Data Analytics Gains Acceptance

Dec. 31, 2019
A variety of techniques helped overcome people issues

In manufacturing, we are bombarded almost daily with messages extolling the benefits of using data analytics to improve our productivity or efficiency. The number and variety of tools is overwhelming. Each type has its own set of strengths and weaknesses and, as a result, a sub-industry has developed to help organizations select the right tool(s) for their application. This conversation typically centers on the technology — namely, getting the right technological fit. That fit certainly is important but it’s also crucial to win over the people the new technology is meant to help. After all, the best technology won’t provide the desired return on investment if it’s not adopted. Adoption requires a culture change, as many have pointed out, e.g., “Industrial Culture Change in Digital Transformation”).

At Dow Chemical, we’ve actively pursued the application of analytics for enterprise manufacturing intelligence since 2012. We currently have successful deployments in a variety of manufacturing environments. These deployments bring change in the way we look at data, make decisions and even go about our day. Change can be frightening. Abrupt or widespread change can make people defensive and reluctant or resistant to the change. A survey conducted by Chemical Processing’s sister publication Smart Industry showed that industry professionals see talent and human resources as the key obstacles to digital transformation (“Time to Level Up”).

Talent and human resources refer not only to technical skills but also to resistance to change. Providing additional technical training will be necessary, but to fully overcome this challenge requires addressing resistance to change. Sometimes, it’s possible to leave dealing with the people who are resistant to change for later and move forward with those who are eager. However, sometimes you must include the reluctant people from the onset. Indeed, because the use of analytics is expected to deliver substantial value to the bottom line if an organization can grasp the opportunity and democratize analytics (see: “Data as jet fuel: An interview with Boeing’s CIO,” McKinsey Quarterly), many companies are anxious to implement analytics efforts right away. Helping reluctant people move through their resistance to adoption is critical to success.

Our Experience

So, here, let me share some lessons about adoption and change that we’ve learned at Dow Chemical on our enterprise manufacturing intelligence journey.

First, you must realize that you will hit speed bumps while bringing change to an organization. It’s important to understand them and recognize that they are real. Acknowledging their existence allows you to address them.

Some of the speed bumps we’ve encountered include:

• Not invented here (NIH) syndrome. Some people consider outside initiatives suspect and only will accept internal initiatives. This could result from having poor experiences with previous external initiatives, a lack of trust in anyone not in the organization or an honest misunderstanding of the situation. NIH syndrome sounds like: “Our situation is different.” “We have our own thing we designed and built. We don’t need something else.”

• If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. On the surface, this seems reasonable. Why spend time on something that appears to be working? The answer is because it could be working better — and better is the direction we must head to achieve a step change in performance.

• The “flavor” of the month. This hurdle is insidious. It can look like adoption when, in reality, people just are “going through the motions” until the project is considered complete. At that point, everything reverts back to the way it was before and no sustainable gains result. You often can recognize this by a lack of enthusiasm or general apathy towards the end of the project because there’s no real acceptance or buy-in.

• I don’t want to pay for that. A new initiative often comes with a price tag and, until the benefit and value of the initiative are understood, paying for it is a low priority. (In our experience, it’s atypical for an initiative to have its own funding.) Everyone has a budget and nearly everyone will say they have no unaccounted-for funds. So, asking someone to pay for something for which they don’t understand the benefit and value can be an uphill battle.

These (and other) speed bumps are real. However, you can mitigate or manage them. Mitigation requires additional time and effort but the effort helps smooth the path of change and is well worth the additional investment in the long run.

Dealing With Speed Bumps

We’ve found several mitigation activities useful. Let’s look at seven key ones.

1. Try before you buy. Allowing people the chance to adopt the new system for a reasonable period of time before purchasing it provides them an opportunity to see how it performs for their specific situation. Once people use and see the benefit from the system, they want to keep it. Doing this will likely call for an upfront investment in time to get everything set up; however, if the clients have a positive experience, that investment is worthwhile. In addition, this approach also requires someone to carry the cost burden until it can be passed to clients who “buy.”

2. Develop a business-wide strategy. There’s comfort in numbers. Many people can better understand the reason for change if they see that it’s part of a broader strategy. Those people more willing to “go first” can be early adopters; those who are more reluctant will benefit from lessons learned and from seeing the successes realized by early adopters. A business-wide strategy allows people to more easily envision the goal and the steps they need to take to get there.

3. Collect and share testimonials from happy clients. Companies provide the opportunity for customers to review products online for a reason. Positive reviews from current users are strong inducements to others who are considering purchasing a product. The same is true of Industry 4.0 changes. Hearing stories and anecdotes from colleagues and coworkers about how the initiatives positively impacted their working lives makes people more receptive to embracing the initiatives. It also gives people a clearer sense of how the initiative will affect them. They can envision themselves in a similar situation.

4. Recognize the need for culture change and become conversant. Industry 4.0 promises to create widespread change and transform the face of manufacturing just as the Industrial Revolution did. Recognizing the depth and breadth of this change is important to bring about successful adoption. To be successful, we can learn from social scientists, psychologists and anthropologists who study how humans approach and respond to change. From their research, we can learn which approaches work better and then use those approaches to ease the adoption process. A variety of education programs are designed to help people learn to lead others through change. Investing in such training is a good idea but also take advantage of the practices described here that we’ve found helpful.

5. Provide top-down leadership support and set expectations. It’s important for people to know they have support from their organizational leadership. It’s also essential they understand their leadership’s expectations. Are different behaviors expected? Different decisions? What metrics will be monitored? Communicating the answers to these questions is crucial. (For a detailed discussion of the importance of communicating upper-level leadership support and expectations, see “Competing on Analytics” by Davenport and Harris.)

6. Find ways to create acceptance and buy-in. People who are asking for change more willingly will accept it than people who feel the change is being forced upon them. The “try before you buy” idea discussed above is one way to create acceptance. Having and communicating a business-wide plan also helps spur acceptance and buy-in.

7. Begin with a small-scale pilot. Find some early adopters who are willing to participate in simple projects with limited scope. Go after “low-hanging fruit” for some quick wins and then share the successful outcome from the pilot projects. This helps other people see how their lives can be transformed, too, and can help create a desire for the change.

Proceed Wisely

We’ve found that it’s important to articulate the outcome aimed for with our Industry 4.0 initiatives. In the same way a business-wide strategy aids buy-in, so, too, does a clear statement of the specific outcome sought. You must communicate what you want to achieve frequently and use a variety of communication channels. These communication channels should include the opportunity for face-to-face interactions (people with their leaders) as well as a portal for those seeking information on-demand in their own time. People ingest information in different timeframes and manners. So effective communication requires using a variety of methods to match the ways people absorb information. A company-wide blast email each quarter or a presentation to shareholders isn’t enough.

And, finally, we’ve learned that it’s a good idea to have a plan for managing the help that upper-level leadership will provide. Sometimes this help comes as additional resources. What will you do with them? How will you use these extra resources to have a quick impact? Or it may be help in selecting a vendor to work with or a technology to adopt. Will you drop everything you’re doing and redirect resources to this new vendor or technology? We’ve learned that having a plan to follow when we must respond quickly in this situation is useful.

Change is inevitable; it likely won’t end with Industry 4.0. We must learn to manage change efficiently and thoughtfully in our workplaces. We must become more adept at leading change within our workplaces and organizations, so that adoption comes about more easily.

MICHELL BEESON, PhD, is the leader of the Manufacturing Analytics team of Dow Chemical, located at Plaquemine, La. Email her at [email protected].

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