Ops 4.0: The Human Factor–A year of lessons from learners and ‘lighthouses’

At the end of 2017, I sat down to write the first post in this blog series. At that time, the operations world was gearing up for a period of major change, driven by the power of new digitally enabled tools and working methods. While companies were understandably excited about the improvement potential offered by big data, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things, I wondered if organizations were ready for the huge changes those technologies would impose on their people.

Did companies understand the implications of Operations 4.0 for job design, skills, and talent? Were they putting the necessary systems and processes in place to identify, develop, and retain the capabilities they would need?

Over the past year, some answers to those questions have begun to emerge, thanks to your feedback to these blog posts and to conversations that my colleagues and I have conducted with hundreds of executives around the world.

The responses to our initial reader poll, for example, revealed that around 50 percent of companies didn’t yet understand the full range of capabilities that their organizations would require over the coming years. And among the rest, the overwhelming majority had not matched future skills requirements against their current talent pool to identify the gaps.

Where companies had thought about future capability shortages, they told us that, while hard technical skills–like those required to build and maintain networks or program advanced automation systems–are important, they are more concerned about the “softer skills.” They worry about shortages of people skilled in managing a transformation, solving problems, and implementing change using lean best practices and agile principles. They see those capabilities becoming increasingly important, given the rapid pace of change and considerable uncertainty that still surrounds the digital revolution.

Worryingly, few companies have concrete plans to close their capability gaps. Only one in ten respondents to another poll on this blog said their organizations had a program in place to develop the talent they know they are going to need.

In the most recent posts, colleagues and I have begun to describe the elements of such a program, drawing on our experience working with companies that have committed to large scale Ops 4.0 transformations. Over the next few months, we’ll continue that effort, and we also want to share some compelling examples of the impact that can be achieved when technology and talent work effectively together – and when employees became relentless learners adopting a growth mindset.

In the meantime, the world has moved on a long a way in a year. A growing number of companies have shown how Operations 4.0 can deliver real value at scale. The nine “lighthouse” factories identified by the World Economic Forum provide compelling examples. Meanwhile, the clouds of economic uncertainty are gathering on the horizon, as trade tensions and political volatility rise across the world. In 2019, that could increase the urgency of transformation efforts, and the importance of the human factor, as companies strive to ramp up productivity and agility in order to better weather any storms that come their way.

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