One of the major aspirations of Manufacturing 4.0 is to digitally unite a manufacturing company. The idea is that, using transformative digital technologies, all the key functions of a manufacturing company – design, production, sourcing, warehousing, service, support, etc. – can be integrated together using a seamless flow of data that provides one, accurate picture of operations.
The theory is that such a common stream, or thread, of data will create far greater efficiencies, speed of execution, and shared knowledge of operations than the current alternative – silos of disparate information, often in different and incompatible systems, that result in more mistakes, more time, more confusion, and more cost.
It is a compelling theory and one with obvious advantages. What company wouldn’t want a system that creates cross-functional integration and compatibility? What leadership team would not want what some call “one version of the truth” across the enterprise?
But the path to creating digital unification is anything but obvious or easy. Most manufacturing companies are collections of functionally-oriented, disparate systems that were put in place to serve a particular discipline or role. Moreover, experts in particular domains often don’t speak the same language or relate well to individuals in other domains; witness the now decades-old struggle to bring together IT and OT teams.
Many in the industry talk about tackling the problem by using phrases such as “breaking down the silos”, meaning companies need to tear down cultural borders and truly collaborate to realize the benefits of digitization. This is certainly necessary to achieve the benefits aspired to, but the choice of language may unnecessarily inject an obstacle on the path forward and stoke resentment and even fear in people working diligently in those so-called silos.
A better way is to first acknowledge that functional domains grew up and remain important for a reason: companies need the domain expertise to make whatever they are selling. Instead of talking about knocking down the silos, let’s describe what needs to be done as weaving the silos together. This way the proper respect is accorded to the domain and its experts, the benefits of integration are advanced, and language some might consider scary is avoided. M