Metals companies: Bring people to the center of digital transformation

Tony Barnes
| 9/21/2022
Metals companies: Bring people to the center of digital transformation

Technologies like cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) are being used to transform how metals companies do business. At Crowe, we call this digital transformation Metals 4.0.

In our annual technology in metals survey, 53% of respondents indicated AI, internet of things (IoT), and/or data science are now being used at their companies, and 69% of respondents said they are implementing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or upgrading an existing one.

But it’s not all smooth sailing into the era of digitization.

In the same survey, respondents expressed concern about a growing challenge: adoption uncertainty.

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Technology does not guarantee success.

Technology does not guarantee success - if people are not at the center of change, technology quickly can become a costly and painful investment.

It takes buy-in at multiple levels, from leadership through individual project participants, to collectively deliver a successful implementation and adoption of technology. Even with the most innovative technology, if people are not at the center of change, technology quickly can become a costly and painful investment.

Metals companies can help alleviate adoption uncertainty in their technology investment areas with these five ways of bringing people to the center of change.

1. Get buy-in from leadership on digital investments

Get buy-in from leadership on digital investments

Metals leaders are optimistic about the return on investment (ROI) of digital investments, with nearly nine in 10 of those surveyed saying they believe they will start to see dividends in five years or less. However, a problem they face is gaining buy-in from key stakeholders. After all, digital transformation comes at a cost, and astute leaders need to understand how technology can help build sustainability and increase the bottom line.

Gain buy-in from leadership by demonstrating how an investment will bring tangible results. Here are three questions top-level leaders might be asking:

  • How will digital transformation support our business objectives and outcomes?
  • How can technology investment transform customer, vendor, and employee experience?
  • How can the company measure and report on all digital technology investment outcomes?

Being prepared to answer these critical questions and clearly show how technology can build a sustainable future is essential to gaining buy-in at the top.

2. Overcome adoption uncertainty with organizational change management

Organizational change management often is a challenge to digital transformation. But an effective change management plan with a defined process can improve adoption and increase ROI.

The first steps of effective change management are to collaborate with key stakeholders, communicate the change's scope, and provide structure to sustain the main objectives. From there, it’s essential to customize a plan based on the metals company's culture while also identifying processes, roles, and constraints. Finally, with a clear plan, it’s essential to communicate to leaders, who can carry the plan to the shop floor level.

Resistance will always play a role, even with buy-in from the top and a clear plan. That’s expected, but metals companies can identify employees who can become change champions. Their role will be to discuss, embrace, and sustain the change. Finally, regular communication at every level is needed to keep everyone aligned.

3. Make people the first line of cyberdefense

According to the technology in metals survey results, cybersecurity has been the number one risk for metals companies for the past three years, and the percentage of metals leaders expressing concern has increased each year. With ransomware and phishing scams becoming more commonplace and cyberattackers targeting the manufacturing industry, the growing concern is understandable.

While modern ERP systems like Microsoft Dynamics 365™ offer cybersecurity monitoring and are backed by the expertise of a dedicated team, an important factor can’t be overlooked: people. An employee’s poor decision or innocent human error can expose a company to a painful, costly cyberattack.

Because of this reality, it’s critical to give people training on the latest trends and tactics of cyberattackers and offer them a set of best practices to help them proactively protect the company. Make training practical and relevant to the individual, and keep it front of mind by offering it regularly in bite-size training sessions and communications.

4. Invest in modern technology to delight employees and customers

Invest in modern technology to delight employees and customers - If people don’t have the tools to delight customers, job satisfaction and retention will suffer.

Customer expectations are increasing and continuing to drive the need for online portals and e-commerce. They expect instant access to information, quick order functionality, and automated communication to keep them informed. Yet, despite these expectations, 45% of metals companies' executives say they have no plans to offer their products via e-commerce.

With a year-over-year increase of more than 30% of customers requesting or requiring an online portal, metals companies that choose not to deliver products through these channels could frustrate customers and stand to lose market share.

But it’s not only customers who could be frustrated – it’s employees, too. For example, salespeople need to know what’s in stock at any given time and a portal to offer real-time detail and automated updates. If people don’t have the tools to delight customers, job satisfaction and retention will suffer.

So, if a metals company wants to meet customers right where they are, it should look for solutions that offer a customer portal and e-commerce options. This will delight customers and employees at the same time.

5. Develop a road map for emerging technologies

Develop a road map for emerging technologies - simply put, don't choose technology for technology's sake.

This year's survey saw a large increase in support for emerging technologies from metals leaders. At the same time, employees are becoming more comfortable using new technology to improve efficiency, cut costs, and enhance their user experience. Even so, a word of caution for metals companies looking to invest in the future: Simply put, don’t choose technology for technology’s sake.

Instead, a company should invest in technology that supports its specific business plan. A strategic way to do this is to develop a technology road map that’s aligned with the company’s growth objectives. At the same time, objectives might change, so the road map should be able to change with them.

Finally, when creating a road map, the company should take time to bring people to the center of change. It can start by identifying key stakeholders across the company who can give input into the technology needs and collaborate on priorities and timing.

Let us help you bring people to the center of digital transformation.

Crowe is a technology and consulting firm that combines deep industry and specialized expertise with innovation. With decades of experience in the metals industry and the development of metals-specific technologies like Crowe Metals Accelerator for Microsoft Dynamics 365, we can help you grow your metals company.

Download a copy of the full 2022 technology in metals survey results today or schedule a quick call with one of our digital transformation specialists. We’re here to help you.

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Tony Barnes
Tony Barnes
Principal, Microsoft Cloud Solutions Leader