Manufacturing: Factory Floor "Secret": We've Gone Mobile
Factory workers aren’t waiting for company approval to use the latest mobile technology — they’re bringing their own tablets and smartphones onto the factory floor. It’s a trend that smart CIOs will embrace, not fight.
Mobile technology in manufacturing has taken an odd turn: While smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices are being used across the factory floor, their usage is unknown to the very people you’d expect to oversee it — the IT department and chief information officer (CIO). It’s part of a broader trend, known as “shadow IT,” in which nontechnical staff buy and implement easy- to-use solutions without the IT department’s help or knowledge. The shadow IT trend is sweeping across many, if not most, industries; in manufacturing, the shadow is particularly long.
CSC’s CIO Barometer 2013 report, based on a survey of nearly 700 senior IT executives in 18 countries around the world, reveals a high degree of concern over this new mobile challenge. Sixty-five percent of respondents say that the development of mobile applications is one of IT’s major challenges, and nearly as many (63 percent) cite management of the related bring-your-own- device (BYOD) trend as another major challenge.
According to the survey, CIOs in manufacturing are less enthusiastic about developing mobile applications than are CIOs in many other industries. That’s understandable; unlike in retail, utilities and other industries with employees in far-flung locations, manufacturers know precisely where to find their staff .
However, this lack of enthusiasm by IT leaders in manufacturing represents both a missed opportunity and a serious blind spot. It’s a missed opportunity because mobile technology can actually help manufacturers improve product quality and efficiency by, for example, digitizing paper-based manuals and component lists, and even facilitating information-sharing among employees. And it’s a serious blind spot because much of this mobile-powered activity is already happening in ways invisible to the CIO.
That’s unfortunate — as some examples of shadow IT are truly impressive. Consider a major industrial manufacturer that asked CSC to help create a tablet-based solution to replace paper-bound checklists and notices used each time an engine comes in for routine, scheduled maintenance. Our CSC team visited the company’s shop floor to see firsthand how the work was done. And what we discovered was surprising, not only to us but also to the company’s CIO and other top executives.
Without the CIO’s knowledge and in violation of their employer’s rules, the company’s maintenance workers had been using their personal smartphones to assist in a variety of tasks. Some workers had snapped photos of parts and texted the photos to more experienced colleagues, asking for their repair advice. Others had, via a file-sharing service, sent videos recorded with their phones to their colleagues on later shifts. Others had photographed serial numbers on parts that needed to be ordered for replacement.
Still others had used the flashlight app on their phones to illuminate darker corners and used consumer apps to convert units, translate or get technical language definitions and read inclinometer measurements.
While reporting these findings to the workers’ managers was not easy, we also had some good news for them: Their workers were clearly ready to adopt mobile solutions. They had also effectively raised the bar on what our tablet-based solution must include and how user friendly it must be.
Our research confirms that shadow IT creates real challenges for manufacturing CIOs. CSC’sCIO Barometer 2013 report indicates that according to nearly 65 percent of IT leaders surveyed, allowing the business to use BYOD and other consumer technology in the workplace is one of their department’s biggest challenges.
Mobile technology is just one of a number of new technologies that can help manufacturers increase efficiency and agility. Cloud-based solutions can help manufacturers lower their IT infrastructure costs by 20 to 30 percent, and can shift IT’s capital expense to a more flexible, consumption-based operating expense, also known as Software as a Service, or SaaS. Application modernization is yet another IT strategy that can cut costs through consolidation and add mobility to legacy infrastructure.
Mobility offers manufacturing organizations significant benefits that need to be embraced and leveraged. It’s time for manufacturing CIOs to move mobile technology out of the shadows and into the spotlight, where it belongs.
Stéphane Plovier is vice president of Global Business Consulting at CSC, a provider of technology-enabled solutions with 81,000 employees in more than 70 countries worldwide.