The pace of digitalization is faster than ever, and this has been turbocharged during the pandemic, as human connections and transactions have been limited to virtual ones. I remember distinctively the sense of helplessness I felt when our overseas facilities, which usually seemed so close, suddenly felt so far away and out of reach as one country after another announced travel restrictions. It was as if my inability to travel to the sites and see my colleagues prevented me from giving all the support that I wished to give. However, this sense of distance disappeared with the embrace of technologies that connected me with my colleagues overseas via a call or text message.
With the rapid digitalization of the world, which directly affects the way we work and interact with others, it seems only natural to consider the implications of digitalization and how we can make the most out of these technological advancements.
Toward Industry 4.0
The push for Industry 4.0 has been burgeoning long before the storm of the pandemic arrived. Automation and digitalization of previously tedious work and paper-based communication are increasingly commonplace. The pandemic and the resultant social distancing measures simply sped up this evolutionary process. For instance, the swing toward robots and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) was underway before the pandemic exacerbated the already real labor shortage within the manufacturing industry.
Similarly, the social distancing measures, travel restrictions and lockdowns imposed to combat the pandemic has led to the digitalization of many office processes. From previously paper-based work authorization procedures to remote paperless management, businesses have done it all. My company even did virtual tours of our global facilities, since international travel by our management team and customers was restricted. The value of our manufacturing execution system on the cloud crystallized, as it allowed management to monitor production output live, digitally and, most important, remotely.
I believe these steps toward Industry 4.0 would have been slower if it was not for the push that the pandemic gave us.
Rapid Acceptance Of Technology
Concentrated exposure to new technologies and ways of work throughout the pandemic has also led to a greater acceptance of technology in daily lives and work. This new norm of technological acceptance means that technology can be more readily adopted in workplaces to enhance work experiences and make certain processes more efficient and convenient. From simple changes such as smart sensors in my own company’s Mexico and mainland China sites to monitor temperature and humidity levels to digital monitoring by management teams, we have been able to lighten previously cumbersome, bureaucratic tasks.
A common fear associated with the rising adoption of technology is the risk of replacement of the human element in business. This fear needs to be managed properly to avoid a negative impact on organizational health and ultimately business performance.
It is important that the whole company, at all levels, understand that automation and digitalization are not to push individuals out of work but to make their work easier and more effective. In the end, machines and technology are tools created for our convenience. They are not of greater value than the individuals that operate or manage them. The human element in business interactions and the company culture that arises from these personal connections can never be replaced by the turning of gears or running of algorithms.
Creativity, Efficiency And Impact
Evidence of the importance of the human element in any business is the creativity of its employees. With enhanced productivity and efficiency from technological adoption, more time and energy can be spent on creativity. My company has joined hands with technology in our pursuit of impactful work. Specifically, we have developed and deployed IoT solutions internally. Such a digital transformation has allowed us to create smart devices/platforms and to also transform traditional products into smart devices for our customers. As a result, there is greater data transparency and efficiency in a world that is information-driven and fast-paced.
There is an increasing need to acknowledge the impact of automation and digital transformations in the way we work, especially with the acceleration that occurred throughout the pandemic. The temptations of efficiency and convenience provided by technological advancements mean that it is only a matter of time before the majority of businesses turn toward Industry 4.0. It is important to recognize any potential implications on organizational health and culture. When properly employed, automation and digitalization can provide the innovative and productive edge that a healthy business needs to reach further heights.
By Carl Hung,
President & CEO of Season Group.
Originally published on Forbes on 9 July 2021