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Healing Digital Transformation Pain Points

June 21, 2023
Honeywell Users Group participants from process industries discuss the key challenges they face in their digitalization efforts.

ORLANDO – Faith healers and shamans aside, true medical professionals can’t promise to cure everything. Penicillin might fix your ear infection but won’t do anything for your arthritis. Like medicine, the implementation of digital technologies should be prescriptive, says Dhari Al-Ajmi, OT cybersecurity administrator for Equate Petrochemical Co. in Kuwait.

Al-Ajmi was among dozens of attendees who participated in a roundtable discussion on overcoming digital transformation barriers in process industries at the 2023 Honeywell Users Group conference in Orlando, Florida, June 20. The breakout discussion was led by Dave Medina, chief marketing officer for Sparta Systems.

“We look at it like going to the doctor,” Al-Ajmi says. “You get an assessment and based on your pain points, you are prescribed medications.”

Digitalization strategies must be prescriptive, he adds. Don’t look to implement every solution. Al-Ajmi and other attendees offered an honest evaluation of the challenges they observe in their organizations’ Industry 4.0 programs.

Some common concerns and themes that developed during the discussion included:

  • What does digitalization really mean? Is there a common understanding across the organization?
  • How do you minimize operational disruptions during a digital transformation?
  • Should IT or OT lead the transformation?
  • How do you demonstrate value to get all stakeholders on board?

The objectives of the digital transformation should be clearly defined to demonstrate value across the organization, Al-Amji says.

“As a petrochemical company our transformation would have to be safety, reliability, productivity. Something that makes sense to us, and cybersecurity, as well,” he says.

Al-Amji says that all of these initiatives are driven by the top but a bigger question remains as to which department within the organization should lead the implementation. “This is one of the key barriers we face,” he adds.

One participant commented that the size of his organization presents scalability issues for digital initiatives. The company has been growing through acquisitions, which makes rip and replace technologies costly and employee training a major undertaking.

Finding people to maintain new systems as they’re added to the digital footprint is another challenges organizations must address, Al-Amji remarked.

Another participant recommended that organizations start with smaller projects before embarking on large-scale initiatives to make them more manageable and gain buy-in from the top down.

“My advice would be, if you’re moving a lot of data, don’t make that your first priority,” she said. Instead, take on more targeted projects and demonstrate small wins and gain buy-in for larger deployments.

She also remarked that a roadmap outlining milestones and goals is important to avoid change fatigue. She said at her company, leadership also talked about the support systems they would have in place, including assistance from their vendor.

Senior leadership needs to explain what the change will mean for the organization. Otherwise, the meaning can get lost in translation.

As another roundtable attendee remarked, “In absence of the truth, people will make up their own.”

About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Executive Editor

Jonathan Katz, executive editor, brings nearly two decades of experience as a B2B journalist to Chemical Processing magazine. He has expertise on a wide range of industrial topics. Jon previously served as the managing editor for IndustryWeek magazine and, most recently, as a freelance writer specializing in content marketing for the manufacturing sector.

His knowledge areas include industrial safety, environmental compliance/sustainability, lean manufacturing/continuous improvement, Industry 4.0/automation and many other topics of interest to the Chemical Processing audience.

When he’s not working, Jon enjoys fishing, hiking and music, including a small but growing vinyl collection.

Jon resides in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

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