Today’s manufacturing executives are finding themselves struggling to meet consumer demands for better products, stronger services and deeper consumer-organization relationships in the digital workplace.

According to a 2017 IDG Research Services study, 80 percent of manufacturers have a digital workplace strategy or are in the process of establishing one. Shockingly, however, only 18 percent are allocating 25 percent or more of their budget to digital workplace initiatives in the next 12 months.

These percentages reveal the daunting reality: in order to survive and thrive in today’s economy, businesses must embrace change and evolving technologies. As digital transformation takes hold, organizations must also adapt their workplaces toward a dynamic model that accommodates changes. When companies are able to establish a vision that demonstrates business value, the journey will positively impact organizational culture and transform its employees, production and services.

The study interviewed senior IT and business leaders to examine the approach of manufacturing and energy firms and the obstacles they encounter. In an effort to overcome those obstacles, organizations must adhere to the following recommendations.

Understanding the Digital Workplace

A digital workplace is defined as an online space with “an ongoing, deliberate approach to delivering a more consumer-like computer environment.” This environment should then allow users to explore more innovative, flexible solutions to their problems.

The IDG study expands the definition, offering a comparison of the digital workplace as a virtual equivalent to the physical workplace. Both spaces require the same type of planning and management, as they are each fundamental in their own way to productivity, consumer engagement and organizational wellbeing.

The digital workforce changes how business and production operate, which has a direct impact on consumer relationships and the bottom line. Before manufacturers commit to improving the digital workspace, they must first understand the type of workforce they are striving toward.

Overcoming Obstacles

Companies might understand the importance of a strong digital presence, but their actions do not reflect as they continue to focus on the traditional workplace and its methods. Only a small percentage of manufacturers – 16 percent – claim to be a “trailblazer” in the digital workplace transformation process. Their contemporaries, however, are far behind, either moving with the masses, playing catchup or barely starting their own transformations.

Getting started is half of the battle. Some companies face the struggles of stalled processes, in which a digital workplace plan was created and started but maintenance has fallen short of expectations. In many cases, manufacturers are motivated by the bottom line, and because the transformation takes time, results cannot be seen fast enough. Therefore, the C-suite remains unsatisfied, and the process is stalled.

In terms of change, it is critical to influence big-picture thinking from the top down. Outside of finances, digital culture must be also aligned with the company culture. Although alignment might exist in the beginning, it falters as teams become less integrated, bringing a failure to collaborate and innovate.

However, organizations with leaders who direct the culture through personal behavior see more progress. When a leader demonstrates behavior that encourages digital transformation, he or she can impact not only on workplace culture but the bottom line for the business.

A Roadmap to Transformation

Transforming the digital workplace is no simple process. Workplaces need a roadmap, financial support and strong leaders. In the end, however, the process must prove beneficial to the bottom line, showing high-level executives the importance of the transformation to both the internal workings of the organization and its external relationship with consumers.

The following four steps can open the door to a successful, dynamic digital workplace:

Step One: Develop a Transformative Roadmap

Having a plan gives an organization goals to achieve. Detailed roadmaps to success incorporate IT, consumers and the business, and focus on efficiency, reliability and the scalability of user experience. They also allow smaller goals to be created that accomplish a larger objective, meaning success depends not on a single measurement tool, but obtaining excellence at the bottom line.

Step Two: Take Advantage of Analytics

Despite their undeniable advantage, analytic tools remain underutilized in the industry. However, analytical results are the critical element that provides insight into consumer pain points, worker productivity and overall effectiveness. Many manufacturers currently guess at problems, rather than proactively measuring them and providing evidence-based solutions. Using analytics properly will allow companies to understand challenges and present solutions in a logical manner before they become threats.

Step Three: Create a Flexible Workplace

All transformation requires a flexible approach that takes into account the human element of change. Capabilities must both remain consistent and be fluid enough to support the device and the user. In attempt to remain fluid, many companies might employ several different user tools, each of which has a set of functionalities that accomplish one task – and each need their own support.

Traditional methods of transformation are built to measure ROI and effectiveness. While those are valuable to a company, they do not account for satisfaction, user experience or other more fluid data. Further, even the most thorough data can be biased or one-sided. This is where flexibility and integration comes into play. Some companies have begun using several analytical tools, which allows them to address the issues of one-sidedness and fluidity. In using more tools, companies gain more insight and can focus their efforts on areas that need it, rather than wasting them in areas that don’t.

Step Four: Demand Long Term Viability

While short-term goals are crucial to progress, organizations should not forget about the purpose of a digital workplace. Achieving a dynamic digital workplace is not a short-term project; it is one of long-term, operational change. Focusing on the long-term outcome centers on strategies that allow for continuous, incremental improvements that deliver business value at each stage.

Increasing Business Value

At a distance, achieving a dynamic digital workplace appears daunting and complex. Manufacturers may not know where to begin or where to turn when a plan is in place. Yet today’s market values openness to change and investments in long-term strategy. Manufacturers who possess these qualities are set not just to survive but to thrive in the evolving economy.

Those who invest in transforming their digital workplace will experience growth and deeper relationships. By investing in long-term growth in this area, manufacturers can begin a journey that positively impacts its offerings, bringing with it satisfied customers, happier employees and revenue growth.

About the Author
Prasoon Saxena is Senior Vice President & General Manager Process Manufacturing, Energy & Aerospace, for NTT DATA Services.

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