Digital innovation doesn’t happen by itself. Here's what you can do to make it happen.

Digital innovation doesn’t happen by itself. Here's what you can do to make it happen.

Nowadays, there should be a Chief Innovation Officer in every boardroom, with innovation comprehensively embedded in the business strategy. This is the only way to keep up with an ever-changing playing field. No time to hesitate- it’s time for action!

No action in spite of urgency

A survey of SMEs shows that 75% feel the threat of competitors who possess more advanced and more disruptive business models. Of the respondents, 35% expect to be out of business within 5 years if they don't change. Despite this, few actually take action: Only 14% of our companies were engaged with Smart Industry last year, and that is not nearly enough.

Invest time in future opportunities

The urgency for change is understood, yet often is not translated into specific action. At Exact Live 2016, Steven Van Belleghem identified the way people divide their time as being the main culprit. He believes we should ideally spend 70% of our time on the services that offer us value now, with 20% of time spent on the medium term and at least 10% on the long term.

However, the reality for many businesses is that they are far from achieving these percentages. What’s more, they spend a lot of time and energy on the ‘shit of yesterday’ (SOY), solving problems of the past.

No-one would question the value of working hard day in, day out to help customers as effectively as possible. But if you focus solely on today, you don't have much time left to consider the long term, which is so essential for the long term health of the company.

This is easier said than done. One key feature of the everyday is that it never switches off, so downtime has to be carefully planned. Free up every Friday afternoon, for example, by switching off the phone and ignoring email and other interrupters, giving you the peace you need to think about where your company is now and where you want it to be in five years. Read about or experiment with new technologies, such as 3D printing or the Internet of Things. Purchase a Raspberry Pi at a low cost, for example, and research the possibilities of such minicomputers for your company.

A practical example

Valk Welding is one of the largest suppliers in Europe of industrial welding robots and welding materials. They hold weekly Friday afternoon sessions, where the management is challenged to innovate. During one of their sessions they researched how they could deploy their welding robots for making 3D ‘prints’. By placing a welding seam on top of a welding seam, and then another one above it, complex shapes can be welded.

This is how Valk Welding began 3D printing metal objects. They invested heavily in new technologies and digitisation, leading to a project in collaboration with Heerema Fabrication Group printing metal spare parts for their offshore activities. An advantage for Heerema is that they no longer have to wait for critical components and need to keep less spare parts in stock.

This innovative way of working, developed further in RAMLAB, was a direct consequence of consciously freeing up time to consider the future and to experiment with new technology. This allows Valk Welding to make the transition from supplying welding robots and welding wire to the development and supply of welding concepts. They also apply digital techniques to programme a welding robot for the next job, while it is still working on the current one.

Today you’re a manufacturing company, tomorrow an IT company

To prevent your company from going out of business, it’s crucial that digitisation is considered the new norm. Failure to do so means you’ll be overtaken from all sides. So keep your eyes, your mind and your agenda open to new manufacturing techniques and digitisation. Disruption is your new norm, but only if you get a move on!


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