How to jumpstart your digital transformation: Expert Interview, Naveen Poonian, iBase-t

What are the common pain points, and how can companies get moving on their digital transformation journey? We discussed how to jumpstart your digital transformation with Naveen Poonian, president and chief executive officer of iBase-t.

By Gary Cohen June 22, 2023
What are the common pain points, and how can companies get moving on their digital transformation journey?

The concept of digital transformation has been discussed for years, but many organizations — even established companies — still struggle to understand what it really means to put it into practice. Digital leaders can feel pulled in many different directions as they try to balance people, technology, operations and more. But getting your organization on the right path can result in huge benefits.

What are the common pain points in digital transformation, and how can companies get moving on their journey? We discussed how to jumpstart your digital transformation with Naveen Poonian, president and chief executive officer of iBase-t.

Empowering frontline workers

Much has been made about supporting frontline workers in an effort to retain them and share their skills and knowledge. Digital solutions can have a big impact in this regard, Poonian said. Given manufacturing’s aging workforce, it’s essential to invest in new technology to attract younger, digital-native workers.

In complex, discrete manufacturing, it can be hard to replace retiring workers that carry a lot of process knowledge. The question becomes: How do you download that data into a more repeatable process so you can start to train the next workforce? While certain manufacturing jobs are being replaced by automation, complex manufacturing is still a high-touch industry, so companies must take care of the people and empower frontline workers by tying multiple systems together to create more seamless workflows.

However, enterprise manufacturers are still experiencing major challenges when it comes to infusing digital solutions into their operations.

“Sometimes people, we’re stuck doing things a certain way. We’ve been working on paper or Excel, and this is sort of how it’s been done, but you really need to start thinking differently,” Poonian said. “Just like when we used to read a book; now we read it on Kindle. It can be much more efficient. You can take notes more efficiently. Technology, and modern technology, has so much value behind it and makes things so much easier for us. And it’s really not just for big customers; it’s for everybody.

“The companies that are going to outperform the market in the industry, and possibly even acquire some of these less technology-focused companies, you’re going to see that technology is going to be a real driver for these customers.”

The modernization imperative

One issue Poonian sees often, especially with engineers, is that they build homegrown systems. If they are performing a complex process, they tend to think there isn’t a company out there that can help.

“We deal with a lot of engineers who love to build, and so you see these homegrown systems that hit their capacity and can’t really grow anymore,” Poonian said. “What we see is companies now aren’t in a scalable format. They’re really solving some of these critical problems, but they cannot scale that technology up.”

The goal should be to build unique capabilities and core functions as out-of-the-box solutions. That way, your product is functional, customizable and flexible, allowing you to scale up or down depending on where the market is.

Another major aspect of the modernization imperative is figuring out how to bring down the costs of poor quality and of maintaining outdated systems. Poonian said he recently walked a shop floor where he saw reams of paper and countless binders.

“If there’s a problem and I need to troubleshoot that, I need to go in and send a whole SWAT team to figure out what happened at any given point in manufacturing,” Poonian said. “That’s just not efficient. I’d rather click a button, get a report and really understand what is there.”

Building the digital thread

To truly modernize a business ecosystem and spur digital transformation throughout an organization, it’s essential to build a cohesive platform. Poonian called this connecting the “digital thread.” This begins by getting systems to communicate with each other. Because everything is already so interconnected, you need to break down the silos that exist inherently in any organization. For example, engineering has a dramatic effect on what manufacturing is doing, and manufacturing has a dramatic effect on the business.

“Also, it’s not just about the four walls,” Poonian said. “We deal with a lot of prime OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). If I build a big product, I have a dense supply chain, so I may have 1,000 suppliers. How do you start to bring them into those four walls — or at least the data … so I have visibility as to what’s happening in my supply chain. So I can start to anticipate when things are going to go wrong or if I’m going to have delays, and I can actually take care of that and be proactive in my planning.”

Poonian said the goal is to create a closed-loop ecosystem where you’re bringing your digital and physical worlds together.

“That’s going to make you engineer, manufacture and service products just that much more efficiently, which means greater revenues because you’re going to get products out faster,” he said. “But, also, you’re reducing your cost at the same time because you’re cutting waste and getting waste out of the systems.”

The time to start digital transformation is now

For organizations in the early stages of modernizing their operations, it may seem a bit overwhelming to embark on a digital transformation journey, but there is little security in waiting for the right time. There is a long track record of companies like Sony, Kodak and Blockbuster that didn’t change their business models and adapt to new technologies.

“Analysis paralysis can kill any company, so it’s about starting now,” Poonian said. “Just create an initiative. You’ve got to start somewhere, and there’s always low-hanging fruit. How do I find quick wins that are going to allow me to accelerate this journey? Because it is a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. It could take two years, three years, five years. It’s going to evolve. Technology evolves. And, really, the cost of doing nothing could be obsolescence.”

He also said it’s important to think big. It’s not just about identifying a pain point and buying a quality solution to solve that problem.

“Sometimes, these are just symptoms of a bigger problem,” Poonian said. “You’ve got to think big, and you really want to think about the future. What are you going to invest in that’s going to future-proof your operation? You don’t want to be pigeonholed, solving a small problem and then you still have a lot of other leaks that are happening across the organization. You really have to invest in platforms that can scale to your operations and scale to what you’re going to need, especially as you grow.”

It’s not just about design engineering or resource management. Companies need to understand the full end-to-end process and how to connect that ecosystem. It takes leadership and cooperation to drive one holistic process from start to finish so you can build high-quality products.  Poonian cited Salesforce as a platform that’s interoperable and can integrate to work with other solutions.

“We need to work with everybody, and it doesn’t take just one company or one product. It may take 20 different products that need to work together,” Poonian said. “You have to architect a solution that works like that. You also have to make sure you invest in companies that think that way. But, really, it starts with leadership, understanding that and try to drive that into the organization.”

Author Bio: Gary Cohen is senior editor and product manager at WTWH Media LLC.