No amount of automation, AI or ML will supplant the ingenuity of the human mind. From the C-suite to the shop floor, people will always be central to any organisation. Better informed people make better business decisions, and by breaking down barriers, companies can achieve more.
Empowered People is one of the four pillars of SAP’s Industry 4.0 initiative, alongside Intelligent Factories, Intelligent Products and Intelligent Assets. Andy Hancock, Global Vice President, Centre of Excellence at SAP Digital Supply Chain, says: “We're never going to replace the people, or take the human out of the process. But the key thing is, if we can automate predictable tasks and mitigate risk through technology, those highly skilled workers can move to high value, complex decision-making tasks that are further up that chain.”
Here he explores how empowering people comes to life in an organisation, how each individual can achieve more and, ultimately, how businesses can remain competitive and innovative in the era of Industry 4.0.
Empowering people, improving business
Andy Hancock, Global Vice President, Centre of Excellence at SAP Digital Supply Chain on empowering people for better business
Behind the platforms, IoT sensors and connected assets in digital transformation sits the humble human, without which the entire system comes to a crashing halt. Employees can be a business’ most valuable asset, but they can also be the most costly if left behind in the revolution of Industry 4.0. Ultimately the goal should be to elevate an individual’s role within an organisation, remove dead weight from their desk and aid them in reaching their full potential.
“The people will always be the centre,” says Andy Hancock, Global Vice President, Centre of Excellence at SAP Digital Supply Chain. “It doesn't matter how much automation that you adopt or how much you increase AI integration, there will always be tasks that only a human can actually execute on. In fact, as we do more automation, there’s an even higher complexity of decision-making required that only a human can do.”
SAP envisions a reality of Empowered People as a critical pillar in its approach to Industry 4.0. “What we mean by Empowered People is empowering individuals to be agile in the moment,” Hancock says. “The whole concept and ethos surrounds organising data, whether that comes internally or externally, to make it insightful and, most importantly, actionable.”
Breaking down barriers
A real world example that made headlines earlier this year is the Suez Canal crisis. In the operation to rescue the Ever Given container ship wedged across the narrow channel, hundreds of experts worked in collaboration. Excavators worked around the clock to dig the bulbous bow of the container ship out of the sand. Dredgers were called upon, who understood the cross-sectional area of the Suez canal, and exactly where to dig to help refloat the vessel. And there were the pilots on board who understood that an approaching high tide would give an extra two metres of lift. In essence, this was a microcosm of modern business, where siloed departments use their expertise to help a business reach its objectives.
“What happened in the Suez is that these dredgers, excavators, tug boats and pilots all pooled their information together and realised that they can actually refloat this ship in five days and let it sail,” Hancock says. "Go back 20 or even 10 years and this information would have been in people’s heads, in different places, and instead the situation would’ve taken weeks and required the costly job of removing containers. That’s a good illustration of where Industry 4.0 brings all of these technology enablers to empower people to make those informed decisions.”
Empowering the workplace
In less extraordinary circumstances, Empowered People is realised through a layering of information that filters throughout an organisation.
“Start with the operator who has maybe one or two pieces of equipment to run. To empower that operator to do his job efficiently, he needs to know if it’s running correctly, if it’s going out of bounds, does he need an indicator to do something in order to avoid a failure? That’s the basic level,” Hancock says. “We then lift it up to the next layer, moving from operational execution to areas of financial core values. The plant manager can collate the information from each of the production lines, assess the KPI, form a plan, and measure that against their actuals.”
Beyond the four walls of the siloed plant, SAP enables businesses to stack further data from external suppliers, their wider network and begin to derive true value. In the boardroom, executive leadership, now fully informed by this aggregated data, are able to deliver to their shareholders.
“The CEO or CFO have their core values that they need to meet, whether that’s sustainability goals, P&L, or something else,” Hancock says. "Where this empowerment truly comes into effect is in the time it takes to make decisions and implement them. We can now actually bring the data all the way down the individual steps to the operator, because it's all connected. Decisions made at the top can be actioned incredibly fast throughout the business. That's a very simple example, but it shows how this layered approach works in a lot of our businesses that we see.”
Empowered People are the culmination of SAP’s Industry 4.0 strategy, and a company value that it wears on its sleeve.
"The key thing when we talk about industry 4.0, is that SAP cannot do it on its own,” Hancock says. "We need our partner ecosystem, hardware vendors and integrators, and consultancies to understand these big shifts like digital transformation. And we also contribute to those discussions.
“The first step is always the hardest in any project. It requires an amount of energy that some organisations may start but never finish and continually transform. And so what SAP has done is to make the entry point very low, so businesses can come and see the best course of action in our industry hubs. We have SAP services to support the maturity assessment, the evaluation of where they are on that journey. And then we have our partner ecosystem to help them move in the right direction.”