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Who's in charge of your digitalisation?

6 December 2023

When going digital in a factory, there is of course a need to change, and most likely to improve. That could be as simple as getting more grip on the production process in a metal workshop, to improving product quality by introducing more advanced control systems in a food factory. Never, or almost never, will the reason be "we have to do things digitally" - the means is not an end.

That brings up an interesting question: who is in charge, the factory or its suppliers of (IT) systems? Let's have a brief look at this from three perspectives.

First of all there is the perspective of the factory and its management. This is where the demand comes from, the reason to change and improve. Here it is determined what is needed, what has to change and why. For example, a metal workshop might want to get more control over the flow of work through the different stations. This will allow them to analyse the production process and find out where time and resources can be used more efficiently. Or, a food factory wants to get more control over the amounts of ingredients that are used, to save material and improve product quality.

Digitalisation, introducing, sensors, software and computers can be part of a solution here. Collecting data needed to do the required analysis and implement control becomes easier if not done by hand or by using a spreadsheet, or by hand.

The second perspective is that of the suppliers, the vendors of software and equipment that provide (part) solutions for digitalisation. They understand and create software, networks and devices that build the technical solution for the factory's problems. They can create solutions, and typically use their own preferred technology or provide their own hardware and software products. This allows them to build solutions quickly and efficiently.

So which of these two should be in charge of building the solution, the factory or the suppliers? What is the impact on the factory's organisation and future cost?

That brings us to the third perspective, that of the IT Department in the factory. Who is going to manage the IT, network and software, infrastructure in the factory? There are security needs, availability needs, updates, upgrades, and so on that need to be coordinated, spare parts to be kept in stock and so on. Every supplier has their own preferences, while an IT department might want to standardise on these things - certainly if it has to manage multiple factories within an company.

Combining these three perspective leads to some interesting long term questions:

  • Can IT oversee the solution landscape the suppliers are looking at?
  • Can suppliers overrule the standards of the IT department?
  • Do IT and suppliers block each other in building the most effective solution?
  • ...

And that leads to the ultimate question: who do you put in charge of digitalisation? Is it the suppliers, the factory management or the IT department? Or do you assign a system integrator to manage the balance across these stakeholders?

Image credit: archjoe on Freepik.com