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Ending analysis paralysis with agile digital partnerships

By Eduardo Lima  LinkedIn
Global Product Manager
Digital for mining & cement

About the author
Eduardo joined ABB Brazil - field service engineering - in 2005, where he supported the latest technologies in process and electrical automation, developed and implemented a remote diagnostic service center as well as a plant asset management solution.

As a global product manager at ABB Switzerland since 2016, he developed and launched the Operations Management System for mining and currently is responsible for ABB's digital mining portfolio globally.

I once flew to a remote mine in the North of Canada during the middle of winter, with my digital team. The plane was small and was unable to land at the intended destination due to bad weather. After a frustrating detour, we finally made it to the mine although we had to wait another few days for our luggage to turn up. Until then, I just had to borrow a pair of boots and an orange jacket so we could get on with the job.  

The harsh working environment felt a long way from the warm, clean offices back at our headquarters. But, no matter if the temperature outside was touching -20° degrees, we still wanted to experience the same extreme conditions that the mine operators faced every day. Only then could we fully understand the challenges that would be faced by the new technologies we were developing.  

And what we were working so hard on, in those bleak conditions from 6am till 6pm?

We were co-creating important new software that would make the everyday lives of those miners considerably easier.

Unique set of challenges

This was not the kind of industrial software created in the controlled conditions of a laboratory, with a long list of features or quick fixes. We were presented with a much more complex set of problems and I really enjoyed the unique challenges we faced. There were so many different considerations to factor in, as we worked towards a completely original solution. Problems that could only be overcome by a hands-on approach on-site, not from the comfort of head office, thousands of kilometers away. 

It’s true that mining has traditionally followed other industries in terms of adopting innovation, often adapting existing technologies from elsewhere. But, in this case, we were pioneers seeking to create something completely new and exciting.  

Throughout my career, I’ve noticed a contradiction at the heart of digitalization: the desire for faster, more efficient intelligent processes is strong, but it’s accompanied by an equally powerful emotion: the unwillingness to fail.   

Every business wants to capitalize on digitalization’s benefits and avoid falling behind competitors.  But too often, decisive action is avoided and transformation falters.  

This is analysis paralysis.

A perception shift

Many larger organizations struggle with a fail early, fail fast start-up mindset. Complex organizational structures and the need to limit expenditure all contribute to a more traditional, slower approach to R&D.  

However, since around 2005, I’ve observed a change in the process industry. It’s a case of moving away from a strategy of ‘assisting the isolated’ to a new approach of ‘connecting the distant’. 

There are still dangers to transformation without agile collaboration. Some customers struggle with tunnel vision and find it hard to use data to its best advantage or how to connect individual processes to different departments. 

That’s where agile co-creation comes in.

Agile co-creation

From the very beginning of my career as a technology trainer in Brazil, I’ve been a strong believer in agile partnerships. I’ve discovered this kind of approach brings a new solution to market much faster. The key to fruitful learning has always been listen, test, adapt. 

At ABB, our digitalization initiatives are run like lean technology start-ups, with quick execution designed to yield the maximum return on investment. This enables the customer to reimagine their business and helps with the seamless transition to digital operating models. 

My job is to ensure that development isn’t conducted inside-out, with products prioritized over people. I facilitate an ongoing conversation via collaborative workshops to develop a transformation strategy that explores and addresses an enterprise’s specific needs.  

Nobody wants to waste time and money installing 50 impressive new features that the user never touches. On the contrary, when we are highly selective and just focus on the features that bring most value to the user, the returns can often be enough to fund the next phase of development.  

However, it would be a mistake to think co-creation only involves doing what the customer has asked us to do. It’s important for us to bring our own vision and expertise to the party, so we can add as much value as possible to the end solution.

Why does rapid, collaborative development give better results?

A variety of partner viewpoints provides new context and clarity  
That’s why I try to invite the customer’s other partners to the workshop –– to identify potential silos and create value using all the expertise available to us  

Experimental projects let us dynamically analyze obstacles, barriers and hidden costs
A “boots on the ground” approach means all partners have expertise based in the real world. We can learn from experiments and respond to unique challenges because we’re right there, experiencing them.
 
Models that show the most potential can be rapidly scaled
Those that don’t can be quickly abandoned. I’m often amazed how quickly a customer-specific solution can become a product that creates enormous value for an entire industry.
 
Quick execution helps clarify vision, investment and process
Identifying the people and cultural development needed for sustainable transformation becomes more fluid and intuitive.

Visionaries vs silent customers

So, what makes a successful transformation project? In my experience, there are two types of customer: one has a vision and the other wants to be led. The most successful projects are usually the ones that come with a strong vision or idea of what the customer wants from digital. They have KPIs in mind and can communicate their ideas. The Visionary Customer is looking for partners, not suppliers.  

As they have such a clear notion of what they want to achieve, the Visionary Customer might sometimes choose other partners too. Always keen to increase our knowledge, this is an opportunity for us to engage with those other partners to discover why their app is better, what we could change and how we could connect our solutions for an even better end result. Throughout the process, we will always be on the look-out for innovations that can be replicated elsewhere. 

On the other end of the spectrum is the Silent Customer. They don’t have a pre-existing vision, and this can be challenging as it’s difficult to perform digital transformation in a vacuum. A lack of overall vision can encourage a limited “I have a problem and if I buy this specific tool then my problem will be solved” mindset. This results in digital optimization (utilizing a better system to do the same thing) rather than digital transformation. As this supplier-based mindset lacks an agile, joined-up approach, there’s no scope to iterate or create a truly integrated, efficiency-saving solution across the business.  

However, the key to successfully engaging Silent Customers is helping them set a clear path – shutting out all the noise around digital transformation and simplifying the options in front of them. From my experience, open discussions with previous customers who have been through a similar journey and collaborative workshops are crucial in helping these customers overcome their doubts.

Takeaway

Here’s what Visionaries know: with commitment to experimentation comes the promise of a more stable future.  

Analysis paralysis, or, a commitment to the old R&D process, means slower, disconnected results. With fast failure and varied collaborative partnerships, we reduce what is unknown and the solutions we uncover can have surprisingly wide-ranging applications.  

During that stay in Canada, we gave the guys the laptop and tablets they were dreaming of, with new software tailored to their specific needs. To capture the rewarding moment at the end of this successful project, I wanted to take a picture of our customer putting the software into action. Unfortunately, my iPhone simply wasn’t up to the task. It would just instantly shut down due to the extremely low temperature. I guess we discovered we didn’t have a tool that was up to that particular job! 

So, what would you like to do, but can’t do simply because you don’t have the right tool? We have the technology. We have the expertise. Let’s have the courage to build what you need, together. http://new.abb.com/mining/digital 

Sneak peak

Quick digital wins are crucial. But they’re not the whole picture. Being truly holistic about digital transformation means connecting digital "islands", holding corporate business needs and the reality of people on the ground together. More on how digital partnership can help " build a bridge from both ends" in our next blog...

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