Digital Manufacturing Summit 2022: People at the Center of Digital Transformation

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By James Prestwood | 4Q 2022 | IN-6719

The 7th Annual Digital Manufacturing Summit 2022, held in Berkshire, United Kingdom, in early October, showed a heavy focus by manufacturers and technology vendors on the impact of people on the success of digital transformation. Manufacturers who push technology without fully mapping out how it will impact and benefit their workforce will meet resistance and blunt the effectiveness of their transformation projects. Success can be found in changing the narrative of how technologies are used and implemented, and this is not just the responsibility of the manufacturers, but also squarely falls in the lap of the technology vendors offering the products.

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People Push Change, Not Technology


The 7th Digital Manufacturing Summit hosted by Transform Industry presented an excellent forum for both manufacturers and technology vendors to gather and discuss case studies, enterprise transformation, and the technology driving them. A key theme was that of the people-centric nature of digital transformation and, in particular, the challenge of encouraging the adoption of digital transformation among their workforces and executives.

For example, consider that the average age of the manufacturing workforce in the United Kingdom is 52 years old. Many of these professionals may be ingrained with business processes and resistance to change. While this assessment cannot necessarily be applied to all members of the U.K. manufacturing workforce, the notion of workers resisting technological change is common.

Acceptance Is Key and Use Cases Should Be Identified by Those on the Front Lines


To push digital transformation and have it accepted, manufacturers and technology vendors need to show the benefits and make workers part of the change. This means that workers that will actually use the technology need to be included in the introduction, the maintenance, and advancement of the digital transformation agenda. This involves a cultural change, with many manufacturers needing to shift from a technology-led approach to one led by people and the business case.

Prior to any digitalization, the intended outcome must be well defined. Digitalizing a bad process will just end up with a more expensive bad process, alongside disenfranchisement of the workforce with new technologies. Therefore, it is essential to confer with frontline workers prior to choosing which solutions to implement. Solutions must drive real impact. Questions such as “why am I implementing this?” and “what is it actually going to do?” need to be assessed with deliverable metrics and goals.

Changing Narrative and Structures


The narrative of digital transformation has, for the most part, concerned the efficiency of the given technology, rather than the people. However, when the rubber hits the road, people are critical to the successful adoption of new technology. Now that technology has been developed and is ready to use, one of the main focuses of technology vendors in the manufacturing market is to find the most effective way to sell it to manufacturers. While in the boardrooms this may take the form of highlighting efficiencies and cost cutting, to the mass populous of the manufacturing world, what is most important to them is how the given technology is going to support them in their day-to-day tasks. Vendors should focus on the narrative to deliver to these individuals.

For manufacturers, a key goal is to engage and align all business units in the same direction, making sure that Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are connected. This helps turn self-interest into group interest, with plant managers, for example, caring not just about their own plant’s performance, but the overall company’s performance.

In this case, the most important relationship to align is that of Human Resources (HR) and the business unit implementing the digital transformation projects. Open communication channels between these groups to assess issues, such as new training for workers, employee feedback, and, in extreme cases, staff turnover, are critical.

Ultimately, adoption will be severely hindered if the people for whom a solution is supposed to serve are not engaged in its success. Technology must be explained and understood by its beneficiaries to achieve acceptance. A clear, people value-focused narrative—in addition to a business value-driven narrative—is a novel tactic and one that ABI Research recommends that clients selling into manufacturing consider to drive alignment and scale.



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