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Success (and failure) in Industrial Digital Transformation Projects












We all want our investments and projects to succeed particularly with emerging digital, data driven, investments. Regularly folk ask “how can we identify projects that will succeed from those that will fail?”, “How do I know this project will produce the outcomes?” Fair questions that need simple answers but perhaps the answers that are hard to hear as we seek the magical catalyst for innovation in our businesses.

Many transformation projects are typically led by a vision of the new state and it is very easy to get absorbed by the beauty of the project, not seeing if the project delivers significant and sustainable benefits. In the early days of commercial mobile workforce automation apps the major issue was not creation and deployment but sustaining the applications. The visionaries had moved onto the next project and the transformational app was no longer supported. As a result most managers knew that ‘mobile e-services’ was a waste of money. So, with new technologies, like IoT and AI, driving digitization how can the pitfalls be avoided. The answer is more governance and process than technology.

In an enterprise the primary person who knows how data works, and should work, in your business is your employees including yourself. At a high level the key apps for each vertical are known – CRM, BSS, ERP, OSS, and Network in telecom; CRM, ERP, PLM, MES, SCADA/PLC, and Historians in manufacturing. (Acronym list at the end.) The interaction of the apps and the data flows are well known and around the core business apps lie many supporting applications enhancing the data value. Initially digitization may simply be better integration of theses apps and subsequently extends into better human interactions and better resource management, improved quality, increased agility, etc. This requires imagination around what data do I have, what data might I be able to collect and how can I work with all this data to produce business insights I can use. Such imagination requires time and unconstrained thinking.

Don’t start thinking from the technology, it is a constraint, but rather start from what the numbers may be able to tell you. What if you add some new IoT measurements to collect new data from a manufacturing process, what new insights will appear. Going one step further, think about how data can be used to see/measure top line business KPI that appear in the company strategy. The value of a transformation project can be expressed in achieving these KPI goals and can even be used to quickly filter in (or out) a technology led proposal. Even better KPI goals express the problem the technologists need to solve – not in technology terms but in business value. Set the right challenge.

In most enterprises the plans to achieve KPIs is seen as a set of initiatives which may have their own KPIs related to enterprise KPIs. Initiatives will further decompose into the objectives of individuals. This logical KPI roll down to individual objectives sets the right questions that will cause innovation. Innovation that is very different from so many bottom up ‘interesting’ technology projects.  

In addition to logical KPI roll down there are two additional essential steps; Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and trusted foundations.

Minimum Viable Product is, as the name suggests, the bare bones of a solution. It does the core function and very little else. On day one there are not an extensive list of options (maybe zero) and on day one some functionality of a final system will be missing. While, as there will be essential hidden structural work, MVP does not quite obey an 80:20 Pareto principle the idea is a good analogy that shows how MVP brings simplicity to reduce cost and time to first release and builds commercial learning fast. It fits naturally with agile Dev Ops practices.

Working with data is about the apps and what they do. Everything else is secondary but to ensure a full focus by a business on the data and apps the foundations must be trusted. This is the role of a Hybrid IT strategy, like HPE’s, where the right trusted, secure hosting can be identified and deployed. From cloud to data centre to edge HPE has the essential portfolio of products and services. Including cloud like consumption models outside of cloud.

Why then are the answers hard to hear? Logical KPI roll down, MVP methodology and trusted foundations are not the gifted insight of your business. Their role is to free your brain to think about your business use of data. You know your business. You know your KPI. HPE knows trusted Hybrid IT foundations. With a tighter focus on your business problem then following your data through your processes and having the time for unconstrained imagination innovation in process and business will happen.


  • BSS - Billing Support System
  • CRM – Customer Relationship Management
  • ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning
  • MES – Manufacturing Execution System (Part of Manufacturing Operations Management)
  • OSS – Operations Support System(s)
  • PLC – Programmable Logic Controller
  • PLM – Product Lifecycle Management
  • SCADA – Supervisory Control And Data Aquisition

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Colin I'Anson
HPE Fellow
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Twitter: @MYM12D
LinkedIn:  colinianson

Colin I'Anson
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About the Author


Digitization, IoT, Telecom, Manufacturing, Cloud


I very much agree with your point about ensuring you have a business benefit to focus on, and not being "eternal prototypers".

Last month, McKinsey created a blog post detailing research they have done that shows that "digital reinventors are pulling away from the pack". The overall message is in the title - but they note that some people are becoming eternal prototypers, never delivering any business value. Exactly the point you make. 


I couldnt agree more.

Here is the true pearl of wisdom from the article:

"express the problem the technologists need to solve – not in technology terms but in business value. Set the right challenge."

Communication is very important, and even more important is having the right problem to solve. That is a main component of getting things done in technology and manufacturing. Especially when it comes down to selling an idea across the board!


We know this first hand! At 1X Technologies we manufacture electrical and electronic cable for the industrial markets. Communicating this value is essential to getting the job done right every time. Defining the problem in terms of business value is KEY

Kudos on the post, great work..