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Collaboration: fostering innovation on the factory floor

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Digital transformation is impacting everything around us, but can it really change the manufacturing industry? Can collaborative software really help innovate working practices?
Collaborative software isn’t new, but has migrated from desktop PCs buried in back room offices to always-available mobile devices across the workspace.
Transparency Market Research expects the global enterprise collaboration service market to reach $56-billion by 2025. These solutions are part communication, part analytics, part asset management, part schedules and more.
They allow better face-to-face interactions – even between remote teams – can generate new insights and enable new working practices.
“We are seeing our multinational manufacturing vertical customers based in Africa behind the curve when it comes to the adoption of certain digital technologies such as cloud and IoT,” says Mark McCallum, chief technology officer and head of solutions: sub-Saharan Africa, at Orange Business Services.
“We have seen a surge in certain pockets and areas and also noted that there is a lag effect in many countries. In the sub-Saharan African sub-continent we have noted that maturity in certain countries varies considerably. Some businesses even display vastly different technology adoption across their various locations in countries across the region,” he adds.
“However, we are noting a strong upsurge in connectivity across the sub-Saharan African countries. In the manufacturing sector in particular, our customers are typically co-located within large cities where mobile, wireless and other high capacity connectivity is available, with the strong uptake in fibre allowing to high capacity services.
“We have even seen some of our customers deploying their own high capacity campus networks to support their ambitions to modernise and advance their manufacturing processes and systems,” McCallum.
“Further, we have seen a strong demand for VSAT services in remote areas and also to add continuity services when customers are evolving, looking for strong business continuity and backup for their cloud and IOT services.”

 

The Federal Government of Nigeria aims to generate an additional US$20 billion to US$30 billion (i.e. NGN 3.2 trillion to NGN4.8 trillion) in manufacturing revenues over the next 3 to 5 years, while creating jobs, generating wealth, diversifying the economy from oil & gas, substituting imports, diversifying exports, and broadening the Nigerian government’s tax base, NIPC (2015). McCallum explains that the digital transformation will be key in assisting the Government in achieving these goals.

At best, collaborative software provides co-workers from across the business with deep insights and new tools to break down traditional silo-based workplace cultures. It’s important to distinguish between social media collaboration and collaborative tools for business. Consumer tools lack the depth and power needed in professional environments, they tend to favour the sharing of trivial resources. In the workplace, the tools must be strictly business focused. They must traverse multiple tasks, as well as communication. They also act as knowledge management platforms capable of capturing transactional data, resources and assets.

This means that when you use these tools you don’t just discuss topics and share resources, but can also analyse previous project commitments, schedules, outcomes and more, providing up to the minute insight into the state of your business, projects, and team efficiencies.

When you make these tools available across traditional team boundaries you can erode silo-based workplace culture. Such collaboration means teams from product design to traditional tech support can all begin to share and find common ground, boosting innovation, understanding, and the sharing of skills.

Manufacturers embrace collaboration

That’s certainly the expectation among Nigerian manufacturers, many of whom are now looking at increasing their investment in such technologies.

Despite the fact that cost of connectivity remains a barrier to entry for Africa, the Siemens 2017 African digitalisation maturity report notes that some of the largest growing economies in Africa – among them South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria – have made great strides in the adoption of innovation practices.

Digitalisation in the manufacturing industry goes beyond the automation of production. It also paves the way for new approaches to manufacturing and the supply chain that enables it. The adoption of technology creates real opportunities to merge the digital and physical worlds.

Facilitating such a collaborative culture across your organisation’s teams makes it far more likely you will detect market changes early, empowering you to more swiftly respond to business needs. How might this work? Your marketing department, for example, may pick up on a change in consumer expectation that your product design and manufacturing groups may otherwise have missed.

Beyond communication and effective internal collaboration, tools used can boost company understanding of customer preferences and trends; improve knowledge management and product innovation; and (perhaps crucially) boost revenues through improved business efficiency.

Take Nigeria’s Eko Atlantic, for instance. Its infrastructure was installed even before people started moving in. The tranches for fibre infrastructure were made ready and operators were allowed to put in their own cables and connect directly.

 

It’s rocket science

Ikeja Electric, Nigeria’s largest power distribution company recently achieved large-scale ICT breakthroughs with its Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) solution. The system resolves many problems arising from practical operations, and the company installed smart metering terminals, and created an IT-based application system to improve its operational efficiency.

“The most important collaborative functions include the engineering and design processes, business process integration, real-time financial reporting and analytics, and fully connected manufacturing execution capabilities,” notes an Infor report.

The report explains the added utility of building in strong reporting and analysis functions that turn the data you have gathered through collaboration into actionable insights to improve business management and create future opportunity.

Collaborative tools optimize teamwork by combining human ingenuity and problem solving with powerful analytics and asset, schedule and project management. They enable insights to feed into group decision-making that may never have been shared between different parts of your business. This combination empowers agile businesses to pivot swiftly in response to changing market needs.

These tools are also important components within the emerging “Industry 4.0”, providing layers of insight and communication designed to underpin increasingly automated factories.

“Manufacturing technology is coming fast to Africa and the continent has the ability to leapfrog due to the strong uptake and penetration of enabling technologies, such as high capacity mobile broadband services and the massive deployment of capacity to the continent for Internet and private connectivity services. Technology in Africa is undoubtedly an equaliser that enables innovation and transparency. Nigeria is being prepared for a digital future where manufacturers foster innovation on all factory floors,” concludes McCallum.