Orientation in the Jungle of Digital Technologies

Process industry experts agree that the smart factory cannot become a reality without smart maintenance. But what exactly is ‘smart maintenance’ and what prerequisites does it require in asset-intensive companies? And most importantly, which of the numerous technologies really promise a benefit? To find out, T.A. Cook has developed a ‘Digital Visioning Workshop’, in which the consultants and client work together to determine which digital applications can sustainably support the achievement of individual company goals.


In times of economic challenges and the general development towards Industry 4.0, maintenance plays an important role. This is particularly true for asset-intensive companies and those operations that want to act ‘intelligently’ as a smart factory in the future. Smart maintenance pursues the goal of maximizing the technical effectiveness and economic efficiency of maintenance measures and thus minimizing costs. Smart maintenance promises shorter downtimes and increased asset availability, especially in view of the constantly increasing productivity in companies. However, to make a successful move towards smart maintenance possible, companies must ensure that old ‘silo thinking’ is removed. In concrete terms, production and maintenance should work and plan closely together. “However, the reality we observe in many companies looks different,” explains Markus Lewerenz, Principal at T.A. Cook. “The first step toward smart maintenance therefore means, not least, the emancipation of maintenance from cost center to value creator.”

Investing in digital technologies pays off - if done correctly

If you delve deeper into the discussion about smart maintenance, buzzwords like big data, sensor-based maintenance, digital twins or machine learning quickly come up. The bottom line of all these approaches is that employees have more access to data, which enables them to identify, evaluate and proactively address or prevent potential disruptions in advance. Sounds promising? It is! But then why, according to recent studies, is there still a large gap between the digital and analog worlds at many companies? “Our experience shows that many find it difficult to make their way through the jungle of digital offerings and to decide which investments will really pay off in the end,” explains Markus Lewerenz, who has been supporting a leading chemical company in the implementation of an extensive digitalization project for three years.

This is precisely why it is important to clarify the following fundamental questions in advance.

Which digital applications and solutions:

> lead to safer plant operations?

> enable cost reductions?

> promise optimum plant availability or availability in line with requirements?

T.A. Cook developed the ‘Digital Visioning Workshop’ to directly answer these questions. In this workshop, a company-specific approach is developed on how maintenance could be digitized within three to five years. The trend analysis tool ‘Amble’ is also used, with which T.A. Cook analyzes current mega and macro trends and records suitable application examples. In addition, the experience of the company’s own experts and consultants, who have been supporting customer projects in the chemical, oil, gas, petrochemical or other asset-intensive industries for decades, also flows into the trend research or the evaluation of the trends. “For every trend we look at, we tap into three key criteria: How high is the expected economic benefit, how long does the implementation take, and how high is the probability of a successful introduction of the new technology,” Markus Lewerenz explains.

If you look at the current macro trend ‘Mobile Working’, for example, you could initially claim that it is a pure no-brainer. After all, mobile applications are increasingly helping companies deploy their maintenance engineers and technicians as optimally as possible. Because mobile technologies give them access to critical plant data in real-time in the field, they can also react more quickly to any deviations that are detected and plan jobs effectively themselves. Employees can retrieve information about the work being performed, record hours worked and parts used. Likewise, they can report that the technician’s work is complete, enter work orders, register minor repairs, add photos and signatures, or send emails, to name just a few of the many features. These are all benefits that can ultimately lead to increased productivity, improved data quality, and more efficient and thus cost-saving processes.

But the reality in most companies looks completely different. Either there is no awareness of the associated benefits, there is too much focus on technological implementation, or the technical prerequisites must be created in the first place. Because “although the technical maturity of many applications is relatively high and many established applications are already in use, we often find in practice that the implementation success is surprisingly low. One reason for this is that employees are not consistently involved in the transformation process right from the start,” explains Markus Lewerenz. Additionally, implementation of these new technologies may require new training requirements for existing employees and new hires. If a company wants to take advantage of the ‘mobile working’ macrotrend and give its own employees new technical options, the implementation should ideally take place during a classic change management project. Companies should develop an understanding that the technologies to be used are only part of the necessary development process toward mobile maintenance. The empowerment of employees is critical to the adaptation and digitization of processes. After all, what good are the best technologies if no one can use them in the end?

With the help of ‘Amble’

With the help of the trend analysis tool ‘Amble’, current mega and macro trends are analyzed, and suitable application examples are recorded. The experience of T.A. Cook experts and consultants is also incorporated into the research and evaluation of trends. Three key criteria are applied to each trend: The level of expected economic benefit, the duration of implementation and the probability of successful introduction of the new technology.

Digital Visioning Workshop – with a clearly defined roadmap to digital success

Not all technologies currently on the market are suitable for every company and bring the desired benefits. It is therefore important to take a structured approach, setting clear goals from the outset. A realistic assessment of feasibility must also take place before transformative processes are even initiated. And this is precisely where the ‘Digital Visioning Workshop’ comes in. The primary goal of this workshop is to provide an initial orientation and set rough guidelines for further action, before the implementation of concrete details can begin, such as budget planning and the realization of the digitization strategy, including the implementation of all the necessary technology solutions.

“As part of our ‘Digital Visioning Workshop’ we bring various stakeholders together to first (1) jointly identify the acute ‘problems’ and, building on this, (2) define clear digitization goals,” explains Markus Lewerenz. In the next step, (3) relevant application solutions, or concrete application examples that are already being used successfully by other companies to achieve the respective goal, are collected with the help of the trend analysis tool ‘Amble’ (4) Together with the workshop participants, the various application solutions are clustered and assigned to strategically relevant topics. (5) The clusters are then assessed regarding their individual advantages and disadvantages and evaluated in terms of their relevance for the digitization goals to be achieved. In this way, not only can the most important strategic topics be identified, but concrete recommendations can also be derived. Key among these recommendations is which trends a company should only observe for the time being or which measures it should actively pursue. The result of the workshop is thus a clearly formulated vision that is presented to all those involved in the transformation process to create the necessary acceptance for planned changes.

Following the ‘Digital Visioning Workshop’, management can use a Digital Maturity Assessment (DMA) to check what is needed to successfully implement the digitization strategy that has been developed. Let’s take the development of a digital twin as an example. Interviews, workshops and data analyses are used to analyze which prerequisites must be created to achieve this vision, which are already fulfilled and what is still needed to implement the digital twin. In concrete terms, has all plant data has been digitized? Is there a uniform data model? Is the data all up to date? If major discrepancies are identified when answering all these questions, must concrete measures to eliminate these problems be included in the implementation plan? Asking these questions will reveal the hurdles that still need to be overcome, the costs that need to be budgeted for, and the likelihood of successfully implementing the planned digitization initiative.

The Digital Visioning Toolbox

The Digital Visioning Toolbox is a collection of methods for digitization strategies in the field of maintenance and turnaround management. It consists of a collection of cards on approx. 20 typical problems, 15 digitization objectives, 6 mega-trends and approx. 40 macro-trends as well as 50 associated application solutions. With the help of the Digital Visioning Toolbox, you can moderate the internal process for developing a company-specific digital maintenance.

Conclusion: The successful implementation of a digitization strategy requires clear goals

In some respects, every digital transformation process can be interpreted as an entrepreneurial journey. Those who do not set clear goals may get nowhere. It is far more efficient to build up one’s own digitalization strategy based on concrete ideas and to clearly communicate the goals to be achieved along with the measures required to achieve them. This not only increases acceptance within the entire workforce, but the actual goal and the associated benefits also become tangible for everyone involved. A modern company can therefore only successfully develop into a ‘smart factory’ if it also takes a correspondingly smart approach to the planned digitization. A first step in this direction would be a ‘Digital Visioning Workshop’ and the use of the trend analysis tool ‘Amble’ from T.A. Cook.

Markus Lewerenz, Principal at T.A. Cook, has over 10 years of experience in strategic and operational consulting for clients in the process industry. As a specialist in Change Management and Operational Excellence he supports companies with development and management of global transformation programs. He holds a degree in business administration with a specialization in production management. After stops in London and Shanghai he now manages a long-term digitization program for a leading chemical company.


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