A 2018 McKinsey study found that only 11percent of U.K. manufacturers surveyed identified themselves as Industry 4.0 ready. Contributing manifestations of this include fragmented IT-systems, outdated equipment and high levels of manual work as preventing business integration efforts.

There are many reasons for this; in the U.K. recent productivity gains have been made through labour utilisation rather than automation while in Western Europe there have been over 12,000 individual M&A transactions every year for the last 5 years increasing the likelihood of enterprises having to support multiple legacy systems. Finally, as value is squeezed through dominant retailers, competition or the pandemic, less money is available to invest for many businesses.

Increased awareness; assessment and integrated action can help turn the tables.

Awareness: This is best achieved through highlighting the importance of strong Information Management (IM) practices. Simplistically IM encapsulates the data conversion process; how well it is done, the tools used and how the process is monitored, improved and interacted with by managers.

It involves 3 elements:

1. Data collation whether that be commercial numbers or machine performance

2. The translation of data into information as a report

3. Converting information into knowledge by linking it to historical performance, the broader environment or changes in customer habits.

Considering data, information and knowledge in this way will help decision makers and users to better understand a given IT solution and how they should interact with it.

Assessment: This can be done at enterprise or local levels. There are a number of analysis tools out there. I have found three to be particularly useful in this context.

Firstly, there is the classic list of all of the tools or reports in use, their respective users, benefits and crucially time taken to provide the answers required in the output stage (time is money and many people are disengaged by poorly performing data and reporting platforms).

Secondly, a well-supported Value Stream Mapping exercise following the movement of data through a process alongside the physical work (normally raw materials to finished goods) will highlight how well automation and traceability works in practice. Starting from order receipt to order delivery takes this a stage further.

Thirdly, a group of academics (Marchand, Kettinger and Rollins) came up with a wonderful Information Orientation model in 2000 which identifies the cultural practices and behaviours of organisations and individuals within the questions it asks managers to answer.

Armed with this understanding of the organisation’s current capabilities it’s now far easier to consider its future vision.

Integrated Action: I’ve found IT solutions work best when considered as enablers for delivering business strategy. Therefore, overlaying future tools and reporting into what will deliver a business’ goals is crucial to ensure resource and pace is available for successful implementation.

"Considering what to remove, simplify and reduce in the first instance will prevent the risk of being overwhelmed by unwanted data in the future"

There are other pitfalls too. Jargon is one. Most people don’t understand IT speak so keeping to plain English dispels fears. A distant Group-led IT team is another; this not only creates distance but also reinforces barriers between teams.

Then there’s automating solutions before fully assessing them. Considering what to remove, simplify and reduce in the first instance will prevent the risk of being overwhelmed by unwanted data in the future.

Conclusion

In Eurofins food testing U.K. IT solutions will be central to our success in utilising our data and customer portal to enhance test performance and tracking