Innovation blog part 1: The balance between technology push and strategic vision

14 August 2017

About the author

Hans WortmannHans Wortmann is a full professor in the department of Operations at the University of Groningen, specialized in manufacturing information systems and innovation management. Next to this academic work, Hans contributes to Mobina and is chairman of the Lean Management Network Foundation.

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Innovation in the manufacturing industry can be viewed from several perspectives. For example from technological perspective, quality of labor or strategic vision. Those perspectives can lead to conflicting views on the future, which creates tensions. Based on his experience and research, Prof. dr. ir. Hans Wortmann wrote a series of three blogs on this topic. This is the first blog. Upcoming two Mondays we will publish blogs on:

Technology push

Innovation in the manufacturing industry is often associated with technology push. The management or staff visit fairs or hear from suppliers about new machines or production methods, and is enthusiastic about the new possibilities of technology. Even though the investment might seem large, the company tries to create a positive business case, which is often not based on a strategic vision.

New technology usually means more automation, or productivity improvement, including savings on labor. The savings on labor are often seen as an important and common aspect in the business case, next to elements like improved quality of products or higher productivity. New technology is usually also presented as the logical way production of the future looks. Any job losses are taken for granted.

Technology push has its disadvantages. Organizations often recognize the side effects of technology push too late. Labor should most of the time be seen not only as costs, but as an asset. Employees with knowledge and experience are still needed in a completely automated production process to solve problems. Savings on labor often also lead to loss of knowledge and experience in the execution of production processes. Not only the staff executing the work is important, but also the supporting staff on the shop floor like process engineers, quality assurance and service engineers.

Strategic vision

The balance between technology push and strategic visionThe balance between technology push and strategic vision

In the manufacturing industry, it’s important to consider more than just investments in hardware and software, but also in knowledge management. How does an industrial organization keep the knowledge and expertise that makes the company unique? Which levels of education is needed on the shop floor? And which experience levels are needed? How will the company anticipate on future developments in digitalization and intelligence?

The answer on these questions should be captured in a strategic vision of the management on their shop floor of the future. Ideally, the management wants to keep knowledge in-house and actively manages knowledge, competences and experience. This might still lead to job losses, but also helps to maintain a good balance of high-quality jobs, focused on knowledge management.
Such a strategic vision should also contain a view on how the organization wants to grow regarding subjects like continuous improvement, Kaizen, and Total Productive Maintenance. Subjects like safety policies and sustainable production can also be included. It is important to place investments in technology in the context of a broader vision, to mitigate the disadvantages of technology push.

Technology push in Mobina

Mobina, our tool, offers a great opportunity to effectively use all knowledge, experience and competences in your organization. Everyone can actively contribute to improve the company. Our software will sometimes also be thought provoking; can VR- or AR-glasses for example help your company to improve welding? Next to this, every organization can incorporate its strategic vision in the software. This can for example lead to the discussion whether a better quality of welding really contributes to the strategic goals of the organization. Mobina helps you to use the advantages of technology push in a strategic and collaborative framework.

Another important balance in innovation is discussed in the next blog. Organizations should find a balance between solving specific problems and making all solutions and technology in the organization work well together.

– Prof. dr. ir. Hans Wortmann

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