Digital Transformation: Can there only be one?

Digital Transformation: Can there only be one?

20. March 2019

Close your eyes for a minute and imagine yourself as a spectator at a sports event at Madison Square Garden back in the mid-eighties. The event is nearing its climax and the audience – a cross-section of society – are ecstatic. The crowd are feverishly awaiting the showdown when suddenly two self-absorbed, athletic-looking guys get up and sneak away from the buzz of the arena. It’s a situation that seems so obscure that you forget everything else around you and follow the two strangers until you catch up with them in the underground parking garage. You rub your eyes in disbelief. Those two mysterious dudes pull a two-handed sword out of their trench coats and lay into each other so hard that the sparks fly. They’re desperate to hit one another because there can only be one winner.

It’s the same old song

It’s a scene from the Middle Ages as depicted in “Highlander”, the Hollywood movie by Russell Mulcahy. And the debate about the digital transformation in the process industry is another case of the same old, and equally weird, song. A radical change is looming – for technologies, processes and business methods – yet many people are still of the opinion that we can carry it through using traditional, time-tested methods. Some are even willing to defend historically evolved areas and solutions to the death. Yet implementing digitalization projects is a highly interdisciplinary task with impacts on all of a company’s divisions (read more).

Now that we’ve relived the opening sequence from “Highlander” together, I’d like to tell you all about a young and very motivated specialist – let’s call him Daniel. Daniel dutifully goes about his daily work at a German chemical park. He grew up as a digital native, and the use of modern information channels like the Internet or social media is an integral part of his private life, as are mobile devices. If he has any questions, he doesn’t hesitate to consult a blog for the answers, he adds data volume to his smartphone online with a simple tap, he manages anything to do with public transport – timetables, tickets and so on – using the transport company’s app and all his appointments are arranged via WhatsApp.

Business man making a presentation at office. Business executive delivering a presentation to his colleagues during meeting or in-house business training. Rear view. Business and entrepreneurship.

“There has to be an easier way”

This same Daniel has now been tasked with calibrating a measuring point. On his way to where the instrument is installed, he discovers that he forgot to bring the report form he needs to document the procedure with him when he left the workshop. He retraces his steps and this time makes sure he hasn’t overlooked anything – documentation, forms, tools etc. The calibration calls for information on both this and other measuring points as well as the manipulated variables of the valves. He requests that information from the control room using his walkie-talkie. Unfortunately, there happens to be a large electric drive right there and then, next to where he’s working, so that he can barely hear what the plant operator in the control room is saying. And of course, his colleague finds it no less difficult to understand what he’s asking. Daniel moves a few steps away from the source of the noise and tries again. He gets a prompt answer, but it doesn’t fit in with what he’s expecting. After querying what was meant twice, he realizes that his colleague has clicked on the wrong measuring point in the system. After some back and forth, Daniel – visibly irritated – is finally able to complete his calibration. As he heads back to the workshop, he thinks “There has to be an easier way”. After all, I don’t call the railways every day just to find out when the next train is coming.”

Suitably motivated, Daniel takes advantage of his lunch break to scribble down how he has access to all of the information he needs on a mobile device anywhere, anytime throughout the plant (read more). “I want to sleep on it before I show it to anyone.” The next morning, Daniel wakes up feeling more refreshed than he has done for a long time. He adds two minor details to his concept and then presents it to his superior without further ado during the morning meeting.

Do too many cooks spoil the broth?

After studying Daniel’s drawing for a few minutes, the boss frowns. Daniel has naturally also given him plenty of extra explanation to go with it. “I c

Business people meeting at office and use post it notes to share idea. Brainstorming concept. Sticky note on glass wall.

an figure out what it is you have in mind, even though I don’t actually understand the details,” the boss says as soon as Daniel pauses for breath. “However, it’s not for me to decide alone whether or not your idea can be put into practice. But let me look for a date when we can discuss it with people from PCE, Infrastructure, IT and Purchasing. We’ll get a few colleagues from PAT to come along too, plus PCE suppliers and the main instrumentation specialists, just to be on the safe side.”
It takes around seven weeks for him to schedule a meeting that everyone can make it to.

There are now several possible endings to this story. For instance, the supplier could say “We can do anything you want but we need detailed instructions from you first.”

The opinion former might reply “You’ve got all the information already – all you have to do is use it.” The problem is that no-one knows how to unearth that information from the systems in daily practice. It’s also conceivable that IT will simply put a stop to it all: “No way is any data going to leave the automation pyramid.”
Or does a common, agile approach for turning Daniel’s concept into a reality maybe exist after all?

Will Daniel’s idea eventually be put into action or will it be thwarted because too many cooks with different interests are sitting round the table and spoiling the broth because they’re unable to reach an agreement?

What do you think about all this? Would you like to share some of your own experiences with us?


Panta Rhei – everything flows

SBA – an industry is changing

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