visible benefits increase the confidence level of the people to take more interest and participation.

PROCESS

It plays the role of change agent. One truth clearly visible is that just developing a new technology and putting them in the existing environment will not yield desired results.

To reach its full potential, processes need to be redefined, re-written and re-implemented in a simplified manner. Then a revised criterion of performance tracking and management also needs to be looked into. It will help in driving this initiative as a continuous improvement system which later becomes part of the company's culture. This journey needs seed funding. Change Teams are expected to deliver the results too early and their failure is often seen as unsuccessful while in digital journey start small, fail early, and revisit for right technology is the mantra. Moving too fast makes it difficult for many companies and they fail at the pilot stage itself. Ability to shift financial and human capital to digitalization is crucial.

Silos need to be broken and all functions need to take part. IT-OT convergence is also very important. Processes need to be revisited from time to time for making it relevant to the times. The whole process has to be led by the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) who has to be supported by plant heads for success in this journey and bring about the desired results. Top driven process with clear vision is therefore required for its success.

TECHNOLOGY

This T is an important leg of the three legged table of PPT as it drives the whole transformation journey. Reduction in energy and increase in throughput with secured system architecture is required from any digital technology under consideration. Selection of the right technology is important as the whole journey relies on this. Mostly, the legacy DCS have no process historian. In order to achieve gains with the use of technology, it is necessary as DCS data need to be taken out either to the cloud/on premises server for further analysis. Hardware cost of such installation becomes a bottleneck to start with.

It has to be accompanied with some kind of AI/ML solution which justifies its investment. One vendor capable of delivering all is also required as process knowledge along with technology is essential. Embracing technology and digitization efforts at all levels of the company will bring new life to the existing equipment. Old equipment does not have all the measurements required for its monitoring. As equipment becomes older, close monitoring of vital parameters is very much required and so are the assets.

Technology should suit the equipment and existing plant processes and not the other way. Condition monitoring, predictive maintenance, data analytics, big data, digital twins, drones, wearable gadgets, Energy Management System (EMS), live display of KPIs both in terms of process values vis-a-vis cost with right Information to the right people at right time is what digitalization technologies should deliver.

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) monitoring thus shall help in optimizing plant operations wherein live monitoring shall enable to take corrective actions well in time. Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) is another area where technology can help a lot for a healthy and safe environment to bring about more productivity.

Advanced Process Control (APC) & Analytics models can work together to give real time results and thus better throughput and lesser energy. Human dependency should become less and technology systems should become autonomous so that decisions can be taken intelligently. There is no single digital solution applicable even for the same kind of industries as it varies from assets and process parameters, digital twin helps in this direction.

No one escapes from this digital journey and each one has to adopt, sooner will be beneficial. It is a continuous journey and more & more technologies will help in making automation smooth and seamless for CDOs.

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