Reincarnation – and that too in a huge and unprecedented way – is what happened when cars replaced horse-carts and when Model T became a common denominator for the automotive industry. The impact that the industry saw in these historical turning points back then was felt very strongly again. It happened in the last few months when the industry was shaken and stirred in a disorienting way due to Covid 19. What transpired was a much-needed transformation that had been kept on the shelf for a long time. And all that got done with a new clock altogether. This time the needle moved quickly, very quickly.
It was a big leap; and taken in a fast-forward mode – as some CIOs and CXOs shared during an interesting panel discussion on ‘Technology Vision for Industrial Equipment’ by Accenture and Cybermedia recently.
The panel that was moderated by Ibrahim Ahmad, Consulting Group Editor, CyberMedia unravelled some unexpected positive side-effects that the crisis brought for this industry’s technology deployment. The panellists discussed the challenges and paradigms that Industrial equipment and automotive companies faced in the numerous ramifications of the pandemic. It addressed how these enterprises are managing all those disrupted manufacturing and supply chains operations. Also – how are they dealing with worker absence, travel limitations, customer outreach, collaboration, and more. The core discussion was on how technology helps to enable the transformation that these enterprises need to make.
Ahmad posed many ideas for the panel to brainstorm upon and, hence, share hands-on experiences. Like – has the crisis accelerated the need to move to Industry 4.0? Any key business challenges with supply chain management and how is technology being used to enhance supply chain efficiency? Also which technology innovations are being inspired by the current crisis that will have a lasting effect on this sector? The panel dissected a lot of words in a new light – AI, Blockchain, IoT, Digital Twins, Cloud, Automation tech, AR/VR, etc.
The discussion was ignited well with these sparks and accelerated into many areas showing just how deeply, and swiftly, technology has transformed this space in the pandemic phase.
Legacy- In the Rear-View Mirror
Yogesh Zope, CDO, Kalyani Group highlighted some challenges in operational and business areas after the advent of the pandemic. “The struggle for most industries was different in the first wave and the third wave. In the second wave, we could keep the operations on. Of course, the supply chain challenges were very high. Right from steel to other supporting supply chain areas, as well as absenteeism of skilled workers – we faced some strong challenge areas. The pandemic, has, however, pushed the transformation to a large level. Typically companies with a legacy of 60 years find changing anything as a time-intensive process. The speed seen during the pandemic was unprecedented.”
Zope shared examples like how the audit process was ensured even with remote inspections where the company used real-time information, AR etc. to blend comfort and rigour for certification processes. He also shared about an auto-supply chain network where a collaborative space with an open network makes it conducive to exchange data.
Vinod Khode, Group CIO, Varroc also talked about how AI and technology-enabled testing as well digital-twin capabilities were leveraged in a huge way during this phase. “The positive side of the crisis is speed. We achieved a lot of ground as an industry – in a short span of time. It is similar to what the world saw during World War 2. The quantum of innovation that was seen in World War 2 would have taken years otherwise.”
Khode also shared that, at the end of the day, a business is dealing with a customer. “We also did a very big effort on MRP. After doing a lot of hand-holding and governance, we saw a huge jump in the impact. Two areas where we saw disruption was in inventory management and fluctuations in demand. Technologies used to tackle these challenges were both existing ones and new ones. We also keep an eye open for what’s coming next so upcoming technologies were also in the mix. We had to maximise their usage, and optimise operations and handle master data management and clean data very well so that these new technologies could sit very well on this foundation.”
Data – The New Petrol
Data was a word that punctuated almost every CIO’s experience kit. “In the auto-ancillary industry, most customers are auto-makers. The shift from a capex-economy to a data-driven economy is remarkable. The entire thinking and roadmap now depend on data. It is essential that data is captured correctly.” echoed Parna Ghosh, Vice President & Group CIO, Minda Industries Ltd.
He also talked about digital forces in financial tools and HR areas. “The major focus has shifted to materials and supply chain in our business. Most organisations were lacking digital muscle in these areas. Supply chain automation and logistics’ transformation have happened in a massive way. The same is visible in safety improvement and customer experience-elevation. The use of digital technologies is transforming the organisation in a major way. Shared mobility has reached its peak. Connected vehicles and telematics will also see a new trajectory in the next four or five years. That’s going to be the future.” What he stressed upon is that now digital is not for the sake of digital. “The way top management and customers look at technology is different. It connects to some business case, bottom-line and customer experience in some way, he explained.
Srikanth Subbu, CISO, TVS Motor Company talked about risk control and risk management. “A lot of innovations are happening but the adjacent risks have to be addressed well. Also technology is making inroads in plants. We are evaluating AI and Machine Learning in operational areas.”
Rajesh Mishra, SVP & CDO – Business Processes & Systems – Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles Ltd. also shared how migration and experimentation have been easy during the slowdown phase. “One has to find different ways to manage the outcomes. For instance, we had some digital ecosystem already in place and for some redesign parts and validation lifecycle aspects we embraced technology very well. Also, digital twin initiatives could be explored. We have a very robust manufacturing setup. The absenteeism of skilled workers and the dominance of contract workers, when a lot of people have gone home, also made way for new training initiatives.
Ankur Aggarwal, Managing Director- Technology, Accenture in India spelt out the role of data analytics. He gave a peek into the refreshed dashboard for the industry. “A significant level of disruption has happened, as we can see. Now how to use past data and predict the future amidst a huge degree of uncertainty- that’s fascinating. Forecasting demand is challenging even in normal times so how to do that in uncertain times – that’s a new paradigm. Companies are trying to figure out what’s going on out there – like customer behaviour etc. They need agility to incorporate this external data. Some companies are also looking at other economic indicators to assess the impact of the epidemic. Data Analytics takes a paramount role from here on.”
Press 4 Please
As to Industry 4.0, the panel shared the ground impact and the issues of Industry 4.0 in a broad way. Zope contended how it is the way to reduce dependencies and communication gaps.
“Industry 4.0 started with Germany and then to the US and Europe. The proliferation of RPA and IoT was gradual. Now Industry 4.0 is not an option. If you are not modern and smart as an enterprise, you would not be able to attract talent as well,” observed Ghosh underlining how this is crucial to stay relevant and not end up as a dinosaur.
The crisis has the dynamics of pushing people out of comfort, Aggarwal surmised well. “Balancing resilience and profitability, quality, sustainability is what would be critical now.”
Clearly, the pandemic phase has turned out to be a positive pressure valve in the turbo-charging transformation that was, otherwise, slated for a day way ahead in the future. It has become just the fast lane that technology needed to rev up its role in the automotive industry. Technology has finally taken the driving seat here. And it’s moving forward.
By Pratima Harigunani