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“Compelling storytelling sharpens the focus on the factory's objectives.”

Experte:    Neil Webers, Executive Vice President, EFESO   |   09/14/2023   |   Teilen auf in

Mr. Webers, you digitize manufacturing processes in different industries. What do you see in common when it comes to preparing plants for future challenges?

Neil Webers: When companies draft their Smart or Future Factory strategies, they use to set their focus on technological challenges and tools. But this excludes important aspects: customer and consumer centric behavior, new gen demands and desires, demands of changing current user populations, collaboration with cobots, algorithm’s decision-processes and more.

Many of our clients start from the technology – they tend not to start from a holistic perspective. That might be the reason, why operations are facing two crucial today: first, to connect the “dots” of people in the whole value chain. And secondly, to manage permanent change: for example, in the functions and knowledge in the organization, but also in the employees' understanding of their role in the factory of the future.

So, by designing a factory of the future, we must think about the workforce journey. And this is more than leadership or capabilities, people just have to be an integrated part of the plant! Beside all classical approaches in transformation management or operational excellence processes, we see a high demand in this.

What challenge should manufacturing companies pay particular attention to on this journey?

Neil Webers: Mastering the turn of the times in workforce culture clearly demands the utmost attention. The new generation of workers expects at least a digitized work environment, often including the option of remote working. However, a lot of manufacturing companies cannot meet this expectation. Around nine out of ten plants in the food or chemical industries, for example, still work on a paper basis and are digitizing their shopfloor processes step by step at best. So, there still might be a long way to go before a "remote shopfloor management" becomes reality.

On the other hand, the same companies are often very progressive in improving other operations segments by means of digitization and automation. And yes, they will also find highly qualified applicants, who masters value stream management with digital twins or a supply chain control tower. But they won’t hire them, because the contrast between those qualifications and the work environment reality is too big.

How do you resolve these contradictions with your clients?

Neil Webers: There are two key approaches. For one thing, visualize your data as quick and as appealing as possible – but stay focused to the benefit! Many of our clients start or accelerate their digitization journey with projects which are focused on visualizing data. However, visualization does not create added value in itself. It’s only step one. It should always be about finding and taking the steps from visualization to operationalization.

And this is exactly what we’re doing with our platform. We improve the daily life of the operator by preparing the data in a way, that’s helpful and inspiring. For example, we digitally map the work steps of the employees at the machines and systems and in the intralogistics. This makes improvement options like the switch from paper based to digital processes visible. Furthermore, the results of changes can be simulated, which is in turn valuable for the “big picture” of the plant’s performance management.

"Taking the steps from visualization to operationalization is crucial."

And the second approach?

Neil Webers: Keep in mind, that the roles and responsibilities within the factory will change rapidly and constantly, especially with the use of AI technologies. This has at least a functional and a communicative dimension. The functional one - how do I connect which data sources to get which information - is usually time-consuming and costly and receives a corresponding amount of attention. But the communicative one - how do I engage people for change - is at least as important. And that works above all through successful storytelling.

So, the second task is: design and underpin your industrial future journey with a compelling storytelling! Let's stay with the example of transferring decisions to digital assistants, i.e. AI technologies. Here, you should be clear above all about the consequences of shifting decisions – and as an executive, if you are prepared to take responsibility for them or not. In storytelling you can work with scenarios for your industry, but also with comparisons to other technologies. In this case, for example, by using the analogy to the decision-making process of autonomous driving cars.

But how does that translate to an assembly context?

Neil Webers: Especially the risk dimension is always comparable. For example: imagine, your target picture are autonomous assembly lines in a chemical plant. Did you envision that part of the plan must be, which roles people are going to play in the decision making? Which risks do you want to relocate to whom – and how does the escalation process look like in worst case scenarios?

By the way, this does not only affect the factory of the future. It also applies to many highly automated factories where these decisions have already been made, but not with a comprehensive clarity of possible consequences. Furthermore, it’s very important to describe that not only in an organizational chart but also in a form that people outside your working world can understand. Which again underscores the importance of a good storytelling. 

About Neil Webers

Neil Webers is Executive Vice President at EFESO. As author of the publication "Performance Behavior: The lean methodology for continuously improving performance behavior", he is a renowned expert in organizational development and digitalization.


Anna Reitinger

Anna Reitinger

Head of Marketing, ROI-EFESO
Tel.: +49 89 1215 90-0

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