Building a Connected Industrial Workforce

July 21, 2016
As digital technologies and connected manufacturing become pervasive, manufacturers should seriously consider building their connected industrial workforce model now.

The digital revolution is transforming manufacturing, enabling such advances as the connected industrial workforce that can help automotive and industrial equipment manufacturers increase efficiency and gain a competitive edge. Yet many companies are not prepared to realize its full potential.

According to Accenture research involving automotive and equipment executives in the U.S., Europe and Asia, leading companies are expected to invest up to €220 billion ($243 billion) in R&D over the next five years to create a connected industrial workforce, the fusion of artificial intelligence (AI), machines and workers, employing new digital technologies. But the findings also show that companies making these investments could fail to maximize the competitive advantages such outlays can bring. Just 22 percent of the respondents say their organizations have implemented the measures needed to optimize a connected industrial workforce. Moreover, 85 percent describe their companies as digital followers rather than leaders.

The research indicates that many manufacturers are hesitant to aggressively pursue the concept because of concerns over related technology—76 percent of the respondents view data vulnerability as a medium or high risk, while 72 percent believe system complexity and related vulnerability also is a medium or high risk. In addition, more than two-thirds (70 percent) consider a shortage of skilled workers to be a high or medium risk.

Despite these potential challenges, companies that are slow to implement a digital approach not only run the risk of undermining their ability to compete in a marketplace that is increasingly driven by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), but also diminish the possibility that their investment will pay off. For example, Accenture estimates that by 2020 a connected industrial workforce could help an automotive manufacturer with annual revenues of €50 billion ($55 billion) generate as much as €500 million ($552 million) in additional profitability—including €50 million in increased R&D profitability, €415 million ($458 million) in increased profitability from manufacturing and supply, and €30 million ($33 million) in increased after-sales profits.

Acting on it

There are several actions that automotive manufacturers and OEMs can take to build a connected industrial workforce to help them compete effectively in a rapidly changing market:

  • Envision the full promise of a connected industrial workforce, recognizing that seamless human-machine collaboration can increase operational efficiency, productivity, visibility and responsiveness, and enhance collaboration inside and outside the organization.
  • Determine the specific benefits that a connected industrial workforce can bring to the organization. This could include harnessing analytics capabilities to improve visibility and drive greater insights or extending seamless connectively to the company’s broader ecosystem.
  • Identify and address what is slowing the company’s progress toward connected industrial workforce adoption. This could include the need to upgrade IT systems, increase spending to boost data and systems security, or devise more creative ways to address a skills gap.
  • Elevate the company’s competitiveness by dedicating a higher portion of the organization’s R&D budget to building a connected industrial workforce.
  • Define the organization’s connected industrial workforce initiative and the responsibilities associated with it. Senior leadership will need to support a connected industrial workforce, and a governance structure that clearly defines roles, responsibilities and accountability will be required. Moreover, all stakeholders should be engaged in the strategic plan, and the value that the workforce is expected to drive should be identified and tracked.
  • Develop new job profiles that include people with cross-functional and inter-disciplinary skills, such as programmers, analytics and data scientists, as well as machine coordination and maintenance experts. Building, training and hiring to acquire new skills in support of the organization’s connected industrial workforce also will be essential.

A connected future

The connected industrial workforce and new digital technologies that will support and sustain it—from smart glasses and analytics applications to collaborative robots—is a prime example of how connected manufacturing is becoming pervasive. To remain competitive in this emerging business environment, automotive and industrial equipment manufacturers should seriously consider building their connected industrial workforce model now.

>>Andy Howard, [email protected], is managing director of the Automotive and Industrial Equipment Group at Accenture.

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