A quick start guide to executing 4.0 digitisation (Part 2: Implementation)

Part 1 of our ‘Getting started with 4.0 digitisation blog series' outlined how to assess your current state, identify what you want out of digitisation in relation to key business drivers, and develop a technology roadmap/digital strategy.

With a 4.0 digital strategy and roadmap in hand, you should be at a point where you can begin testing your assumptions through low risk piloting before full scale roll out.

But implementing 4.0 digitisation projects can be tough. To avoid common pitfalls, careful attention should be paid to people, process and technological change during roll out. 

In case you missed it, read Part 1 in our series: A quick start guide to executing 4.0 digitisation (Part 1: Getting started)

Part 2 will outline the final approach for getting started with 4.0: 

<Decision point>

  1. Design and pilot innovative projects
  2. Scale full solutions
  3. Continuous improvement and analysis

In our experience, every company’s approach to 4.0 is vastly different, and no one project will be the same.

These steps should form a rough guide to ensuring your digitisation projects don’t blow out, are adopted widely, and bring the business financial gain and competitive advantage.

<Decision point >

Although your technology roadmap will have outlined key 4.0 projects and when they should be completed, there are still some major decisions to make.

What: You’ll need to decide which technologies, platforms and partners are required for each solution, based on immediate and long term needs.

Project-level roadmap - V1

Action: Assess each technology option based on criteria such as: its purpose for your context, its capability, its vendor support function, its modularity, and your current and future roadmap needs.

Then, decide on a suite of platforms that will deliver what’s required.

Tip: Always ensure the technical solution is aligned to business needs and will enable the aspirational vision. The technology alone is not a silver bullet, but can be a transformation enabler if the organisation is properly aligned with, and ready to execute the vision. Bringing the business along for the journey and having good buy-in will also prove critical in the adoption phase.

How Nukon can help: As a technology agnostic consultant Nukon presents clients with a best-of breed selection of products and technology solutions that are modular, scalable and future proofed. We commonly blend open source technologies with proprietary software solutions to achieve the best technology mix for each solution, which are best-matched to business requirements and the strategic direction.

Once you’ve made some technology decisions, it’s time to test your assumptions through piloting.

4. Design and pilot innovative projects

Piloting provides an ideal opportunity to ‘prove out’ core components of the solution before scaling out to solve the larger problem.

There are three immediately obvious benefits:

  1. You reduce project risk. Pilots prove a concept before resourcing the full solution’s budget, time and people.

  2. You reduce capital expenditure.  Low cost trials of the technology help target spending and refine requirements prior to upfront investment.

  3. You increase project adoption. Piloting involves real-world testing with the people who will ultimately use the end solution/ process. Their feedback will improve the design and assist with change management during scaled rollout.

Tip: Prove out core solution components or big ideas in the pilot in “thin slices”. Test validity of assumptions and tackle any areas of technical risk which may impact the big-picture solution.

How Nukon can help: Nukon can research, design, build and test your small-scale pilots in your facility with no impact to production. As part of piloting, Nukon will ensure you have the data required to prove ROI for a full-scale solution.

5. Scale full solutions

Scaling up to full-scale implementation is largely the same as piloting, but with some special considerations.

What: It is important to convert the pilot to be ‘production ready’ at this point so it is scalable. This may mean re-entering design and set up stages to make various improvements based on lessons-learned, but more than likely you will be able to move straight from pilot to build.

Technology tip: Scale in a modular way, making sure additions are cohesive (making components independent building blocks that can work on their own if something else breaks) with low coupling (don’t build ‘spaghetti links’ between systems, instead build common, standardized interfacing methods using well-defined patterns).  

How Nukon can help: Nukon can help you roll out your 4.0 projects from providing overall project & delivery management to supporting you with the solution design and build.

Pilot and project delivery – a brief how to guide

The preferred approach to implementing both pilots and projects is the same – only the scale, timeframes and eventual handover will change. We’ll briefly outline these steps below.

Agile Project Delivery Method for digital transformation projectsStandard project phases feature agile iterations from design through to build and handover

A note on Agile and why we recommend it for digitisation projects…

Agile is a highly flexible and incremental method of managing IT and engineering projects. It has proven to be an effective way to manage the delivery of a new or customised product or system, particularly in complex environments.

We use agile project delivery for digital transformation projects for three reasons:

  • It gives businesses both control and flexibility to mitigate risk and allow responsiveness in project delivery.
  • It is inbuilt with strong change management processes, including regular stakeholder and employee engagement for project success.
  • Assuming that technology and business reality are dynamic and constantly changing, an agile project allows for requirements and deliverables to change and adapt to the environment keeping high engagement across delivery.

Read more on why agile delivers results for digital transformation projects

Back to our pilot and project delivery method…

As there’s no on-size-fits all, we’ve given some high level outcomes and tips for each stage in the delivery process:

Design


DesignWhat: This phase should detail the technical requirements needed to implement the project or pilot.

It should be strongly aligned to the scope, business requirements, responsibilities and key outcomes described in the roadmap or associated business case (where required).

Project tip: Put a time limit on the design stage and keep it as short as possible. We often see people spending time over-defining things that will change as the business and project team matures. You should be able to move to the next stage with confidence, knowing you don’t have every answer. Time-boxing design can help speed up time-to-feedback, which is where real value can be captured and assumptions proven.

Remember, the nature of digital transformation projects may cause design decisions to change and requirements to be adapted during build and rollout. It’s a journey with winding roads. Not a straight line ahead.

Set up and dependencies

Set up

What: Deploy foundational infrastructure to prepare for the build. This is a fixed price that needs to be paid. It builds the way for the new features to be deployed.

Tip: Build a good deployment framework that will allow the build team to make deployments without a lot of overhead. Ideally you want deployments to feel seamless (when possible). Modern development techniques such as CI/CD can bring a lot of value by reducing the time from development to user and reduce the iteration cycle time.

Build

Build

What: Build the system in incremental blocks over a series of time-bound releases. Users should review each component and contribute to changes and planning for the next iteration.

Project tip: Deploy as soon as you have a minimum viable product. The quicker the business can touch and feel it, the more oxygenated the program will be to continue through the phases. The feedback loops you’ll get from the end user, who will live and breathe the solution, are priceless.

Test

Test

What: Testing of the solution should occur in an incremental fashion within each iteration. Track all testing electronically to your specific requirements, user stories and business needs.

Technology tip: Every time it’s possible, use automated unit and integrated testing and embed this into the build pipeline. If you are able, script every possible transaction and have a system retesting everything on every change (commit). You will not only save time in manual testing but increase the system’s robustness and limit bugs.

Handover

Handover

What: Pass on the new system or process to the end user – your staff.

This typically involves transitioning the system over from development to support, staff training, documentation, and ensuring everyone has the tools and knowledge to adapt to the new way of working, within a realistic timeframe.

People tip: Handover is really about change management and user enablement – and this can begin in earlier project phases. An agile project delivery approach naturally includes a series of feedback loops which allow users to test and refine the end product. This goes a long way to their eventual uptake of the final product and a smoother transition into everyday operations.

6. Continuous improvement

Keep evolving. After ‘go live’, the business will keep maturing. Your new digitisation tools will teach you different ways of doing things and you’ll continue seeing opportunities to change and improve. This constant improvement isn’t an indication that things were wrong before, but a sign that the business is constantly evolving and ready to take things to the next level.

What: Improve, automate, repeat.

Action: Setup a framework to accommodate continuous improvement and change. Use data analytics that are now available with your recently digitised operation to drive fact-based decision making and implementation. When you see an opportunity to automate a step, build and deploy. When there is a chance to streamline a process, build and deploy. When you could use an optimiser engine to make a manual complex decision, build and deploy.

Tip: Get used to change, if you are not already. The world is evolving too fast for us to sit and watch.

Every day new technology, machinery, processes, business drivers, changing markets, and changes in costs drive the need to constantly re-evaluate, respond and refine.

How Nukon can help:  It’s part of our essence to become a long term partner. We are not about big bang projects and good bye. We are about continually adding value.

Summary

Our two part blog series has outlined our recommended approach for 4.0 digitisation. By now, you should know how to:

  1. Understand your current state
  2. Know where you want to go and why (using Business Drivers and 4.0 Levers)
  3. Develop a Technology Roadmap (Digital Strategy)

<Decision point>

  1. Design and pilot innovative projects
  2. Scale full solutions
  3. Continuous improvement and analysis

Hopefully from here, you can make some informed decisions on how to best progress on your 4.0 journey.

If you only take a few nuggets of advice from this blog series it’s this:

1) make sure your 4.0 projects are always tied back to business needs but embrace the unknown and the learning process.

And

2) make sure that anything you build is incremental and modular so it oxygenates the program with quick value adds.

This will mean you’re not wasting money on hype and you’re future proofing against the industry’s relentless change.

Integrating operational and IT infrastructure is often a foundational step towards achieving any 4.0 lever, whether it be to allow full visibility across the supply chain or the connected worker capability. Find out what this looks like in our free guide to integrating IT and OT. Download it now.

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Topics: project management, agile, Digital Transformation