Group of photos from the conference
Written by John Heller

Digital Transformation Comes From Within: Recapping IpX ConX19

Last week, Vertex attended The Institute for Process Excellence’s event ConX19, which focused on digital, end-to-end transformation. We had the opportunity to hear from some of the most influential names in the industry, including Nathan Hartman of Purdue University, Erika Klein from Microsoft, Jeanne Rues of Allison Transmissions, and Craig Brown previously from GM. It became quickly apparent to me that the true theme of this conference was about the attitude and approach a company must take when undergoing digital transformation.

CHALLENGES WITH DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Over the course of the three days, every presenter in some way discussed that our industry is struggling to digitally transform. Several presenters focused parts of their discussions around how much organizations have changed in the last few decades. Speaker Cassandra Worthy summarizes these ideas nicely: “Steady disruption is the new status quo.”

The rapid pace of changing processes and new technologies creates significant pressure on companies, especially as they look to change. Amidst the steady disruption and increasing amount of data, companies also have to manage other challenges:

  • Product development and lifecycle technologies are carrying decades worth of technical debt. Speaker Peter Schroer indicated that a majority of IT budgets are put towards maintaining legacy processes and systems.
  • One of the panel discussions turned into a very engaging discussion about complicated processes and a lack of connectivity between tools. This ties in very closely to Joseph Anderson’s statement, “the right tool will empower greater processes but it will also enable poorer processes.” As companies look to simplify processes, they also have to look for tools that don’t overcomplicate.
  • Companies have to understand how they will manage data as indicated by Christine Reilley’s comment, “There’s an increasing amount of data available, yet companies don’t always know what to do with that. And there’s an unwillingness to share data with vendors, which makes it difficult to make improvements.”

It is critical for companies to first focus on ensuring their processes are correctly in place before implementing complementary technologies. As Joseph Anderson said, “Digital transformation starts with knowing who you are.”

WHERE TO BEGIN DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Perhaps the biggest theme that developed during the event was the human and cultural aspect of digital transformation. As Joe Barkai stated, “The digital thread is not a thing. It’s a way of behaving and thinking.” Presenter Nathan Hartman agreed, stating, “We like to blame technology when things go wrong, yet the top reasons why PLM projects fail is due to human challenges in the way we organize, communicate, and educate.”

Tackling the human challenge is no easy feat. Companies need to consider many aspects of cultural change when approaching digital transformation. A majority of presentations and panels debated these challenges:

  • Most teams are so accustomed to being in silos and disconnected from other teams that they don’t think bigger than their own backyard. Craig Brown, the prior PLM Leader at GM, said, “When you have silos, everyone tends to optimize for their own silos.”
  • The management and decision-makers tend to avoid change to familiar processes, yet the newer incoming talent embraces change. As Jeanne Rues indicated, “The worker bees are eager to change. It’s the management that is stuck on old processes without asking ‘Why are we doing it this way?’”
  • Jeanne Rues wasn’t the only one to recognize the confines of how people think. Cassandra Worthy, a consultant to help companies through massive changes, indicated “Successful change is hindered by a lack of motivation.”

Although new talent tends to be highly motivated to change, decision-makers must take a top-down approach in their companies when undergoing digital transformation. Once management buys into the change, most individuals are eager to follow suit.

3 TIPS TO COMPANIES UNDERGOING DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Although nearly all presenters acknowledged the struggles that surface during digital transformation, few truly gave actionable advice to take away. Those that did focused on both cultural and technological aspects of change. With that said, here is my advice and primary takeaways to manage digital transformation and change.

1. Have a game plan going in. I particularly agreed with Susanne Lauda’s sentiment, “If companies cannot manage the quality and integrity of their data, they shouldn’t even start the digital transformation journey.” This idea of “dirty data” stems to the heart of digital transformation—making use of and finding value in extreme amounts of data. If the data and information you are collecting isn’t “clean,” then the transformation is more likely to fail.

2. Invest in tools that simplify and pave the way for tomorrow. The pace of innovative technology won’t slow down any time soon, and companies have to think about a long-term vision during technology investment. Peter Schroer referred to the short-term view as “disposable software” and encouraged companies to “pick software that works for tomorrow.” I also had many discussions with individuals about finding powerful, simple solutions that can integrate easily together.

3. Collaborate with the best tools, not the readily-available tools. A common theme heard throughout the conference was a company’s lack of comprehensive tools during collaboration. One presenter said tongue-in-cheek, “Excel is the most widely used PLM tool.” David Ewing also indicated, “If you have to use Excel, Dropbox, and email to collaborate, you’re not doing it right. You can’t transform when you put your data in shared drives or email information to each other.” Yet, companies continue to do this because they already have easy access to spreadsheets, emails, and shared drives. Companies have to ask themselves the hard question: “Is this the easy thing to do or the right thing to do?”

PEOPLE COME FIRST

Walking away from ConX reminded me yet again that it is truly a company’s culture and process that can make or break change. Especially with change as dramatic as companies are undergoing with digital transformation, organizations have to start with their people first. Without that, the technologies and tools made available by today’s vendors won’t be able to make a truly sustainable impact.

About John Heller

John has extensive experience in mechanical engineering, supplier collaboration, cross-functional relationship-building, and procurement activities. Through this experience, he learned optimal ways to bridge the gap between engineering, procurement, and the supply chain. He has championed new product roadmaps, spearheaded procurement strategies, and worked with customers to understand truly valuable opportunities for product improvement. As Product Marketer for Vertex Software, John leverages his extensive background in engineering and product lifecycle to best understand and communicate pain points and opportunities in manufacturing organizations.