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When embarking on a journey, it is essential to know your starting point, the desired destinations, a plan for completing the trip, and a map of the primary and alternate routes. And, when the journey stretches the limits of our skills and experience, a guide can prove invaluable. The digital business transformation journey is no different. 

Recently, the World Wide Technology Manufacturing and Distribution team examined six trends shaping the future of digital-savvy manufacturers. The conclusions drawn from these trends highlight data as a strategic differentiator. New technologies (cloud, edge and AI) will derive actionable insights that drive revenue and operational improvements while reducing risk. Successful manufacturers will develop and execute a digital transformation strategy that aligns data science and technology with defined business outcomes while ensuring the protection and integrity of their operations. 

This article examines how manufacturers can execute a modernization strategy across multiple levels of their technology stacks to leverage new architectures and data platforms to achieve their desired business outcomes. 

Advantages of a digital-ready platform

Start where you are 

The immediate need to improve delivery timelines, reduce unplanned downtime, and manage supply chain constraints while supporting aging technology and infrastructure is a serious challenge. This challenge frequently results in technology deployments that only partially address immediate needs and prevent the successful deployment of a longer-term, cohesive, organization-wide strategy. 

When embarking on a transformational journey, a complete strategy is achievable when technology and operational teams are well-informed about the existing environment and collaborate to ensure that desired business and technology outcomes are clearly defined. Areas to examine during this collaboration include, but are not limited to: 

  • Business goals and objectives
  • Desired long-term technology strategy and architecture
  • Standards and reference models for data and architecture
  • Physical and logical network connectivity
  • Application, data, and equipment communication paths (and protocols in use) over the network
  • Application dependencies and requirements (like latency)
  • Process workflow
  • Organizational and cultural boundaries
  • Security maturity against standards and reference models

The journey's success will depend on engagement, communication, and alignment amongst multiple teams and stakeholders within the organization. Identification, agreement, and documentation of success criteria, roles and responsibilities, and specific outcomes are essential to architecting and designing the technology and operational transformations manufacturers are being challenged to deliver.

Determine where you're headed

Most of us wouldn't load our family into the car, haphazardly pack our bags with random, non-related items and set out on a road trip without an ultimate destination. Most of us plan our vacations, holidays and business trips starting with where we want to go, then determining what we need to pack, the best route to take, stops we need to make, length of trip, and sights we want to see, where we will eat and, ultimately, how much it will cost. 

We should plan our digital transformation journey similarly – starting with the desired business and operational outcomes, the strategy to achieve those outcomes, and an executable plan to support the process. Here's an example of how WWT and partners like Equinix approach customers through a logical, well-orchestrated methodology that starts with specific strategies, is enabled through appropriate planning, and gets rolled out through impeccable execution. 

Following a logical methodology will lead to desired outcomes
Following a logical methodology leads to desired outcomes

Short-changing this methodology with a technology-first approach can impact financial investments, wasted time and the development of processes that aren't supporting the organization's long-term strategy. 

Desired outcomes 

A transformation journey should not proceed until the desired outcome is defined in specific terms, ideally focused on a financial or market-based metric. Manufacturers consistently share with us a common set of desired outcomes. Here are a few examples: 

  • Develop a modern infrastructure platform that is secure and supports next-generation automated manufacturing
  • Reduce risks by increasing operational resilience from suppliers through to customers (aka: limit impacts of supply chain issues)
  • Reduce costs by enhancing the agility and responsiveness of services used by the workforce
  • Integrate innovation, digitization, and carbon-efficient operations for personalized and sustainable customer services.
  • Reduce unplanned production outages, which can improve customer satisfaction by 5 percent
  • Improve production yield and quality, increasing Overall Equipment Effectiveness by 2 percent, which will increase profit by 5 percent.

Digital Transformation Strategy 

Now that the business and operational strategies and outcomes have been determined and documented, the journey's exciting stage can continue leveraging the latest technology to support the Digital Transformation Strategy. 

Critical to this effort and expanding exponentially within manufacturers in the cloud. WWT and Equinix are enabling cloud initiatives that support: 

  • Foundational modern networks that promote digitization and automation
  • Plant floor applications
  • Operational data back-up, disaster recovery, and redundancy
  • Plant floor asset visibility, advanced analytics and predictive maintenance

To do this, Equinix has developed a three-step model highlighted below, including a Digital Core, Digital Ecosystem and Digital Edge. These are designed to support the manufacturing business objectives and enable digital transformation initiatives.   

Equinix's three-step model
Equinix's three-step model

The Digital Core is where manufacturers can scale their on-demand resources and capacity using a hybrid multi-cloud approach, referred to as "smart cloud Access." This enables: 

  • Scaling applications across multiple global plant locations with flexibility
  • Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery
  • Coordinated design and research, and development for teams across the globe
  • Aggregation of data for visibility, modeling, and analysis

The Digital Ecosystem is a new concept that leverages the cloud to connect, share and analyze data between and amongst suppliers, partners, and customers. This interconnected marketplace can optimize supply chain inefficiencies by leveraging API-based data marketplaces via low-latency connections. The ultimate goal is to: 

  • Enable supply chain efficiency through data connections
  • Enhance digital eCommerce activity and exchange of relevant business-related data
  • Speed time to market by developing new models that can promote efficiency

A great example of this Digital Ecosystem would be the data flow between a components manufacturer and its end customer that relies on critical parts to be incorporated into a finished good. Expediting data and communication autonomously would save time and expedite product output.  

At the Digital Edge, manufacturers can geographically gain proximity to centers of revenue and operations, leveraging low-latency connectivity and AI/ML analysis to derive valuable business intelligence from massive amounts of data and multiple sources. Real-time transacting and decision-making happen at the digital edge for shop floor (e.g., robotics), service, and maintenance operations. Proximate, direct, and secure interconnection optimizes and scales collaboration with ecosystem partners and customers, enabling manufacturers to customize real-time interactions. 

The three-step model highlighted above is supported by an Equinix survey capturing customer requirements to leverage new technologies supported by modern infrastructures.

Results of Equinix survey
Results of Equinix survey

Technology execution, at speed 

For a manufacturer to redeploy critical human resources to next generation projects, they will look to expand the utilization of Automated Guided Vehicles which can be deployed seamlessly on the plant floor to complete routine tasks. To do this effectively, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, IoT connectivity, and data capture at the edge will all be required, supported by a modern, secure infrastructure leveraging a hybrid-cloud model. This example highlights a changing industry and the need for critical partnerships, including Equinix and WWT.  

WWT has the manufacturing expertise, OEM and vendor relationships, resources, labs, and integration centers to help accelerate deployments at scale.  

Build a cloud-ready infrastructure

As we conclude our journey for the digitally savvy manufacturer, we've identified our current location and have a firm idea of where we want to be and how we're going to get there. The time is now to execute our objectives to reach the desired goals.  

The next stage will require step-by-step instructions from a guide, like our GPS, to be as efficient and adaptable as possible. In our digital journey achieving the desired outcomes quickly and cost-effectively is made possible by having strategic partners that can act as a guide during the journey. 

WWT and Equinix will partner with you, no matter where you are in your journey. This allows for the collaborative development of solutions to meet the desired outcomes by engaging people with relevant industry and work experience to share insights and advice. 

Learn more about WWT Manufacturing Solutions