There is now no stopping the digital transformation, which is allowing industrial value chains in particular to exploit trends such as Industry 4.0 as well as new business models. What can an IT service provider do to give its customers the best possible support in all of this? Uwe Bergmann, Chief Executive Officer of the COSMO CONSULT-Group, has the answer.
In a few years’ time, says Gartner, 50% of all IT investment will be spent on integration. But haven’t we already found our silver bullet in a wide range of ERP programs with all the features anyone could want?
Gartner is proclaiming the postmodern age of ERP, which means more or less an end to the costly traditional ERP systems that are often inflexible to run and difficult to update due to a great many modifications. Although the familiar on-premise ERP system will remain at the heart of operations, it will be connected up to numerous other systems running HR, CRM or marketing applications. And IT managers will find orchestrating all these systems to be one of their biggest tasks. The CIO’s role is morphing from screwing hard drives into hardware boxes into designing new products and services for the future as a key strategic partner sat at the CEO’s right hand.
A lot of commercial activity will also be transacted between machines in the future. I tell my mobile phone to buy me a computer from the cheapest provider. Siri then picks a supplier and places my order. But what does that mean for the technology that I need to provide the seller with? That’s what we’re looking into nowadays in order to see what we can give our customers so that they have the right tools at the right time to keep on being successful. Because, of course, our success depends ultimately on that of our customers.
What role will digital transformation play as we approach our digital future?
Essentially, digital transformation means using digital processes to handle the many things that I do at work or at home: how do I do my shopping, how do I pay, how do I settle up, how do I communicate, how do I edit documents? And – the key word here being collaboration – how do I work together with others? How do I process, save and share information? As it did last year with its “Digitale Baustelle” digital construction site, COSMO CONSULT has once again been awarded the “INNOVATIONSPREIS- IT” award by Initiative Mittelstand, this year for its new “cc|digital project” scenario. COSMO CONSULT has thus received one of the leading accolades in the IT sector for an Industry 4.0 solution for an impressive second time in a row. We succeeded in expanding the focus to cover the manufacturing industry too, not least by undertaking research and development activities in a network of partners together with some high-profile companies. The digitised processes and applications thus appeal as much to traditional plant engineers as they do to industrial SMEs and any company that handles their products throughout their entire lifecycles and that is looking to offer corresponding product-specific solutions, e.g. as part of new business models.
Many other pieces of digital information are useful when it comes to analysing, forecasting and planning ahead. And the information has to be digital, because analogue processing would be out of the question. In other words, digitalisation is a prerequisite for using numerous data sources such as marketing interfaces on social networks, which you can use to optimise your products and services. We want to support all these various business processes, providing advice as well. That is where we feel we as a consulting firm add the most value.
And is this already happening in practice?
Of course. We offer our customers solutions that enable them to actually bring the digital transformation into their companies. We provide the tools, we provide the advice, we provide the technologies. It’s now possible to start implementing this topic gradually. We’re currently delivering Industry 4.0 and IoT projects together with partners including Fraunhofer IFF and leading companies like Bosch. These include projects such as the digital construction site and shutdown management for a major refinery. These are solutions that we’ve since expanded to cover the entire industrial value chain – and that, as it happens, we’ll be showcasing at the Hannover Messe.
Downtime means lost production. So it needs to be utilised in a highly efficient way. This is where a modern shutdown management system comes in. The law prescribes regular inspections for technical systems. With large-scale projects, up to 5,000 people from many different companies and all manner of trades could be employed on a construction site during a period of downtime. “In such a case, it’s primarily a question of guaranteeing maximum availability for a system or subsystem on time, within budget and with the highest possible level of quality and safety,” says Udo Ramin, Managing Director of COSMO CONSULT TIC GmbH in Magdeburg, explaining the objectives. Over the past few years, therefore, efforts have focused chiefly on planning downtime and performing detailed digital engineering. However, anyone that marches onto a construction site armed with some well-planned high-end engineering nowadays will be in for a shock, because the building sites of today are still governed by the chaos of the paper trail. Nevertheless, this gives rise to massive potential in the form of unproductive working time of between 30 and 40 per cent.
One of the many key issues of recent years has been mobile feedback – in other words, the idea that you can bring planning figures from digital engineering onto your building site and make them available on the go, i.e. via the Internet, putting this data on to a smartphone or tablet. Mobile assistance systems are also extremely effective, such as mobile plant or safety training instead of the traditional method at the factory gates. Site logistics is another focus. However, this means that the construction site itself needs to be digitised. It would make sense to have a digital map that presents the site in visual form and enables a distinction to be made between storage areas, danger zones and transport routes.
Useful to big and small
As far as COSMO CONSULT was concerned, therefore, the first key step was to digitise the construction site, i.e. produce the digital map. It allows the planning and simulation of scenarios that cannot even be attempted using conventional methods. Making infrastructure available is also important, which is why a network of partners has now been set up that includes companies like Bosch and Microsoft alongside COSMO CONSULT and Fraunhofer IFF in Magdeburg. And although the partnership primarily deals with large-scale projects, downtime of this kind is essentially nothing more than a construction site for a plant engineering project. For this reason, COSMO CONSULT has developed a platform for SMEs that allows smaller projects of this kind to be handled as well and on which the modules from the largescale projects are connected with ERP features. This makes the solution practicable, especially for the many SMEs involved. As he sums up, Udo Ramin is convinced: “The vast majority of engineering is done digitally these days. So the main challenge lies in digital transformation and how it can best be exploited right across the board.”