Call it propaganda, misinformation, or even fake news—these 10 articles about digital factories don’t actually exist, but we think they should. The digital factory is a bit of a mystery in the IT lexicon, but it might just be the sleeping strategy that can lead you to an inspiring digital transformation. If you have no clue what a digital factory is (much like myself prior to this assignment), then these fictitious 10 articles will catch you right up.
1. Digital Factory: Great Idea, Awful Name
In his seminal piece, Camilo accuses the digital factory of being a bit of a misnomer. The term “factory” often conjures thoughts of rust, pipes, exhaust, the clanking of tools, an assembly line, sweaty underpaid men, and gross labor violations. A factory also represents a fixed location and often archaic technology—a far cry from its digital cousin. Here’s what Camilo has to say on the topic:
“A digital factory pushes the boundaries of an organization’s tech stack and traditional policies…Rather than finding its roots in customs, the digital factory is forward-thinking and cutting-edge.”
2. Energy and Pharma See New Hope in Digital Factories
Two industries mired in analog processes are benefiting wildly from the digital factory approach. Whereas other sectors of the economy brought their technology up to speed, energy and pharmaceutical companies have struggled to digitize their processes. Perhaps due to their monopolistic nature and heavy reliance on outdated but functional equipment, energy companies, for example, experience little pressure to change, but the costs are beginning to outweigh the benefits. These organizations are turning to digital factories as a solution:
“…digital factories are bringing much-needed change to companies that often resist it. When fully-supported, the factory is capable of transforming processes that have been in place since the early 60s. Natural Power and Gas Co. revitalized their rate-making process based on up-to-the-minute usage delivered by IoT advancements on the grid.
Factories made that project possible after receiving permission to break the mold and approach the problem with new practices and divergent tech stacks.”
3. Are You Digital-Factory-Ready?
Neuman, while radiating an overall positive opinion of digital factories, hesitates to prescribe them to all organizations. She notes that digital factories require buy-in from all levels of the company and a culture that supports the nuanced structure and mission of DFs. She cites clients who began with great intentions when launching their DFs but failed to prepare their staff adequately for the changes to come:
“…unfortunately, agile practices quickly fell to the wayside as factory developers and designers struggled to paradigm shift. An organization familiar with waterfall and occupational silos was ill-prepared for the rapid change and delivery required of digital factories. What began as a promising internal venture unraveled into a sloppy mess of same old, same old.”
4. Digital Factories: Why and Why Not
Armando notes that like most trends in IT, digital factories don’t apply to every organization. We can’t all bimodal our proactive vortals while facilitating best-of-breed models all at the same time, now can we? He outlines why some companies will see huge benefits after establishing a digital factory whereas others might be wasting their time:
“The ‘rustier’ the organization, the more gains it sees after launching its digital factory. The factory shakes something loose inside these ancient clocks, and they start to tick again. Forgive the morbidity, but it’s like finding new life after radioactive fallout: surprising and inspiring.
But organizations already infused with agile practices and a hunger for IT renovation needn’t build a digital factory; they may use the structures already in place to facilitate digital transformation.”
5. The Structure and Purpose of Factories Vary—Especially the Digital Kind
Antonov digs into the history of factories around the world, the industrial revolution, and how the digital factory fits into the historical picture. While he draws some interesting connections between Henry Ford’s assembly line with the innovation promised by digital factories, this meal’s meat and potatoes are the breakdowns of how organizations create and utilize them. While some companies prefer a hired team of developers, designers, and product managers, other organizations take an ad hoc approach:
“Our survey discovered that approximately 46% of respondents built their internal digital factories from volunteer staff. The promise of a fast pace and a radical departure from company norms drew immediate interest from existing employees, respondents claimed. So when companies mete out digital factory roles to outsiders, they alienate their rank and file: employees that are chomping at the bit for new and exciting opportunities.”
6. Trying a Digital Factory Approach? Heed These Warnings
Ever the pessimist, good ol’ Hartwig digs into cases where a digital factory may not have been the best choice for an organization. There’s a lot of standard stuff in here: commitment from top brass, understanding what DFs can and cannot do, lacking the right kind of leadership, lacking a clear vision for the DF, and so much more. Here’s what he had to say specifically about assigning the right people to lead the DF:
“It’s all about buy-in. The digital factory acts as a company-within-a-company. The factory often has a CEO role to fulfill and a CTO, as well. These individuals must have buy-in from top brass. Without the blessing of Mr. CEO, Ms. CIO, and the lot of them, the factory is dead-on-arrival. Coppertown Industries suffered a massive waste of resources and time when executives treated their internal factory as a pet project.
Rather than delivering the promise of a digitized refining schedule, the factory delivered nothing but frustration to a team of executives; executives who expected results but never bought into the core tenets of the factory. They denied or inhibited access to the scheduler end-users, requiring the factory team to work as a silo. That was but one of many missteps that led to the ultimate disintegration of an otherwise promising venture.”
7. Digital Transformation vs. Digital Factory: Which Is Right for You?
Harking back to a point previously addressed by Armando, Fejes reminds us that not all organizations can benefit from the digital factory approach. But he begins by clarifying the difference between the two concepts. Whereas a transformation is the intended result of launching a digital factory, the factory is by no means the only method that achieves transformation. Fejes elaborates further:
“…any company that exemplifies the virtues of agile development, continuous deployment, and a strong commitment to change is primed for a digital transformation without any restructuring. A transformation migrates an otherwise analog or legacy practice into a modern, user-facing digital experience. A factory enables that change in an organization where change is slow and technology is frozen.”
8. Culture Creep: How Digital Factories Infect Organizations
In this piece, Láska identifies an often-overlooked side-effect of running successful digital factories: the cultural shift they bring. When instituting a DF, an organization must approach product development from a divergent, if not conflicting, new strategy: rapid change, frequent iteration, ad hoc tech stacks, end-user feedback, and other departures from traditional IT norms. And when the DF succeeds, its methods often trickle into other departments:
“[the] shift goes unnoticed by most; a new process here, an automated build there, feedback gathering somewhere else. Gradually, a bulk of pockets across the org begin to mimic the digital factory strategies that made that endeavor successful.”
9. The Digital Factory: A Revolving Door?
Tapia argues that rather than fear the transient nature of digital factories, companies should embrace them. To produce an ideal DF make-up, Tapia insists teams must lend their staff to the factory. Staff handed over to the DF work for the duration of a project before returning to their original roles; this revolving method has a number of powerful side-effects, as noted by Tapia:
“…a new outlook comes with the dramatic shift in responsibilities and new challenges faced. We all want challenge and variety in our work-lives; the in-and-out nature of the digital factory supports that. And employees work with new people in digital factories, grow their internal network, and as a result, feel more deeply connected to the company as a whole.”
10. 2018 Digital Factory Initiatives: The Winners and the Not-Winners
I personally would never risk publishing a piece like this; I’m glad Brotz did it for me. Here’s the conclusive list of all organizations that attempted to launch a digital factory in the past year, and how they fared. Brotz included established franchises like fast-food chain McNutters. This worldwide behemoth successfully migrated their weight-based fry counting system to an IoT-backed network of nanobots embedded in every strand of their golden potato-based product.
But not everyone came out on top:
“[big] losers included the fledgling electronics retailer, VCRShed. They launched a digital factory in early 2018 because it sounded like something the ‘kids were into these days.’ According to inside sources, the factory was tasked with, ‘anything, just move the needle, please, for the love of God.’
At the time of writing, the digital factory was hard at work on what they called, ‘a go-back-to-1996-machine."
After slogging through 9 bogus articles, I figured you earned that last one. Though the last was for laughs, the rest hopefully showed you how digital factories can enable digital transformations and perhaps inspired you to make a transformation of your own.