Benefits of putting people first in digital transformation

Digitizing key plant systems and processes such provides many benefits in terms of safety, cost control, product quality and compliance.

By Andreas Eschbach May 8, 2024
Courtesy: eschbach

Digital transformation insights

  • Successful digital transformation hinges on prioritizing people, involving them from planning to execution, ensuring software meets user needs, enhancing acceptance and performance.
  • Effective digitalization integrates user feedback, training and iterative improvements, showcasing Industry 5.0’s focus on human-centered technology integration.

When Ascensus Specialties planned to roll out a digital shift handover system, they knew that getting their people on board would be critical to the success of the implementation. A systematic, people-first approach to digitalization led to high rates of acceptance and use after the rollout. Process manufacturers can increase the odds of a successful software rollout by bringing end users into the process before, during and after the implementation.

The importance of people in digital transformation

Digitizing key plant systems and processes such as shift handover, quality data reporting and plant process management provides many benefits for chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers in terms of safety, cost control, product quality and compliance. And yet, a 2023 survey by LNS Research found that nearly one-fourth of their respondents continue to use paper-based processes and systems in their plants, and an even larger number depend on a mix of email, spreadsheets, Sharepoint sites and databases. Having vital data and communications spread across these various disparate systems contributes to higher error rates, lost productivity, and increased quality issues and safety events.

In spite of the clear benefits of digitalization, making the move from manual or ad hoc processes can be difficult. But the single biggest point of failure in a digital initiative is not in the software or technology—it’s the people. When digital systems do not meet the needs of the people in the plant, chances of success are slim. Successful digital transformation lies at the intersection of people, process and technology, considering user needs and requirements, existing workflows and the wider IT landscape.

When Ascensus implemented Shiftconnector, a plant process management system from eschabach, they knew they needed to make users part of the process. A specialty chemical manufacturer headquartered in Washington state, Ascensus makes high-performance reagents that are used in pharmaceutical manufacturing, pulp & paper bleaching, and specialty chemicals. They run 24/7 with multiple shifts, making communication across shifts and teams critical for safety, quality and operational efficiency.

To get users to shift their behavior and adopt the new system, the software needed to be easy and intuitive to use and make users’ lives easier, not harder. It also needed to fit into existing workflows and processes.

Addie Tisler, an IT and maintenance warehouse coordinator at Ascensus, said, “Our goal was that our users on the floor didn’t have to change their work processes.”

Digitizing plant processes requires successful technology and process implementation and buy-in from people.

Digitizing plant processes requires successful technology and process implementation and buy-in from people. Courtesy: eschbach

Getting started with digitalization: Before, during and after

A people-centered approach to digitalization starts before software selection and continues through the rollout and beyond. There are several steps companies can take before, during and after a digital initiative to increase the odds of success.

“You need to understand the problem that you’re trying to solve, as well as the people that are impacted. It’s important to involve those people in the selection process. By doing so, you have a higher probability of acceptance and ownership of the solution,” said Gene Shields, chief information officer, Ascensus.

Before the rollout

This stage of the process sets the foundation and provides a clear roadmap for the rollout. It starts with a formal needs analysis to understand the user requirements and work preferences, from the shop floor to the C-suite. At Ascensus, this phase included a series of in-person and remote workshops to gather user feedback, ideas and perspectives.

Other steps during this phase:

  • Set clear goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) for the initiative.

  • Many companies find it helpful to begin with a pilot plant involving the production manager and senior team members on each shift, which enables fine-tuning of the software and rollout plan.

  • It is also important to develop a structured change management plan for the rollout.

During the rollout

During the rollout, it is essential to have clear communication from leadership and an appointed champion for each plant. This champion is trained to implement the changes with the no-code application themselves, to ensure that the application matches 100% the needs of the plant and the shift teams.

In addition:

  • It is beneficial to identify and recruit change champions among each shift and team who can act as role models and mentors during the implementation.

  • It is also important to establish feedback loops to gather user input and make any necessary course corrections to achieve the highest user satisfaction.

  • Finally, be sure to celebrate success and recognize the individuals and teams who have made it happen.

After the rollout

Digitalization is not a “one-and-done” proposition. After the software rollout, companies need to continue to gather user feedback and documentation, evaluate the performance against KPIs, and adjust. For Ascensus, one of their key requirements when selecting a shift collaboration solution was the ability to change and update the system as new business needs were identified. Key post-rollout activities include:

  • Continued support and training, including refresher courses and advanced training options as necessary.

  • Formal documentation of usage metrics and user feedback.

  • KPI analysis and identification of areas in need of improvement.

  • Software iteration and reconfiguration and planning for the next phase of digitization.

Putting people at the center with Industry 5.0

This people-centric approach to software development and deployment is a key component of Industry 5.0, which emphasizes the integration of human intelligence with advanced technologies like AI in the workplace. Unlike Industry 4.0, which focuses on automation and efficiency driven by technology, Industry 5.0 puts the needs of human employees at the center of the equation.

Putting people first helped Ascensus meet their goals for their implementation. For Ascensus, a plant performance management system centralizes and digitizes information that was once communicated via email, ad hoc meetings or spreadsheets and acts as a single source of truth for plant and process information. As a result, they have streamlined operations, enabled collaboration across shifts and teams, and improved results.

Shields said, “We’re very happy with the results that we got. In fact, the end users are really leveraging the toolset to their advantage in ways that they couldn’t do before.”


Author Bio: Andreas Eschbach is the CEO of eschbach.