Manufacturers Size Up Obstacles, Solutions for Digital Transformation

May 10, 2022
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As IT executives in the manufacturing industry emerge from the pandemic, they are looking to continue their digital transformation efforts – perhaps with more urgency than ever. But a survey conducted by DemandScience in collaboration with Comcast Business shows they’re facing challenges that have as much to do with management as with technology, including a misalignment between IT and business strategies, lack of agility in business models, and overworked IT teams.

To be sure, manufacturers face a number of pure technology challenges as well, including bandwidth constraints, overburdened IT systems, obsolete network infrastructure and unreliable internet-based networks. Yet their digital transformation goals rely on a strong IT foundation, including applying technologies to support efforts around Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The challenges survey respondents report should be familiar to any IT exec who has been involved in a large, transformative IT effort. But the good news is none of them are insurmountable. This article will point the way to solutions manufacturers can adopt to help them overcome these challenges and meet their digital transformation goals.

The survey and its findings

Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents (74%) work for companies in the 200 – 4,999-employee range, with the rest at larger companies.

Perhaps it’s good news that only three challenges were cited by a third or more of respondents as holding them back from implementing digital adoption initiatives: misalignment between IT and business strategies; bandwidth constraints; and overburdened IT systems:

  • Misalignment between IT and business strategies – 37%
  • Constrained bandwidth that limits processing loads – 34%
  • Overburdened IT systems – 33%
  • Lack of agility within my employer’s existing business models – 29%
  • Obsolete legacy network infrastructure (software and/or hardware) – 29%
  • Unreliable networks over public internet – 27%
  • Overworked IT teams – 27%

Management-level IT challenges

Less-than-good news, however, is the fact that a number of obstacles reflect management challenges. They include that IT-business misalignment, which was cited by more respondents – 37% – than any other.

Misalignment between IT and business goals can take many forms, but it can sometimes reflect a situation where the business defines a priority but neglects to put IT budget behind the technologies required to deliver on it. If a manufacturer wants to improve the use of analytics for decision-making, for example, it needs to invest in technologies such as AI.

Another management-related challenge is the lack of agility with business models, cited by 29% of respondents. That could well be related to some of the other, more technology focused challenges, most notably “obsolete legacy network infrastructure,” including both hardware and software. It’s hard to be nimble about decision-making and strategy if you don’t have the up-to-date decision-support tools to help, and effective infrastructure on which to run them.

Compounding the problem is overworked IT teams, a challenge cited by 27% of respondents. Overburdened teams, of course, may not be in the best position to deliver the latest tools to the organization.

Cloud computing infrastructure can help address the issues of agility and overworked IT teams. By its nature, cloud infrastructure enables companies to quickly spin up new resources, as well as redeploy or decommission existing ones as demand warrants. And given cloud providers do the heavy lifting in terms of deployment and day-to-day management, cloud infrastructure relieves the burden on in-house IT teams.

Technology challenges in manufacturing

Cloud can also address one of the key technology related challenges manufacturers face on the road to digital transformation: obsolete legacy network infrastructure, cited by 29% of respondents. Cloud providers routinely update their systems such that they are never far removed from the latest hardware and software versions. Manufacturers, then, can be assured infrastructure will not be a gating factor with respect to whatever applications they want to adopt to further their digital goals.

Use of cloud services does, however, require fast, reliable network connections. That may be an issue for the 34% of respondents who report that constrained bandwidth is limiting their processing loads as well as the 27% suffering from unreliable networks over the public internet.

To ensure reliable, high-speed connections inside their facilities, manufacturers can opt for managed WiFi services that can be configured to support both operational technology (OT) needs on the factory floor as well as traditional IT networks in office locations. Opting for a managed service further may help reduce the burden on internal IT staff, freeing them up for more strategic digital transformation projects.

Security threats come to the fore

Just over one-in-five survey respondents said lack of a “defense in depth” security strategy was holding back digital adoption initiatives. Even if others don’t think security is holding them back, it’s clearly an issue among respondents. More than a third (35%) said they plan to soon implement “upgraded security solutions” while just under that number (31%) had already increased security investments.

Attention to security is warranted in a manufacturing environment focused on converging OT and IT environments. Traditional OT networks were closed, virtually self-contained within the walls of a manufacturing facility. Convergence with IT networks opens up OT networks to all the same internet avenues – and threats – that IT networks have long faced.

At the same time, threats such as phishing and ransomware are on the rise. Ransomware attacks increased 25% through November of 2021 vs. the year prior. Indeed, experts at one security firm estimate a ransomware attack occurred once every 11 seconds last year. Another survey found 70% of organizations are seeing an increase in phishing since the pandemic began.

In the face of such threats, it makes good sense to get help from managed security services providers that may be able to support needs such as virtual private networks (VPNs), unified threat management, firewalls and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack detection and mitigation. In addition to providing the peace of mind that professional security teams deliver, going with a managed security service is another way manufacturers may be able to reduce the burden on internal IT systems and teams.

Address IT challenges with the right partner

Manufacturers face numerous obstacles as they emerge from the pandemic and re-energize efforts to digitally transform their businesses. But none of them are insurmountable, especially not in the age of cloud services and with managed service providers offering expert assistance.

Manufacturers need a fast and reliable network to help their facilities maintain daily production flows and smooth supply chain operations. Comcast Business can deliver scalable network security solutions . Learn more at https://business.comcast.com/manufacturing

Manufacturing IT teams face challenges with bandwidth constraints and overburdened IT systems

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