From digital transformation to business agility

From digital transformation to business agility

From digital transformation to business agility

Digital transformation, the integration of digital technology into all areas of a company to fundamentally change the way it operates and delivers value, is a profoundly important concept for industrial companies. It has been for years and remains a key factor in a change in corporate culture that suddenly seems to have a new name: business agility.

You can thank software companies and IT departments for popularizing concepts like “agile workplace”, “sprint” and “minimum sustainable product (MVP) mindset”. Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company calls agility “the biggest change of approach for a generation”. Buzzword hyperbole aside, automation engineers are likely already agile as they make operational improvements, improve execution tasks, contribute to long-term planning, and raise important safety standards.

Agility is a method of continuous improvement, a way of doing things that removes friction or obstacles to fundamental processes. Agile is also thin. “Lean and agile ways of working complement each other and the magic is in the combined recipe of both,” according to a recent essay by McKinsey on agility in heavy industries. “[B]other systems have been successful in a wide range of environments and both share a similar set of core goals: transparently link strategy and goals to give teams meaningful purpose; discover better ways to work to continually learn and improve; deliver value efficiently for a customer; and allow people to contribute and bring to their maximum potential ”.

When done together, the authors state, “lean processes bring the holistic view and underlying principles, while agile processes bring the flexibility of short-cycle (sprint) implementations for continuous improvement. The lean approach tends to be more applicable to continuous improvements, providing guidance or solutions outside the value stream as part of the daily operational routine. The agile approach can bring alignment and transparency of goals to combine shop floor experience with short-cycle improvements. “

Leading companies are applying lean and agile thinking to use digital technology to rapidly improve both operational efficiency and business outcomes. McKinsey cites detailed examples of agile thinking and working practices at BP and Freeport. Last month InTech the cover story featured ARC Advisory Group’s “Digital Transformation Top 25,” the consulting firm’s list of agile firms that have shown substantial progress in transforming their cultures.

ARC’s top five companies are Tesla, Intel, BMS, Johnson & Johnson, and 3M. The community will be celebrated at ARC’s 26th annual Industry Forum, postponed from February and taking place June 6-9 in Orlando. Petrobras, another leader in digital transformation, will share its challenges and successes in a new virtual event created by ISA, Digital Transformation — Brazil on March 29.

McKinsey advocates “the value of being agile as distinct from doing agile” and encourages the development of “a shift in mindset from certainty to discovery, from control to collaboration and from scarcity to abundance”.

Is this a transformation that you and your company have undertaken? Talk to me at

This feature originally appeared in the April edition of InTech magazine.

About the author

Renee Bassett is editor-in-chief of InTech magazine and and editor of ISA publications. Bassett is an expert writer, editor, and consultant on industrial automation, engineering, information technology, and infrastructure topics. He has a BA in Journalism and English from Indiana University, Bloomington, and lives in Nashville.

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