Despite widespread media coverage of the benefits that come with embracing digital technology, scepticism towards complete transformation within manufacturing remains. Digital solutions will only make a tangible difference to business operations and outcomes when used correctly and consistently, demonstrating the need for all employees to believe in them.

By Colin Crow, MD of digital transformation specialist, Nexer

For digital transformation to truly be a success, buy-in from all levels is essential. The C-Suite must be on board to implement and secure funding for new technologies, and, equally, those who use it on a day-to-day basis must also be convinced of its benefits.

A survey of manufacturing business leaders found that less than half (44%) are always open to implementing new business technology, leaving a staggering 56% of senior businesspeople sceptical of the potential business. This indicates that barriers to effective digital transformation within the sector are created by those at the top who are wary of new technology.

When asked about opinions surrounding digital transformation, more than a quarter of leaders (26%) said that technology can cause problems if not implemented carefully, 16% believe the cost can often outweigh the benefits, and nearly one in 10 (9%) believe it creates an unnecessary burden on employees.

In reality, technology has a proven ability to improve collaboration across a business, enhance real-time business knowledge and data availability, and unlock potential new ways of engaging with customers and markets. The survey data suggests that many senior business leaders have been burned by previous digital transformation effort, as it is unfortunately common for businesses to choose the wrong technologies or roll them out without enough support for the employees who use them.

When leaders do decide to embrace modern technology, implementing new digital procedures without being fully invested in supporting employees through the transition can lead to problems.

Overcoming digital skills 

Only a third (33%) of businesses surveyed in the Nexer Connected Enterprise report agreed that their employees act positively towards new technology, and only slightly more (37%) said their employees appreciate the benefits of new technology. Low engagement from the day-to-day users of new technology can harm a business’ overall digital transformation progress, as the tech may be used in a less consistently correct manner than it would be by engaged employees.

As well as this, there must be an adequate level of consultation, education and support before, during and after the digital transformation process. The demand for this is clear, when considering that just 28% of businesses said their employees find it easy to learn how to use new technologies, 24% said that some of their employees struggle to learn, and 13% said many of their employees find it difficult.

Digital skills vary from person to person within a workforce, with younger employees more likely to find adapting to new ways of working easy – though this is not always necessarily the case. It is essential that businesses do not assume a certain level of technological proficiency when introducing new technologies to employees – particularly for those who have been working for the business or within the industry for a long time.

Keeping employees at the heart of digital initiatives

To improve the sentiment towards new digital tools and processes among employees, and to in turn ensure optimum return on investment, businesses should always take a collaborative approach, taking time to explain the reasons behind any new introductions to employees and providing as much support as necessary to make staff feel comfortable.

Just 12% of businesses surveyed said their employees tell them that their business technologies improve their daily life, and nearly one in 10 (8%) said that they regularly receive complaints from employees following the implementation of new technologies. 

It is important to bear in mind that while digital transformation makes companies more profitable, enhances the customer experience and enables businesses to keep up with competitors, it should also always improve the employee experience. If a new technology will not ultimately make the daily responsibilities of employees simpler or more efficient following the appropriate training, then it is not the right technology for the business and will likely not be a success in the long run.

A forward-looking approach

As the manufacturing industry continues to become more reliant on digital advancements, business leaders must cast aside any negative assumptions surrounding digital transformation, as they may find their organisations unable to thrive without the help of strategically planned and implemented technological innovations.

Once the barriers created by the C-Suite’s misguided preconceptions have been removed, business leaders can invest the necessary time and finances into persuading their employees of the benefits through thorough training and support throughout the process.

Because of the buzz surrounding digital transformation and its associated technologies, it may seem that manufacturers are much further ahead in their evolution than they are. In fact, our research has shown that there are many, many businesses in the UK yet to embrace seemingly commonplace technologies, such as ERP and CRM software, that have the power to revolutionise the way they operate.

While many may have been able to get away with these traditional approaches until now, the rapid changes brought on by the pandemic have shown that there is not a single business that can rest on its laurels.

An open-minded approach to technology will allow manufacturers to be agile enough to cope with the array of challenges presented by the new business landscape. Manufacturers must acquaint themselves with the ways in which the industry is changing, and the technologies – both existing and emerging – that will enable them to meet modern expectations and demands.

Reassuringly, just 7% of business leaders surveyed said that they believe that the traditional way of operating is more effective, suggesting that the vast majority are open to new technologies to some extent. Digital transformation in manufacturing must be viewed on a business-by-business basis, educating and convincing leaders where needed and offering the right guidance and expertise to all employees, from top to bottom, to make it a true success.

Business leaders who fail to effectively communicate to employees or do not make enough support available risk alienating certain members of staff, damaging employee engagement and, ultimately, condemning digital transformation efforts to fail.

When implemented correctly, digital technologies have the potential to boost productivity, profits and customer satisfaction – but that is impossible without complete employee engagement from all staff members, regardless of their seniority.

Nexer is a leading digital transformation expert, specialising in Microsoft Dynamics. It advises, implements, develops and manages Microsoft Dynamics applications, alongside other technologies, to help clients strengthen their market position, grow revenue, and improve productivity.