Digitization has been on everyone's lips for more than 10 years. Everything revolves around the topic. For example, the federal government in Germany committed itself to "digitisation now" and hired a "digital minister". In addition, there are various trade fairs and congresses only on this topic.
But what is digitization anyway? Is it just being discussed? What progress and milestones have already been achieved and where do we go from here?
Two sides of digitisation
Digitization is not just bits and bytes. The digital revolution is greater than the industrial revolution ever was. This requires a mindset change, especially amongst older generations. Generation Z is growing and living the digital revolution, Generation Y grew up with it and recognises progress. Digitalization is a mentality and attitude that can be found in all areas of life, whether at home, in sports, at work. Digitization is an opportunity, not a threat. The idea of man vs. machine is the wrong one. People should make use of the advantages of machines and artificial intelligence, not work against them.
Let's take autonomous driving as an example. The car drives alone, is not dependent on the driver, except to enter the address in the navigator. Why will there probably be fewer accidents with other vehicles than before? All vehicles and aids moving and located on the road are linked to each other, exchanging information. Whether car, motorcycle or traffic light. There will be no ghost drivers accommodating you, or someone ignoring the right of way.
But should an unforeseeable event occur, there is the necessity to react as a driver. In case a person crosses the road, where it is not visible (measurable) to the car, the driver must react and intervene (brake). These unpredictable eventualities make it easy to believe that self-propelled vehicles do not belong in road traffic. However, we must not reject this modern and new means of digitization, but use it to optimise and support people. The aim is to form a unit with the supporting technology.
But in order to be able to make optimum use of this intelligence, it needs above all data.
2. Data, data, data
Digitization describes the conversion of analog values into digital formats. The data obtained in this way can now be processed by information technology as a result of technological progress.
This sounds much more complicated than it is. Digitization starts at home. If you have previously written your shopping list on a piece of paper and are now using your smartphone for it, you have digitised your data. But there's more: for example, your daily shopping list could match the contents of your fridge and complement the list based on your shopping habits. You could also share the list with your partner. Or you could create a cooking plan for the week and the ingredients from the recipes will automatically be uploaded to your shopping list.
A completely different order of magnitude of data is used in industry. Large amounts of data are also handled in the after-sales area. We are talking here about parts and material lists, circuit diagrams, maintenance and repair instructions. And at the latest with the digitalization the question is raised: Can my customer, end user, service technician, supplier or dealer do anything with my data? How do I process the wealth of data so that my users can use it without major problems and in a self-explanatory way?
Digitization promises automated processes, but they don't work without maintained master data. The desire for the machine to register itself for repair and order the spare parts at the same time is not priority 1. Because the customer's requirement is not the ordering of spare parts, but the uninterrupted operation of his machine / system. In this case, an order for spare parts is only the means to an end.
In order to fulfil the purpose of the company, every unplanned interruption or standstill is a losing bargain.
In general, after the sale of a technical product (machine, plant, device, etc.), the after-sales processes have to function. Support, service technicians and co. have the task to keep interruptions and downtimes as minimal as possible and to support the customer as quickly as possible in solving the problem. That's why maintenance should be intelligently scheduled. After all, the customer's benefit from the machine is greatest when it does not fail in the first place.
Ultimately, your company's machines must continuously contribute to your customers' core business. Each waiting time reduces the customer benefit. This is why it is so important to maintain machines and data comprehensively. Care and maintenance is also dependent on the available spare parts. Automated processes, the basis of every digitalization, simply cannot run without well maintained master data. Therefore, this circumstance inevitably affects spare parts management. The possibility of transferring a spare parts order at any time is therefore enormously important.
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What's wrong with the mid-market?
Digitisation is many things and includes various projects and topics that have already found their way into industry and industrial enterprises. For a long time now, there has not only been talk and research about predictive maintenance, AI etc. Some of these topics have already arrived in the processes of industrial companies. Predictive maintenance and the use of artificial intelligence in production identify anomalies that indicate when long-term or unexpected failures will occur. For example, AI is used to independently create tickets at the manufacturer's site for service calls and to notify the service manager accordingly. Predictive maintenance replaces preventive maintenance, minimizing costs and downtime and maximizing machine life.
However, the question that arises especially for medium-sized companies is: "Which train of digitalization should we jump on? Does it make sense to follow every trend? Which trend will establish itself and which will flop?"
These questions show a clear defensive attitude towards digitalisation and trends, because you don't want to put your money on the wrong horse.
But especially medium-sized companies have to dare more, because flat hierarchies and short decision paths make it easier for them to implement and try out innovative projects.
As (small) mid-market companies, we should lead the way and be at the forefront of digitalisation and not allow ourselves to lag behind, because otherwise we could lose touch.