Challenges and Opportunities in the Adoption of Digital Technologies

Insightful comments on the use of digital technologies and digital transformation journeys in a turbulent corporate environment were obtained during executive interviews at the ARC Industry Forum.In a joint discussion with ARC’s Inderpreet Shoker, Senior Analyst, Geff Wood, Director ITAS Automation and Operations Solutions at Alcoa, and Vijay Kumar, Business Segment Head for Energy and Resources at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

Mr Wood described his position at Alcoa as working closely with several teams in the Information Technology and Automation Solutions (ITAS) business sector to deliver value via the adoption of automation and digital solutions. TCS’s Mr Kumar is in charge of the metals and mining, oil and gas, and EPC divisions, which are the backbones of economies worldwide.

His primary responsibility is to offer the best of TCS across all of the company’s service lines to all of TCS’ clients and partners to ensure the company’s long-term success as a purpose-driven organisation. He stated that Alcoa had been a terrific partner over the past 15-16 years in this area. They discussed digital technology adoption, trends, operator-centric models, the pandemic’s effect, and the way forward. The main aspects of the interview are summarised in this blog.

Using technology to help companies transform

Ms Shoker’s first question to Mr Wood was on the business sectors in which digital technology may improve safety and efficiency in the metals and mining industry. “This industry was a late adopter of technology, Mr Wood said, “However, new digital trends can now be found in every business sector, resource unit, and support function.”

These solutions improve supply chain visibility, which reduces downtime and working capital. Secure cloud connection, mobility, Industrial IoT, and edge devices all make their way into the company’s infrastructure to deliver data and computational capacity, which are all enabling this. He also mentioned the linked worker programme, which provides many technological advancements that enable the operator-centric workforce.

This project equips employees with a toolkit that allows them to complete their workflows (work permission, work instructions, work order, and so on) as quickly as possible. Not only did developing this toolset need a thorough examination of people’s work and how their workflows operate, but it also necessitated putting mobile devices into people’s hands. In partnership with TCS, this is a work in progress.

Workforce empowerment

Mr Kumar said that Mr Wood’s operator-centric strategy is a concept that has been embraced across sectors. Aside from them, these are the most important aspects:

1. Development and democratisation of enabling technologies such augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, robotics, and human-robot interfaces.

2. Cost pressures and competitiveness to keep operations safe and efficient

3. The worker loses 50-60% of his time since he doesn’t have the information on his device.

What’s critical now is that field workers get context-specific information without complication. The capacity to record videos, audio, location information, and other data types has been added to this information, making the whole data collecting process considerably more efficient and reliable.

The adoption of digital technology is fraught with difficulties.

Ms Shoker said that although end users see the value of technology, several hurdles are involved with its adoption, including reluctance to change. She inquired as to how Alcoa overcame this adversity.

Mr Wood said that the company’s sluggish adoption/technology development was most likely due to its aversion to change. Later on, they started emphasising employee engagement and incorporating individuals, asking them how the new technologies might improve their user experience. The attitude was constructive, intending to make their work simpler and more enjoyable rather than job elimination. After the teams were persuaded, the IT experts, including TCS and Alcoa as partners, focused on delivering tools with high dependability, quick response, and a robust support network. “People typically oppose change by inventing excuses to avoid it,” he remarked. Thus, they invest a lot of work into making it a joyful experience from the start.

The pandemic’s impact

Mr Kumar believes that the epidemic has expedited the use of digital technology. He described this using the market’s three categories:

Companies like Alcoa and several of TCS’s other partners who had installed technology before the pandemic had minimal delays.

People began to consider returning to work safely (social distance, mask/PPE compliance). TCS has relocated 400,000 employees to safe, borderless workplaces, productively working on huge projects.

New discussions on company resilience have started that go beyond efficiency and safety. This is about running operations/factories with the bare minimum of personnel, improving social distance and remote competence.

The journey is about to begin.

Mr Wood discussed the value chain pipeline, in which all of these ideas are linked to the value they may produce in the organisation, and a delivery timeframe is attempted. The firm wants to extend the connected worker programme to include additional worker types across all shop floor tasks and widen its application to include other characteristics such as duties and functionality.

Alcoa is improving its daily visual management tools to talk about performance challenges. The teams provide new ideas, which Alcoa’s partners examine to see what would work and what may be implemented. This will produce a significant amount of value in the future.

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