Manufacturers are in the midst of a revolution―a fundamental shift in the way they think about operating, competing and delivering value. The days of chasing kaizen improvements―small continuous and incremental changes to stable and established processes―are giving way to the world of perpetual beta.

In this new world, modern manufacturers must learn to be agile: to understand, interpret and respond quickly to ever-increasing customer expectations. Moreover, modern manufacturers must contend with new competitive forces from large digital organizations and innovative start-ups―both determined to build new revenue models.

Also in this new world, data is no longer confined to traditional operational systems. Distributed ledger technology is “attaching” more information to raw materials; the Internet of Things is making devices and production assets “smarter”; and mobility and connectivity are enabling supply chains to be more collaborative. These emerging technologies also are generating a vast and exponentially growing volume of data. This is the world of Industry 4.0

Achieving Industry 4.0 takes more than technology

Executing Industry 4.0 transformations with new technologies, products, services and business models is disruptive for manufacturers. In fact, manufacturing executives we spoke with as part of our annual CGI Client Global Insights program say they remain focused on becoming digital to meet customer expectations, protecting the enterprise, digitizing for data integration, adopting Industry 4.0 and transforming from product-centric to customer-centric organizations. At the core, they are pressured to achieve transformation through technology, while the world around them changes faster than they can rewrite their roadmaps.

So where can manufacturers start? Developing successful Industry 4.0 solutions can be a complex task. It requires a structured, holistic approach that focuses on increasing business value and reducing business risks.

Taking a people-first approach

Here’s a real-world example. An industry-leading heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration company and its customers lacked visibility into the real-time operating status of their commercial HVAC equipment and service requests. Support teams were overburdened with service-related calls, and there was a lack of continuity between field technicians, property managers, and others involved in equipment operations and maintenance.

When we were asked to help them with this challenge, instead of focusing on technology first, we took a holistic look at their digital transformation opportunities. We found they could realize near-term yet sustainable business value ―and revolutionize the way they delivered service―by partnering with their most valuable customers, property managers, to implement a predictive maintenance solution. Using a human-centered design approach, we worked with the company to plan and launch a service community that increased customer engagement and reduced the number of service-related inquiries.

The importance of human-centered design

Despite all the data and digital processes available to manufacturers, success in Industry 4.0 is still about people. What’s the benefit of agile development or a connected supply chain if it isn’t serving the needs of customers, employees and partners? Augmenting human performance is central to the success of a digital ecosystem, requiring culture and technology transformation. Agile methods and a human-centered design approach will enable manufacturers to deliver Industry 4.0 technology iteratively with their stakeholders at the forefront.

If, for instance, data gives manufacturers an understanding of how end users want to engage with their products, can that inform decisions and foster collaborations with suppliers and customers to create new products and services? If manufacturers have an understanding of how their employees interact with the tools they use to create and service their products, can that lead to greater efficiencies that reduce costs and improve quality? If manufacturers understand the key performance indicators of their suppliers and customers, can they design new services and products that enable all to succeed?

To make a human-centered approach like this work requires interdisciplinary teams that collaborate to define problems strategically by envisioning the customer experience, highlighting key interactions, and identifying constraints and opportunities.

To learn more about the challenges and opportunities for manufacturers in their digital transformation journeys, along with a path to success for Industry 4.0, read our white paper Industry 4.0: Making your business more competitive.