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  • Writer's pictureErwan Bodescot

Digital transformation 2021 and beyond

As we move into 2021 and a new decade unfolds before us there are several key digital transformation trends that will come to the fore and transform the way business is conducted. We are increasingly living in a world where a digital first strategy, or at the very least an integration of the digital strategy as a core feature of business operations, is a necessity not a luxury - only those that digitise operations and themselves deliver digital offerings can hope to succeed. These are critical and challenging transformations that the world’s leading companies must embrace and implement. The mantra then is ‘Innovate or die’.

The past 12 months, where Covid-19 has severely impacted businesses across the globe, have demonstrated that those corporations with a mature digital strategy and capabilities fared much better than those who perhaps failed to invest sufficiently in the preceding years before the pandemic struck. To those organisations that have suffered from the major disruptions to commerce, digital transformation is an imperative.

In the industrial context then, what are the key drivers to this transformation? What can we expect in the coming decade? We can broadly classify them into 4 categories.

1) Data revolution

The industry 4.0 movement is defined by data and an organisation’s capabilities to collect, store, analyse and harness the data at their disposal. Harvesting of data through IoT (Internet of Things) devices, stored in the cloud (AWS, Azure) with flexible accessibility, will be an integral part of this revolution. The Aviation industry must embrace new technologies and move to ensure Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), facilities and production lines are data-rich so they can effectively compete with well-funded and fast moving ‘digital-native’ competitors. Success is dependent on access to real-time data combined with intelligence software platforms that translate raw information to meaningful insights, which are then actionable. Critical infrastructure like 5G will unlock new possibilities with vastly improved data transfer speeds - Asia is leading the way here with Korea and Japan already launching their 5G networks and Singapore recently announcing multi-million dollar grants to develop, test and adopt 5G solutions.

2) Automation

This is another key driver where implementation of digital-capable hardware and integration with software platforms that support business requirements will form the basis of vastly superior industrial processes. The use of next-gen robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) technology will drive this automation revolution. These data rich environments in turn will ensure production sites, facilities, warehouses are far more efficient and will provide real-time insights into the health of operations and critically will offer the ability to predict potential issues ahead of time. Over the past decade we have seen an exponential rise in the quantum of data available, but for many companies it remains dormant, its secrets hidden - designing automated, intelligent systems that analyse and extract relevant information is the first step towards autonomous systems which will be able to predict and make business critical decisions. Data-driven predictions will be a game-changer for aviation companies that are asset heavy by ensuring minimal to no down-time of assets. Even front-line workers will be able to enjoy the benefits to this momentous shift by the use of smart devices (smart glasses, tablets etc enhanced by the aforementioned capabilities) in the field - their daily tasks will no longer be manual, error-prone and paper-based - with technology eliminating repetitive and mundane tasks, freeing them to focus more on the problem solving aspect of their jobs, and thus transforming them into ‘super engineers’

3) Collaboration and Communities

Collaboration with external providers to speed up and enhance innovation efforts. The traditional R&D model and corporate strategy to build solutions in-house will fall by the wayside (inward facing investment into innovation projects are more often than not too narrow in scope and siloed). They will increasingly be replaced by a hybrid collaborative model where ‘Outside-In’ innovation programs that engage with the technology and research communities across the globe will become the norm. Partnerships with startups of all stages will form an integral part of this new model. In addition, industry communities have had a digital presence for a while now, however the exchange of ideas and knowledge has predominantly existed at conferences and other physical encounters among each industry’s domain experts and professionals. Now is more important than ever that these interactions are digitised and harnessed to drive growth and innovation. The winning platforms that will emerge will be the ones that enable digital interactions with secure information sharing amongst its users, and providing wealth of digital solutions that help companies solve their biggest problems.

4) Low code/ No code Platforms -

Although part of the wider data and automation drivers mentioned earlier, these software platforms should be highlighted by the new capabilities they offer industrials to take ownership of their digital transformation strategy and projects. These platforms are game-changers because they have the power to disrupt the very process of digital transformation - they empower industrials to take control of the implementation of their digital strategy ‘freeing them from the dependency on traditional consultancies and system integrators. Low / no code platforms can help deliver transformation projects at a velocity and cost that was previously unthinkable. Need to improve operations on the factory floor? Just use these platforms to create a digital process/application and deploy it to a digital device - individually or to teams - within a few weeks and without coding (thus replacing expensive developers with internal ‘assemblers’). Think of it this way - you want to construct a building with toy bricks - you can use the Lego brick platform and have it assembled in moments - or you can spend the time, money and effort to research the bricks, design them, produce them (takes several attempts to do it properly!), quality check and THEN build. The former is eminently easier than the latter - it is critical to business success and is becoming a necessity, not just due to competitive pressures but more importantly due to customer expectations!

The following chart encapsulates the new digital operating model where customer life cycle is measured in terms of solution and platform based development with recurring long term relationships rather than discrete and transactional interactions found in traditional business models:

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