Image:  21stcenturypublicservant.wordpress.com/

I have talked a lot the past years about Digital Transformation and in particular its relation to PLM. This time I want to focus a little more on Digital Transformation and my observations related to big enterprises and small and medium enterprises. I will take you starting from the top, the C-level to the work floor and then try to reconnect through the middle management. As you can imagine from the title of this post, there is a challenge. And I am aware I am generalizing for the sake of simplicity.

Starting from the C-level of a large enterprise

Large and traditional enterprises are having the most significant challenge when aiming at a digital transformation for several reasons:

  • They have shareholders that prefer short-term benefits above long-term promising but unclear higher benefits. Shareholders most of the time have no personal interest in these companies, they just want to earn money above the average growth.
  • The CEO is the person to define the strategy which has to come with a compelling vision to inspire the shareholders, the customers and the employees in the company – most of the time in that order of priority.
  • The role of the CEO is to prioritize investments and stop or sell core components to make the transformation affordable. Every transformation is about deciding what to stop, what to start and what to maintain.
  • After four to seven years (the seven years’ itch) it is time for a new CEO to create a new momentum as you cannot keep the excitement up too long.
  • Meanwhile, the Stop-activities are creating fear within the organization – people start fearing their jobs and the start-activities are most of the time of such a small-scale that their successes are not yet seen. So at the work floor, there will be reservations about what’s next

Companies like ABB, Ericsson, GE, Philips – in alphabetical order – are all in several stages of their digital transformation and in particular I have followed GE as they were extremely visible and ambitious. Meanwhile, it is fair to say that the initial Digital Transformation plan from GE has stalled and a lot of lessons learned from that.

If you have time – read this article: The Only Way Manufacturers Can Survive – by Vijay Govindarajan & Jeff Immelt (you need to register). It gives useful insights about what the strategy and planning were for digital transformation. And note PLM is not even mentioned there J

Starting from the C-level of a small and medium enterprise

In a small or medium enterprise, the distance between the C-level and the work floor is most of the time much shorter and chances are that the CEO is a long-term company member in case of a long-standing family-owned business. In this type of companies, a long-term vision can exist and you could expect that digital transformation is more sustainable there.

Unfortunate most of the time it is not, as the C-level is often more active in current business strategies and capabilities close to their understanding instead of investing energy and time to digest the full impact of a digital transformation. These companies might invest in the buzz-words you hear in the market, IoT, Digital Twins and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality, all very visionary topics, however of low value when they are implemented in an isolated way.

In this paragraph, I also need to mention the small and medium enterprises that are in the hands of an investment company.  Here I feel sorry as the investment company is most of the time trying to optimize the current ways of working by simplifying or rationalizing the business, not creating a transformative vision (as they do not have the insights. In this type of companies, you will see on a lower scale the same investments done as in the other category of small and medium enterprises, be it on a lesser scale.

Do people need to change?

Often you hear that the problem with any change within the companies is because people do not want to change. I think this is too much a generalization. I have worked in the past five years with several companies where we explored the benefits and capabilities of PLM in a modern way, sometimes focusing on an item-centric approach, sometimes focusing on a model-based approach. In all these engagements there was no reluctance from the users to change.

However, there were two types of users in these discussions. I would characterize as evolutionary thinkers (most of the time ten years or more in the company) and love-to-change thinkers (most of them five years or less in the company). The difference between these groups was that the evolutionary thinkers were responding in the context of the existing business constraints where the love-to-change thinkers were not yet touched by the “knowledge how good everything was”.

For digital transformation, you need to create the love-to-change attitude while using the existing knowledge as a base to improve. And this is not a people change, it is an organizational change where you need to enable people to work in their best mode. It needs to be an end-to-end internal change – not changing the people, but changing the organizational parameters: KPIs, divisions, departments, priorities. Have a look at this short movie, you can replace the word ERP by PLM, and you will understand why I like this movie (and the relaxing sound)

The Middle Management dilemma

And here comes my last observation. At the C-level we can find inspiring visions often outcome-based, talking about a more agile company, closer to the customer, empowered workers, etc.  Then there is the ongoing business that cannot be disrupted and needs to perform – so the business units, the departments all get their performance KPIs, merely keeping the status quo in place.

Also, new digital initiatives need to be introduced. They don’t fit in the existing business and are often started in separation – like GE Digital division, and you can read Jeff Immelt’ s thoughts and strategy how this could work. (The Only Way Manufacturers Can Survive). However as the majority of the business runs in the old mode, the Digital Business became another business silo in the organization, as the middle management could not be motivated to embed digital in their business (no KPIs or very low significance of new KPIs)

I talked about the hybrid/bimodal approach several times in my blog posts, most recently in The Challenges of a Connected Ecosystem.  One of the points that I did not address was the fact that probably nobody wants to work in the old mode anymore once the new approach is successful and scaled up.

When the new mode of business is still small, people will not care so much and continue business as usual. Once the new mode becomes the most successful part of the company, people do want to join this success if they can. And here the change effort is needed. An interesting article in this context is The End of Two-Speed IT from the Boston Consultancy Group (2016). They already point at the critical role of middle management. Middle management can kill digital transformation or being part of it, by getting motivated and adopting too.

Conclusion

Perhaps too much text in this post and even more content when you dive more in-depth in the provided content. Crucial if you want to understand the digital transformation process in an existing company and the critical place of middle management. They are likely the killers of digital transformation if not give the right coaching and incentives.  Just an observation – not a thought 😉

Advertisements