Equipping businesses with the ability to accelerate
2020 was a year of unforeseen business impact. It tested operations of every size on how effectively they could respond to operate in a radically different business environment. The key to the success of this response was technology.
The last 12 months have forced businesses to pivot and adjust to the new market realities, it also empowered them to accelerate digital transformation projects, many of which had been embarked on before COVID became part of the vernacular, and leverage technology as an enabler for the shift in their operations. The combination of which created a solid foundation on which strategies for the new business environment could be defined and deployed.
For example, SCG Chemicals implemented a plan to ensure safe operation and reliability through its digital reliability center using virtualized operating and engineering information of assets through a 3D virtual plant. It was able to integrate multiple data sources with rich analytics to predict issues and prescribe remedial actions. It also used AI-infused mobile operator solutions to increase efficiency and reduce errors.
Reducing the cost of execution
There is no doubt that capital projects in the industrial sector were impacted last year. However, many projects already sanctioned or in construction mode are continuing, but with the requirement to materially reduce the cost of project execution. For engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) companies, driving efficiencies to reduce the execution cost of lump sum turnkey contracts has become central to their digital transformation efforts.
One example is PETRONAS, which replaced its legacy tools to increase the speed and efficiency of decision making, eliminate value leaks from inconsistent data and leverage common information across multiple sites. The combination of which reduced crude evaluation time, increased margins across the supply and distribution network and optimized fuel and electricity consumption at each refinery site.
Both the above examples demonstrate the benefits of executing to a well defined digital transformation strategy supported by best in class technology and solutions. In fact, many learnings and experiences of the past year have started to define what the future of the industrial enterprise could be.
The future industrial enterprise
The necessity to be operationally resilient and agile will be a defining characteristic of the future industrial enterprise. Demand and supply will continue to be volatile and companies will need to ensure that information and processes across the value chain of procurement, planning scheduling, production and distribution are set-up to enable informed decision-making and drive rapid responses to shifts in demand and supply to mitigate the impact to the bottom line.
Sustainability too, will be an increasing focus. Demand patterns have already shifted to clean energy, natural resource conservation and health center consumption. Capital projects will focus on building assets that are designed for sustainable operation. Product mixes will shift to addressing the new demand patterns, supply chain and production will be targeted delivering these products. Indeed, we are already seeing operations being proactively managed to minimize any environmental impact.
Moving from automated to autonomous
As workforce capacity is rationalized to market conditions, automation in operations will increase. However, moving from automated to autonomous, will require higher levels of intelligence embedded in operating assets and operational applications to smoothly adapt to new requirements while consistently meeting operational goals, quality, safety and complying with regulatory norms. Safety and reliability too will also be key attributes. Industries operate complex assets in mission-critical operations that typically require a high-level of expertise and supervision to ensure safety. As operations become autonomous, often with remote supervision, availability, reliability and safety will increasingly be built-in through more pervasive sensors, data aggregation, predictive analytics and prescriptive guidance to preempt failures and ensure the right remedial actions to restore safe operation with minimal disruption.
All of which points to the rise of the connected workforce. As the next generation starts to resume its responsibilities, expertise based on years of experience will gradually be replaced by a new digital skill set. Designers, engineers, operators and managers will all be equipped with the information, analysis, automation and guidance to ensure that they are able to execute their tasks efficiently and safely, individually and as digitally-connected teams. As a result, the human role will become less about handling the transactional and procedural aspects of work, and more about bringing insight and capability to bear using the digital tools and work enablers of the industrial enterprise. This will create a new framework for learning and development and upskilling people competencies in the new digital context.
Transformation initiatives accelerated
The outcomes of digital transformation initiatives accelerated over the past year have underscored the critical role of technology. Not only as an enabler for the future industrial enterprise but to break down information and process silos with a common digital thread across the asset lifecycle and the operational value chain. We’re now entering a new era where major industrial operations are creating experiences as intuitive and compelling as consumer technology - and that can only be a good thing.
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