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Don’t delay starting your company’s digital journey

Digital transformation may sound like a buzz word, but speakers at the tenth annual MESA Africa conference said that companies should not delay starting their digital journey if they want to stay relevant in their industries.

Addressing the theme “Smart manufacturing and the digital enterprise”, Pieter Theron of PWC said that a recent survey showed that just 10% of global manufacturing companies are “digital champions”, while almost two-thirds have barely or not yet begun on the digital journey. “Just 10% of the manufacturing companies we surveyed can be categorised as digital champions, with an established digital product and service offering and multichannel interaction in their customer solutions ecosystem. They have also integrated and aligned their operations, technology, and people ecosystems with their customer solutions ecosystem”, he said.

The automotive and electronics industries have the most digital champions, with 20% of automotive and 14% of electronics companies implementing innovative solutions across their marketplace and facilities. In the process industries, consumer goods, and industrial manufacturing sectors, only a few companies have emerged as digital champions so far. The Eastern block is leading the digital transformation initiative with 42% of companies indicating that they had embarked on the journey, this against a combined total for Europe, Africa and the Middle East of only 17%.

Theron told delegates that companies should create a platform for people to create solutions. Digitalisation should be introduced on a manageable bite size basis. ”Put a pilot together from an innovation slush fund and learn from your mistakes. Don’t put everything at risk and fail miserably.”

To explore digital champions and the global landscape of manufacturing companies, PWC interviewed 1155 executives in 26 countries, asking them primarily about their attempts to implement Industry 4.0 and the progress they are making. These companies covered a wide gamut of sectors: automotive, electronics, industrial equipment and engineering, process industries, consumer goods, and industrial manufacturing.

Theron said that the hype of two years ago is now turning into reality. “One of the quick wins from industry 4.0 is predictive maintenance. The survey showed that 70% of all digital champions have introduced a preventative maintenance programme.

Marc van Pelt, managing director, Pepper+Fuchs Africa and SAIMC team leader on the Industry 4.0 working group said that South Africa must catch up, and urged that MESA and SAIMC must work closer together.

He said, “There is a technology tsunami coming towards South Africa and whether we like it or not, it is there, so we better get ready to meet it head on. This is one of the reasons why the SAIMC set up an Industry 4.0 working group to give guidance in the automation sector”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his State of the Nation Address, announced that government will soon establish a Digital Industrial Revolution Commission, which will include the private sector and civil society. The commission started its work in August 2018. Van Pelt said that he has noticed that every department is talking about the industrial revolution, but from the outside looking in it does not look like they are all talking about the same thing. “We have to guard against a silo approach. To succeed we need to all work together.” He also pointed out that accessibility to and speed of the internet is still problematic. The internet is the backbone of Industry 4.0!

Van Pelt said that South Africa needs to start the Industry 4.0 dialogue and alluded to an event to be presented by the Department of Science and Technology and the Human Sciences Research Council, in partnership with the European Union. They are arranging a multi-stakeholder Dialogue Conference on “Disruptive technologies and public policy in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. The conference will aim to inform the ongoing development of SA-EU strategic partnerships, as well as policy options for responding to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The conference will be held at the CSIR from 10 – 12 December 2018.

“Collaboration between all the player is necessary. We need to get away from the silo thinking. The technology and pockets of experience are here, we need to work together to make it happen across the industry including in small and medium sized businesses”, van Pelt said.

By Hans van de Groenendaal, features editor, EngineerIT