How did you get to become an expert in your key topics?
Growing up in South Yorkshire, school career drivers and expectations were focused on careers in mining. This meant that there was little encouragement for gaining qualifications or professions in other fields. As a child I had an early interest in IT, getting my first computer in 1978 and I enjoyed coding. I remember getting a Saturday job at Dixons as a ‘very young’ salesman selling computers. Few people understood them. Sadly my passion for computers was not encouraged during school, and the resulting impact on my academic performance did not warrant the normal path of university and then a job in IT.
Opportunities in mining were quickly scotched with the 1984 miner’s strike and subsequent pit closures. It was a difficult time with few opportunities, and I do not believe that as school leavers we were ready for it.
I always had an entrepreneurial spirit which, on leaving school, led me to start a small business manufacturing concrete. But, at the same time I took employment managing supermarkets which meant working incredibly long hours. At the age of 19 I was manager of my first store and at the same time had a factory unit producing pre-cast concrete. The hours were long, and it was hard work, but I enjoyed it.
6 years later, I chose to leave work, sell the business, and go to the University of Hull as a mature student, studying Management Systems. I wanted a break, a new start – doing something different. Systems thinking and systems science always resonated with me. Looking at the bigger picture and the relationship/integrations between elements makes complete sense to me and helps me with understanding complexity. Which I consider is an essential skill.
After leaving university I was fortunate to be offered a role working in analytics and an ERP implementation which I grabbed with both hands. This proved to be of immense value, mapping the integration of business departments, operations, and processes working in all sectors. PwC were quick to offer me a role as an Oracle ERP consultant, a natural progression. Again, this led to lots of new experiences and learnings across all sectors. I joined IBM through their acquisition of PwC in 2003 and continued in the Oracle ERP space leading the IBM Oracle capability for many years.
In 2015 I was asked if I fancied a role on a pioneering project looking at Industry 4.0 and factories of the future. I jumped at the chance, and have been looking at that area ever since, really enjoying it and manufacturing gives me a buzz.
To me, there are so many similarities between ERP and industry 4.0 so it is a logical move. ERP tends to look at integrating the back office, but Industry 4.0 takes that to the front office – broadening integration. The complexity moves from a complexity of scale to complexity of volume, veracity, and variety – which is where Industry 4.0 sits. In technology things never stand still, there is always change. That is what excites me.
What sub-topics are you most passionate about?
I am very passionate about systems thinking, mapping processes, and making sense of really complex things. It is important to see the bigger picture. I am a visual person and like to see thoughts, processes etc as diagrams rather than words. That is probably why I like to use mind-mapping tools to take notes rather than simple text.
I love to solve problems and the excitement of finding new ways of doing things. I must confess that I do not get too excited about pure development work or coding. I prefer to see solutions in operation rather than the code itself. That said, I know enough to understand.
I hate to see short cuts taken without consideration of impact or where there is a neglect in quality. This causes real pain and can be more difficult to resolve later. Thankfully, I have been surrounded by amazing people that work to incredibly high standards and can always trust and rely upon their judgements.
My greatest passion though is in seeing solutions that make a difference and add value wherever that may be.
Who influences you within these topics?
It is true that a long career brings with it lots of experience which influences my thinking. That said, I have been lucky to have worked with such a variety of great clients, systems, projects and individuals which very few people get to experience. I have learnt from all of these and probably more from the failures (why do we remember these more than successes?). I have learnt that I cannot know everything and must rely on others. It’s important to stay close to people that have expertise that I trust and can bounce ideas off.
I am not a big reader and although useful, not a big fan of the ‘pop’ business/management books that are often seen tucked into people’s laptop bags. I do like to listen to the BBC’s Wake Up to Money which I enjoy and believe gives a good view of what is happening in the world of business. I am eternally grateful that it is now broadcast as a podcast as I it makes it far more accessible and saves me annoying my wife by putting the radio on at 5am.
Integration or interfacing technology into industry requires expertise in technology and the domain it is to be deployed. There are certain people in the industrial/engineering space that shape my thinking. Sheffield University’s department for Automatic Control and Systems Engineering (ACSE) has an amazing pool of thinkers and knowledge. The HVM Catapult Centres such as AMRC, MTC and CPI bring forth innovation into industry and never fail to amaze and energise me. And finally, very close colleagues, friends, family, and associates who challenge and influence my ideas and thinking.
What challenges are brands facing in this space?
By looking at the low adoption rates of Industry 4.0 in industry, it is clear that there are issues. I believe that there are several reasons for this. Except for the tier 1 manufacturers, the market is made up of small to medium sized business that do incredible things but have a low level of maturity when it comes to technology enablers in industry 4.0. At the same time, large IT organisations are quick to talk about AI and future technologies but forget that this may be too big a step change for most manufacturers thus potentially losing relevance. The gap between both parties needs to narrow and that needs work from both sides.
Another challenge is with the landscape of legacy machines that work perfectly well but are not digitalised. They are null of data. The generation of data, need for data, and use of data presents big challenges with security, governance, policies, and control. For a manufacturer, this data can hold the recipe for their secret sauce or, be a key anchor stone for decisions and interventions. Such significance brings responsibility, fear, and opportunity. Business cases for investment are difficult with hard to quantify benefits. Sadly, a plethora of proofs of concepts, minimum viable products and trials still struggle to make it into production. This is often because the measure of what success looks like has not been given enough thought, so the business case collapses.
Big positives are the UK’s new innovation strategy, the amazing work that the Catapult Centres do and a growing maturity in the sector. These offer optimism alongside the perfect storm of the pandemic, Brexit, resource/skills shortages, supply chain constraints and an increasing focus on sustainability. The adoption and investment in Industry 4.0 is now accelerating at a pace, and it has to, otherwise we will not overcome these challenges.
What do you think the future holds in this space?
Data, its use, and governance plus connectivity/integration will probably have the biggest impact. What we saw with the digitalisation of the finance sector in the seventies and eighties will see similar levels of innovation in manufacturing.
Higher volumes of quality data in relation to manufacturing activities will deliver better insight into operations, improving decisions and enabling quality with less waste. Skilled duties will be augmented to reduce errors whilst increasing flexibility throughout operations. Easing the burden with skills shortages.
Connectivity and integration across activities will improve flexibility and scheduling. In addition, it will lead to more cooperation and collaboration between manufacturers so, rather than competing, for certain products, there will be collaboration to improve efficiencies. This could include the utilisation of private blockchains to give full visibility and trust.
This increase in data and connectivity brings with it greater responsibility. How this data is used and shared will become a bigger issue and I believe that opinions to this will become stronger, more demanding, and distrustful. This will put ethics and ownership to the fore.
Policy defined architectures will help outline data governance and placement so that data is secure and meets key guidelines be they corporate, legislative, or ethical.
Cloud computing will become the norm but in a hybrid model, putting compute and data where it is needed, whilst exploiting cloud advantages.
Supply chains will shorten, and modular flexible manufacturing will expand.
What brands are leading the way in this space?
If a brand wanted to work with you, which activities would you be most interested in collaborating on?
What are your passions outside of work?
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