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Digitization And Workflow Automation: The Gateways To The Fourth Industrial Revolution

As we step into the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” with complete digitalization, manufacturers must adopt the workflow automation solutions fueling this transformation.

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Hervé LesageHervé Lesage

We’re on the brink of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” comprised of full end-to-end digitization of processes and devices. Just as water and steam transformed production in the 18th century, the adoption of new technologies — cloud, mobile devices, IoT, smart devices, big data, human-machine interface and 3D printing — is a catalyst for the next revolution. Digital transformation impacts the value chain, the product/services portfolio, development and engineering, all the way through to distribution, sales channels and customer relationships.

Other factors contributing to this transformation to full digitization and the upending of traditional business and work models include:

  • Globalization: The rise of globalization means more complex and extended value chains, and the need for global collaboration across all areas of business to allow for the movement of goods.
  • New markets, new needs, new customers: Manufacturers are continually expected to quickly detect new customer needs and segments, and customize products and ancillary services to serve those needs.
  • Productivity and innovation: There’s a steady increase in automation in production processes and network interoperability standards that connect and integrate factories.
  • Complexity, collaboration, constraints: Manufacturers must manage more suppliers and integrate their activities into their own processes and systems, while complying with a wide variety of environmental rules.
  • War for talent: An ever-increasing competitive landscape for top talent means organizations need a strategy to attract skilled employees as well as nurture the intellectual capital of current employees.

Digitization Is Becoming the Strategy

Most manufacturing players now have a digitization strategy at the heart of their future planning, and it’s gaining even more momentum. In fact, according to the survey “Industry 4.0 Building the Digital Enterprise” conducted by PwC, 33 percent of respondents declared they have a high level of digitization in their processes, and it’s expected to jump to 72 percent by 2020.

To be competitive in this new era, manufacturers must:

  • Scale collaboration with internal and external stakeholders
  • Work with data about documents, users and processes to make better decisions
  • Optimize and automate workflow
  • Increase productivity across the value chain
  • Bring to market the products and services customers expect.

Workflow automation solutions are the key to delivering on these needs and building competitive differentiation with digitalization. These solutions streamline and accelerate document-related workflows to improve processes across an organization. By simplifying and centralizing the flow of documents that affect each stage of product production, manufacturers foster collaboration, improve efficiency and deliver time and cost savings that help companies stay viable and competitive.

Improvements Across the Manufacturing Value Chain

Each stage of the industry value chain — (No. 1) product development and engineering, (No. 2) supply chain and creating the product from raw materials, (No. 3) manufacturing and outbound logistics, (No. 4) marketing and sales, (No. 5) services and support — can be improved through workflow automation solutions. By making it easier for engineering, R&D, logistics, quality assurance and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) to collaborate across the organization, many issues can be resolved, such as:

  • Within change management, workflow automation tools address issues related to inefficient manual and paper-based processes that inhibit controls and add costs. Workflow automation improves visibility into the change process and allows better integration of systems (CAD, MES, PLM) that increase effective collaboration. Change requests are also properly initiated and routed to all stakeholders.
  • In quality assurance, workflow automation provides verification that everyone is following the right quality assurance process steps, enables the monitoring of processes too complex to be left to manual processing and memory, and facilitates updates to procedures that are challenging to implement.
  • R&D workflow automation tools help complete critical documentation such as regulatory approvals. It can also solve issues like increasing costs and delayed timelines due to truncated processes, and mitigate the risk of launching an unsuccessful product due to inadequate feedback from customers and suppliers.
  • Workflow automation in logistics and fulfillment ensures customers receive a complete set of product documentation and also confirms key steps in fulfilling orders are completed. It also better facilitates communication with customers on product delivery issues and any associated claims.
  • MRO can be improved with automation solutions through better access to the latest, most relevant historical information. It also ensures new safety procedures are promptly communicated and allows devices in the field to be integrated into systems that notify MRO professionals of issues or problems.

As we step into the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” with complete digitalization, manufacturers must adopt the workflow automation solutions fueling this transformation. They hold the key to reconstructing infrastructures and automating the business-critical processes that affect every stage of production. Organizations that lag in digitizing their content, data, document and work processes, risk stalling progress and falling behind. The first steps to holistic digitalization and the pathway to future company-wide enhancements and forthcoming success lie in workflow automation.

Hervé Lesage is a Worldwide Commercial Industries Marketing Manager at Xerox.

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