Top tips to help you implement 4IR projects that deliver value

In the just over 10 years I have spent working on IT projects in the manufacturing space, the amount of new fads and IT jargon that has to be adopted has reached the heavens, and ascended into other realms. As a regular editorial contributor, I’d like to focus this article on IT projects that must deliver value…

In my opinion, a project should follow from a PoV (proof of value) and/or a PoC (proof of concept). The 4th industrial revolution is here and it is apparently going to force us all to think and act differently about technology, and we are reminded that if we don’t, we are doomed to the archives just like many IT-fuelled revolutions before this one (Web 2.0, open standards, cybersecurity, button-less phones).

Why PoC? Why PoV?

4IR means many things right now, for instance quick, concise, at my fingertips data that allows me to respond to ever changing business demands. Let’s entertain the idea that a vendor promises to lower costs, downtime and maintenance, and at the same time improve market position, reliability and longer run time before shutdowns – all with an off the shelf product that can be implemented via an intensive project spanning two years. This is not Agile and it is not cheap. We would surely want to see proof? The vendor would suggest a proof PoC: a small sample manufacturing process that can prove their offering works, conceptually. Let’s entertain this vendor.

Months go by and technically the concept works after a few kinks were resolved. Then, top management becomes intrigued and asks for a full scale roll out. This is where you should be that guy who asks: “But has any value been proven?” All we have done is proven that the product does what it says it can do, we have not proven longer run times or increased reliability beyond the standard norms. Now scream ‘Prove the Value!’ and watch your managers stare at you in admiration, and at the vendor in disdain.

Proof of value is taking the concept and running another mini project to show that the solution can deliver against the agreed terms of reference that add value for us. Once the value has been agreed and proven, we can move onto a large scale project where the inputs, actions and learnings must be adopted from the PoV and used as markers to ascertain if we are indeed on the right track, pointing back to value all the time. All 4IR related projects must deliver this value, otherwise they are pointless in our context.

In the above example, we moved from idea, to promise, to proposal to PoC, to PoV, and finally, to a full-scale project with benchmarked results. If only life were that simple. Unfortunately it isn’t and things do not always run smoothly. To help you then, here are my top tips for implementing successful, value-driven projects in the imminent IT revolution in manufacturing:

• Understand the value you’re seeking: in Agile speak it is called an EPIC. What do you want, less maintenance, increased reliability, less carbon footprint?

• Forget the solution, focus on the value associated with your problem: focusing on the EPIC/value will systematically lend to the identification of the solution, not the other way round.

• Deliver value in steps: Agile, which is a large part of the 4IR requirement, focuses massively on delivering value in chunks and not once off solutions e.g. the largest part of an IT project is usually the tremendous focus on the technical deliverable. We have all seen the pictographic of the tree swing required by the business and then every typical IT project resource’s interpretation of this tree swing… 4IR will require a fundamental shift when delivering on a project – solutions can no longer just be ‘thrown’ at business problems.

• Speaking of resources: system development is key, but understanding business data and what to make of it is of greater importance, so too are fundamental technical abilities such as business analysis and data extraction, interpretation and design. But these are skills, skills are harboured by the people who work in your organisation, the business and manufacturing process, the data, the untapped ideas and the known issues are seated in those minds.

• What you did in 2012 is no longer relevant: this is the sad reality, but it is the truth. Think of what you knew in 2012 and compare to what you know today – the pace of progress is endless. Therefore, do not be afraid to experiment by proving the concept and proving the value. Never in our wildest dreams could we imagine that flying drones would require a licence, never could we imagine pointing our mobile phones at a picture and the picture would become interactive, smart and intuitive.

It starts with a problem and turns into identifying the value associated with solving it. A PoC and PoV can take a few weeks or a few months, but I’d highly recommend doing either (preferably both) before embarking on a full-blown 4IR project. Embrace change, but remember to seek out the true value hidden gibberish that surrounds every industrial revolution. Always hunt the value.