The COVID-19 pandemic has forced every industry sector to confront hard strategic realities that had previously been ignored or indefinitely delayed. Firms in the chemical industry are aware that they need to increase efficiency – and that data and digitalization are essential to delivering long-term gains and competitive advantages.
Yet despite this knowledge, there remains a lack of urgency when it comes to implementing digitalization technologies and processes. Every firm is different, but there are three common barriers that every chemical operations manager needs to address in order to succeed.
I. Insufficient stakeholder buy-in
As digital transformation affects every person at every level of the business, projects require buy-in and support from all stakeholders. Without a shared vision of data-driven operations, efforts will be unfocused, yielding less-than-optimal outcomes.
The buy-in of stakeholders is sometimes hard to secure precisely because of the lack of transparency in operations. The operations manager is focused on maximum yield and a reduction of waste. The maintenance manager wants to schedule repairs and maintenance while minimizing plant downtime. Project managers are concerned about extending and enhancing operations. And the shift manager wants to be sure that employees are achieving maximum productivity while maintaining health and safety standards.
So, for a digitalization project to be successful, everyone needs to be on-board with understanding how data will improve their performance and the rest of the business.
The reality of digital transformation is that every stakeholder benefits, but it can be a challenge to convince some stakeholders that short-term disruption will be repaid very quickly.
II. Incorrect prioritization
Digitalization is an ongoing process of continuous change, with iterative updates building to greater overall improvements. It cannot and should not be implemented as a single “big bang” project but with a step-by-step, strategic and scalable approach.
This should not come as a huge surprise to chemists who already know that discovering the perfect formula takes extensive testing and tweaking. You now need to transfer that same mindset to production and technology to create a culture that embraces iterative change.
As culture changes, you can begin defining projects and the order in which they are to be completed. Obviously, stakeholders will have competing priorities; these need to be ordered according to their importance to the overall corporate strategy, ensuring investments and work are delivering maximum value and that all the different stakeholders can realize the benefits of the digitalization process.
III. Lack of communication
COVID-19-related lockdowns have demonstrated the importance of communication and collaboration within the workplace. With the right tools, many support and administrative functions have been successfully moved off-site, helping to meet social distance obligations and minimize the number of employees working on-site.
Communication plays a vital part in digitalization efforts, effectively securing the support of your colleagues and stakeholders and keeping them engaged as projects progress. Everyone needs to understand his or her role in digital transformation.
Keeping employees engaged ensures that everyone understands the KPIs relevant to roles and how to collect and share data with their colleagues. Updates and changes need to be clearly communicated at all levels of the business to help capitalize on every change.
Communication needs to continue to be unhindered across your organization and beyond. To get the ball rolling, your business should look at finalizing at least some of your current remote working solutions. Alternatively, these systems should be replaced with alternatives that better meet your needs, now that you know what those needs actually are.
Collaboration extends beyond the company, too. Digital transformation allows your business to build a more efficient supply chain that is tightly integrated with your external partners. Many businesses fail to involve external stakeholders in their digitalization efforts, reducing overall productivity.
The organizations that can accommodate external input can gain the true benefits of digitalization and become more competitive in the marketplace. In the era of the tightly integrated supply chain, communication will need to improve with ingredient suppliers and retailers, too. The list of stakeholders will increase to include third parties as digitalization efforts extend beyond the production line.
Learn more about challenges, barriers and solutions
These challenges are not insurmountable, but they must be addressed if your business is to successfully adapt to the changing marketplace. Digitalization will become critical to creating new operational efficiencies, improving site safety, developing and manufacturing new products, and ensuring that up- and down-stream supply chains are fully optimized.
To learn more about overcoming these challenges and the importance of digitalization in the chemicals industry, download our latest eBook Digitalization for the Chemical Industry.
Maurizio is an industry consultant for Hexagon’s PPM division. He focuses on digital transformation for project execution and performance management. He has provided information technology consulting and related services to EPCs and owner operators, as well as product development support to Intergraph Smart Solutions. Maurizio has published numerous expert papers and delivered well-received contributions as a speaker at international conferences. Contact him on LinkedIn.