5 Practical Technologies Every Ambitious SMB in Industrials Should POC

Manufacturing, construction, and other industrial businesses can leapfrog from technology-lagging organizations to ones driving competitive advantages. A chief challenge is escaping legacy mindsets, especially in small and medium businesses where technology is a commodity component that’s bought once and used well past its depreciation date.  

Manufacturing and Construction Technologies to POC

We’ve discussed manufacturing, construction, and Industry 4.0 at several recent Coffee with  Digital Trailblazers, a LinkedIn audio event I host on Fridays at 11am ET. We’re bullish for this sector because of the many opportunities using cloud, SaaS, low-code, AI/ML, and IoT technologies offer, even for small and medium enterprises that have small IT departments.

“Siloed IT infrastructure is obsolete; integration with broader business objectives is imperative,” says Debashis Singh, Chief Information Officer of Persistent. “Success hinges on building domain expertise, nurturing a solution-oriented mindset, and championing automation for heightened efficiency and an enriched user experience.”

Below are five practical technologies that manufacturing and construction companies can use to quickly go from proof of concept (POC) to production. The trick is to design a POC demonstrating feasibility, plan the required integrations,  and lead an incremental change management plan.

1. Transform from grey work to no-code dynamic work

Every business has its systems of record, and then there is the duct tape – the grey work – that subject matter experts must do to collaborate and connect data between these systems. That work can be extremely inefficient and limit operational scalability and resiliency. Employees close the gaps using a myriad of tools, including spreadsheets, emails/messaging, meetings, and swivel chairing between multiple tools on different screens.

Grey work is a risk and missed opportunity for manufacturing and construction companies because of the lost time and data when people compensate for a lack of integrated tools. Here are several opportunities:

What’s driving this innovation, automation, and intelligence?

Companies like Consigli Construction and  Procter & Gamble’s Global Business Services leverage AI and no-code to transform to dynamic work and improve operational resiliency. These companies recognize how no-code solutions empower employees to develop and manage efficient and scalable dynamic work management solutions.

2. Automate accounts payable  

Paul Wnek, founder and CEO of ExpandAP, shared with me a recent PYMNTS Intelligence-Amex Study reporting that 36% of the SMBs surveyed have yet to automate any aspect of accounts payable.

That’s shocking and an opportunity for all industrials to improve efficiencies, quality, and intelligence by collaborating with existing vendors and new partners to develop automation.

 “This vital business function is ripe for innovation, especially in the age of automation and AI,” says Wnek. Trust and complexity are the biggest barriers for SMBs when considering new tech to POC, but the good news is that leading business solution partners such as Salesforce are doing the legwork and offering native-built technologies in this realm.”

3. Drive performance, efficiencies, and safety with computer vision

Computer vision is no longer an emerging technology and has many industrial applications, including improving safety on the factory floor and construction jobsites. That’s just the start of the innovation, and industrials have many opportunities to use computer vision to connect real-world problems to machine intelligence.  

Vikhyat Chaudhry, CTO, COO, and Co-founder of Buzz Solutions, says, “Using AI and computer vision to collect and analyze data on the performance of equipment at scale is essential for industrial SMBs as the tech reports back to end users on the quality of the product, its performance and risks or faults.”

Sometimes, the equipment is on the factory floor and can be monitored by well-placed cameras and IoT sensors. However, tracking remote equipment and infrastructure can be more challenging and an opportunity where computer vision can outperform people.

“The energy industry can adopt computer vision to monitor the power grid, power lines, and transmission and distribution equipment for risks and anomalies such as poorly performing components, vegetation, animal interference, or potential fire threats,” says Chaudhry. “With an aging infrastructure and a shift toward renewables adding greater strain on the grid, this transition to AI alerting systems through computer vision is essential.”

4. Find defects and predict maintenance with IoT

Another physical-to-digital investment in mainstream adoption is IoT, their real-time data integration systems, and the machine learning analytics tools used in manufacturing.

“Leveraging IoT allows industrial manufacturers to quickly identify issues with manufactured parts and analyze trends in the data to adjust how something is manufactured across an organization,” says Michael Israel of Zuper.  “IoT in predictive maintenance is essential for industrial SMBs looking to improve productivity and safeguard products, enhancing the customer experience through proactive and predictive maintenance.”

While IoT in manufacturing has many tactical use cases, it can be a strategic investment for companies looking to improve operations continuously, meet sustainability objectives, and target other competitive differentiators.

“Adoption is essential as industrial manufacturers are closely considering where their materials come from and how they meet ESG measures in industrial equipment production,” adds Israel. “IoT offers data that improves reporting and identification of inefficiencies or errors in the manufacturing process - addressing problems before they result in larger business concerns.”

5. Unify data on operations and supply chain

Construction companies struggle with getting up-to-date work-in-progress (WIP) reports. Calculating project profitability and using actual costs to improve estimates remain challenging for many construction companies. A starting point is to unify ERP, project, scheduling, and building information modeling (BIM) data while developing new analytics capabilities.

The data challenge for manufacturing companies is around their supply chains.   

“The use of technology that automates and unifies data and processes for visibility and analysis is essential for SMBs in manufacturing and production, specifically when considering supply chain,” says Anders Lillevik, CEO & Founder of Focal Point. “Considering the push toward ESG and DE&I standards and compliance, coupled with increased supply chain disruptions due to geopolitical conflicts and shortages, this technology is essential for manufacturers sourcing materials across the globe.”

Unifying data is key to enabling citizen data science, developing machine learning predictive models, and experimenting with generative AI.

Address the culture while investing POCs

White Paper on 13 Ways to Ease Adoption and Improve Experiences Investing in a POC is not the real challenge, as many technology service companies are willing to partner with SMBs in manufacturing and construction. The harder part is defining an impactful problem statement, expressing its potential business value, identifying the POC’s success criteria, and drafting a vision statement to align executives and employees.

That’s the job of Digital Trailblazers, who lead digital transformation initiatives from planning to change management and through continuous improvements. Construction and manufacturing companies need Digital Trailblazers to lead transformation programs, collaborate across the organization, and connect architectures spanning operational technology (OT) and IT.  

Isaac Sacolick
Join us for a future session of Coffee with Digital Trailblazers, where we discuss topics for aspiring transformation leaders. If you enjoy my thought leadership, please sign up for the Driving Digital Newsletter and read all about my transformation stories in Digital Trailblazer.

Coffee with Digital Trailblazers hosted by Isaac Sacolick Digital Trailblazers!  Join us Fridays at 11am ET for a live audio discussion on digital transformation topics:  innovation, product management, agile, DevOps, data governance, and more!

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.