Choices are all around us. In the last 18 months, all of us have had to make choices beyond the ordinary. Personally, making choices and implementing them to revolutionise the future is a promising and endearing prospect. Going digital has gone from a ‘good to have’ to a necessity for short-term survival and long-term progress — for the entire ecosystem and value chain.
Whether you are an entrepreneur, a large or small enterprise, or a diversified conglomerate, the opportunities and possibilities ushered in by digitalisation are too exciting and omnipresent to ignore. With time-to-market a new product or process spiralling down to half, the cost of development reducing to a mere fraction, production systems getting 30 per cent faster and 25 per cent more efficient, and downtimes almost tending towards zero, it may seem like any manufacturer’s dream come true. Only, it isn’t wishful thinking. It’s the new norm in Industry 4.0 made possible by the revolutionary technologies in digitalisation and smart infrastructure.
Digital transformation is changing the way businesses are run. It is allowing companies to take more risks and pursue newer opportunities to evolve. It empowers businesses across industries to get a lot done without having to go through as many steps. It has smarter and more sustainable ways of doing things by utilising less time and fewer resources. More flexible production — the ability to shift production lines in a short span of time; greater productivity; higher quality; and the development of new business models are all possible today thanks to digital solutions.
A digital twin is one such approach that has caught on across user segments. It is a digital simulation of the physical world that provides information about a product’s behaviour in real time. It can be used to significantly reduce costs, improve efficiencies, shorten delivery times, and enhance performance and user experience. It helps product designers understand how a real-life object reacts to different environmental conditions or loads without ever having to touch it. These technologies even help engineers test complex systems. For example, a simulation can be used to study the behaviour of an airplane’s wings, to find out if they will bend under certain pressure, or it can be used to simulate how a building may react after an earthquake. In the manufacturing set-up, the technology can support factory lifecycle processes by designing and demonstrating the concept, for example in a cement or steel factory with multiple shop floors.
Such and many other field applications across greenfield and brownfield projects are made possible through technologies like IoT. Connected devices transmit vital information about what is happening in the environment back to the digital twin where data analytics help track various performance parameters to identify potential threats and failure points.
Yet, that is not the most exciting part. Imagine the possibilities that open with the integration of various technologies, platforms, and principles like digital twin, IoT, and data analytics with ever-evolving disciplines like artificial intelligence (AI). In the future, cars and bikes could be designed and developed with digital twins and manufactured using AI and 3D printing. I will not be exaggerating if I say that one’s imagination only limits the tech.
Some of the areas that I feel will adopt digitalisation in a major way are smart mobility (e.g. automated guided vehicles or AGVs), smart grids (digital technologies and IoT solutions to intelligently respond and adapt to changes in the grid), smart buildings (which can contribute to energy savings and emissions reduction), and of course smart cities.
The commercial implementation of smart infrastructure and mobility solutions will be pivotal for economic growth. These will have to be carefully planned and require a premium degree of digital adoption to meet two core promises: a higher standard of living for all citizens and the preservation of natural resources. Imagine outcomes like intelligent road infrastructure and traffic solutions, effective management of urban waste, improved connectivity, enhanced sustainability, real-time pollution monitoring, improved safety, etc., without compromising on citizens’ convenience and well-being!
The impact on verticals
The impact of digitalisation on industry verticals has been immense. The pharmaceuticals industry, for example, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries due to the implementation of AI and machine learning technologies. There has been increased productiveness due to the elimination of repetitive tasks or processes. The most important benefit, however, is that there has also been a big spike in quality control due to the accuracy with which it can be measured. These benefits have led to an increase in profitability for the pharmaceuticals industry.
The automotive industry can be tough to keep up with, but digitalisation has done a lot to make processes easier. With digitalisation, there is a potential for huge gains in productivity, saved costs, and improvement of supplier management. This is because digitalisation helps when it comes to communication, traceability, inventory monitoring and efficiency. Automotive companies have embraced this technology with open arms and are seeing phenomenal results.
In India, while some large businesses have been quick to transition into this digital world, a majority of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the manufacturing sector are yet to put such technologies to work. There will be sustainable development of manufacturing only when the SME sector participates with upgraded technology and skills. Through digitalisation, SMEs can enhance efficiency to fight scale, reduce cost of production, minimise manufacturing defects and shorten production time.
Scaling skill development
Exciting as these applications are, as creators and technology providers, it is our job and responsibility to ensure that all stakeholders genuinely benefit from the immense transformative power of these technologies. So, what is it that you and I can do? Of the many initiatives we can undertake in our professional capacities as policymakers and influencers, the biggest and most significant one will be investing in skill-building. If we are to truly leverage existing technologies and keep pace with the breakneck speed at which newer ones are emerging, we will need the relevant skills, at scale.
The right amount of skilled human resources in digital transformation is the key to ensuring substantial and measurable success. The demand for people skilled in digital technologies has increased tremendously over the last decade, as has the demand for those with consulting skills. Let us do what we can to work together, not only with business leaders, but also with government officials, decision-makers, institutions and influencers, to make plans about where to direct funds, which industries to invest in, and how best to train our workforce for emerging technologies.
India’s digitalisation journey
Changing demands, new digital technologies and innovative business models are rapidly emerging and disrupting traditional roles and solutions. For a country like India, we must design and implement processes that enable the efficient use of resources, and there is little doubt in my mind that digital is the way ahead. The last 18 months have demonstrated and reiterated the power of digitalisation. Investing in long-term digital-led transformation is the best way forward. While we have experienced successes in the digitalisation journey, there is a long way to go.
India has the unique opportunity to leverage advanced digitalisation and smart infrastructure technologies to create an extraordinary competitive advantage.
(The author is MD & CEO at Siemens India)
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