People are central to the success of Industry 4.0 strategies

15 August 2019 4 min. read

With the inevitable arrival of Industry 4.0 in the production landscape, putting people at the centre of strategy planning will pay dividends and boost business performance, says Ashley Darley from Pollen Consulting Group. 

The modern-day luddite worries about their job being replaced by a robot. They claim we will lose the human touch. But this time the machines are not chasing the physical activities – they are after the thinking tasks, because the robot’s brains are developing faster than their bodies. 

From mechanisation in the first Industrial Revolution (1.0) through to mass production in the next (2.0) and on to automation, computers and electronics (3.0) there has been the underlying theme of humans being replaced by some sort of machine or process. The introduction of Industry 4.0 is no different, with computers set to replace some of the office functions through smart connectivity and use of big data. 

While there remain several unknowns around the true likely impact of 4.0 or exactly when it will take hold, there is one thing we know for sure: it is on its way. So rather than react when it hits, businesses should get ahead by being proactive, especially where people are concerned. Advancements of this kind should be viewed as an opportunity, rather than a threat. It is essentially a step-change in the skillset required to manage and run the factories of the future, rather than a replacement. How can businesses embrace this? By having strategies for their people...People are central to the success of Industry 4.0 strategies

In business, people are our greatest asset. Even with the advances in technology over the last few years, the machines still lack several things that people bring. At the end of the day it is a person ultimately buying the product or service on offer, so it stands to reason that people be involved in the concept, development and manufacturing. People should complement what technology offers rather than be replaced by it, which can result in the loss of knowledge, emotion and brand ambassadors. Therefore, alongside any technology strategy there must also be a people strategy that applies to bringing in skills from outside the business and harnessing those that already exist.

Reskilling for the future

Rather than losing employees at the hands of technological advancement, we should look to take them on the journey with us. For example, a production planner role may soon be a thing of the past, replaced by smart systems hooked up to machines to optimally plan and sequence production at the click of a button. Wouldn’t it be better to proactively retrain the existing production planner in a new role that will be required, such as IT security, data analytics, coding or programming in order to retain the knowledge and passion for the business? 

This doesn’t just apply to the office. In factories of old, one of the greatest barriers to change and improvement has always been the burden of additional process: manual measurements, new quality assurance paperwork, calculating KPIs, filling in visual management forms. Why not leverage technology and introduce the factory of the future where visuals, KPIs and forms are all digital, automatically generated and user friendly? Taking out the non-value-added elements not only improves productivity, but improves the chance of change sticking. After all, who doesn’t prefer a fancy gadget to paper and a calculator?

Both examples above require planning and a strategy for people aligned to a clear technology strategy. Acting after a new system is implemented will be too late and our people will get left behind. 

Remember the days when applying the principles of lean set you apart from your competitors? Unfortunately, those days are gone; instead, that is becoming a prerequisite to merely survive. Those who want to get ahead of the pack now are going to need a new competitive edge and it is becoming more and more likely that it will be embracing and taking advantage of some (not all) of the technologies of Industry 4.0. Whether it is harnessing big data to create a digital twin and make strategic decisions or predicting future performance based on live data analytics, change is on the way and, as has always happened in the past, people will be central to the success.

This article was previously posted in the ‘It’s not a revolution – It’s evolution’ white paper from Pollen Consulting Group, an Australian consulting firm specialised in the fast moving consumer goods sector.