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Revisiting M4.0 Maturity at a Critical Juncture in Innovation 


Fostering digital maturity means building a strategy where tech investments are made to reach specific goals.  

Key Takeaways:

  • While many manufacturers associate digital maturity with investing in AI, that investment alone is not a strategy.
  • Manufacturers must ask themselves a series of key questions about their desired future state, current shortcomings and possible challenges.
  • Continuous progress means supporting change management and evolving strategies to adapt to shifting needs and priorities.


What Is Industry 4.0 Maturity?

Innovation is in manufacturers’ DNA. Technological advancements have enabled the manufacturing industry to increase the speed and complexity of production and remain a primary driver of U.S. economic growth over centuries of change. The printing press enabled the mass production of books. Centuries later, robotic arms allowed manufacturers to assemble thousands of automobiles to exact specifications. Today, advancements in AI are starting to enable manufacturers to engineer better products, improve their decision-making capabilities, glean deeper insights, and automate tasks beyond what was possible before.

Industry 4.0 technologies can help manufacturers gain a better sense of customer needs, boost quality control, improve factory safety, and much more. AI in particular carries promise for businesses to become more agile, efficient, and safe. According to BDO’s 2024 Manufacturing CFO Outlook Survey, 47% of manufacturers will increase investment in AI or machine learning this year. However, investments in AI that are not backed by a business strategy will not guarantee business success, nor do they signify Industry 4.0 maturity.  

To nurture Industry 4.0 maturity, manufacturers need to develop a business strategy where investments in technology are made to reach specific business goals. For example, a more Industry 4.0 mature manufacturer would evaluate how AI could augment their existing Industry 4.0 strategy, and pilot use cases before rolling it out more broadly. A nonstrategic manufacturer would pour resources into expensive AI tools without giving much thought to which goals the tools could achieve.

As competitors tout AI investments, manufacturers are under pressure to keep up and appease stakeholders asking about their own AI investments. To stay competitive, leaders will need to separate AI hype for real growth opportunities. AI can power a growth strategy, but investing in AI alone is not a strategy. Instead, manufacturers should take the opportunity to revisit their Industry 4.0 strategies, assess AI opportunities, and determine their capacity to pivot their approaches.

Developing Industry 4.0 Goals

Before a manufacturer launches or revisits an Industry 4.0 initiative, it is crucial that their teams identify the challenges they want to address — what is the desired future state? What internal and external dynamics have contributed to the current gap? What is likely to impede realizing the future state? Only once manufacturers have answered these questions can they begin to articulate their goals and create a quality list of stakeholders.  

Below is a hypothetical scenario where a U.S.-based furniture manufacturer asks these important questions to develop their Industry 4.0 goals.  

Question 1: What Is the Desired Future State?

This manufacturer wants to have its finger on the pulse of evolving consumer demands and develop the capacity to capitalize on those market opportunities with new products. The company’s customers are increasingly swayed by what they see on social media, trend cycles are shorter, and shoppers want the latest designs immediately. If this company cannot speed up, it will lose market share to its more agile competitors.

Question 2: What Internal and External Dynamics Have Contributed to the Current Gap?

The organization lacks the capabilities to track consumer behavior data in real-time, and even for the data that it does have, it does not possess the analytics capabilities necessary to extract insights from that information. Additionally, the company does not have the operational agility to pivot product strategy to capture new trends in furniture design.  

Question 3: What Is Likely to Impede Realizing the Future State? 

To achieve the desired future state, the furniture manufacturer will have to invest in its data analytics capabilities. This includes its ability to capture data, particularly consumer data, from around the business. To extract meaning from this data, the company would need to invest in AI tools to develop deeper insights into consumer behavior. To allow the AI to work with its data analytics tools, the manufacturer will need to consolidate data from across the enterprise into one well-governed source of truth. The company will also need to hire and train the right people to stand up the AI program and refine AI-derived insights into an action plan.

After improving its analytics capabilities, the manufacturer may discover that there are potential customers it has not reached, or that their existing customer base’s buying behaviors are evolving. However, even after uncovering these insights, it will need to determine whether it’s profitable to act on them. For example, it will need to consider the cost and time needed to develop new designs, get those designs into production, evaluate prototypes for quality, and then bring them to market before the trend peaks. Making this kind of product pivot fast requires significant operational agility and can be costly.

Gathering Input

When starting an Industry 4.0 initiative, teams should solicit ideas and concerns from their stakeholders in a joint problem-solving effort. It is also important to gather insights from cross-functional leadership to get a full picture of potential gaps in the business strategy, as well as align the direction of the business strategy with its technology investments.

If those leading an Industry 4.0 initiative demand perfection, it puts pressure on the teams tasked with achieving an ideal future state. A defined vision is important, but teams that adopt an agile approach to goal setting may be more successful. Leaders can help prime their teams for change by helping them understand that goals should always be informed by business needs, which are almost always evolving.

Supporting Change Management

Companies that are the more mature in Industry 4.0 appreciate that change management is a continuous process that does not start or end with the launch of an initiative. This means change management tactics should be used throughout the industry 4.0 initiative to create all-important buy-in.

One tactic that may be particularly effective in engaging stakeholders, gathering critical insights, and building support is conducting a pre-mortem. This exercise involves scenario-mapping the initiative two, three, or five years from now and observing two potential outcomes: success and failure. In each scenario, stakeholders articulate the details of the future they imagine. For example, a failure scenario might be ‘reliability is low,’ or ‘costs have risen to unsustainable levels.’ Then the team would list the challenges they faced and what they could have done differently to avoid or mitigate failure. When scenario-mapping success, stakeholders also document what success looks like, such as growth or lower marginal costs, and the steps that were critical to achieving those outcomes.

Through this iterative exercise, leaders of Industry 4.0 initiatives can gain important insights from ex-stakeholders and increase buy-in for the initiative. By exploring failure, skeptics are given plenty of space to articulate their concerns and opportunities to document what the company could do to increase success, even in a worst-case scenario.

Evolving Your Industry 4.0 Strategy

As a manufacturer’s needs evolve, so should its Industry 4.0 strategy. Before considering a shift in Industry 4.0 strategy, manufacturers should ask themselves: Where do we need to grow? How can new technologies amplify these growth objectives? Where do we need to defend our market position? How can new technology help us outpace competitors?

The furniture manufacturer described earlier needed to improve its data analytics and demand forecasting capabilities to tap into trend-focused consumers. With the rise of AI, it evolved its Industry 4.0 strategy to integrate AI to improve its ability to understand the desires of customers.

Manufacturers should educate themselves about the latest advancements but avoid pursuing any new technology or idea without careful forethought and planning. Leaders should challenge themselves and their teams to think broadly and creatively about their current limitations and potential but avoid locking in on a specific solution without rigorous root cause analysis.

Agility and Communication

Even among capable organizations, the process to adopt a new Industry 4.0 strategy comes with challenges. To help prepare and reduce the impact of these issues, leaders should foster resilience within the organization, as employees will likely need to pivot mid-stream.

A common complaint from middle managers and front-line employees is that they do not understand the strategy behind the initiatives that are adopted or shelved. When these employees do not have sufficient understanding, they become disengaged and lose faith in leadership. However, delivering the necessary level of transparency is far from easy.

Once the organization has committed to a specific direction, there is often significant inertial pressure to continue in that direction, even when that direction isn’t delivering desired results. To stay on the right path, leaders of Industry 4.0 initiatives should define metrics and collect data to determine whether the strategy is working for the organization. These metrics force teams to monitor for signs the strategy isn’t working as intended from the outset and greatly increase the speed and quality of decision-making.

For example, a manufacturer may use predictive analytics to create a maintenance schedule for all equipment in one of their plants. Predictive maintenance can help improve efficiency by allowing more maintenance to happen during planned downtime. But while the manufacturer had good intentions, the investment ran into issues in implementation – setup was costly, frontline workers were not adequately trained on how to use the new system, and while there were some successes in detecting problems before they grew to be a major issue, the time and resources spent far outweighed the benefits.  

The leaders of this company were determined to make it work and decided to call the pilot a success and roll it out to other plants, where similar issues occurred. If the leaders instead had taken a step back to reevaluate their approach and triage the challenges, they could have found a solution that was worth rolling out to other plants or stopped the project before costs spiraled.  

Preparing for the Future

As technological innovation continues, manufacturers need to remain disciplined in their approach to technology. Successful manufacturers will treat any new advancement the same as they always have by revisiting their Industry 4.0 strategy, determining if the new tool can help them achieve their goals, and assess how they need to pivot.

At companies that have greater Industry 4.0 maturity, strategy is not set in stone. It is continually evolving and adaptable. Leaders regularly discuss changes in the marketplace and their implications with teams so employees begin to understand the nuances. Ultimately, companies with more advanced Industry 4.0 maturity are often met with employee enthusiasm and a readiness to embrace evolving strategies for an evolving world.

How MGO Can Help

In the rapidly evolving landscape of Industry 4.0, where agility and strategic foresight are paramount, MGO is well-positioned to assist your manufacturing company in navigating your digital maturity journey. By understanding the complex dynamics between technology investments and business strategy, MGO can provide tailored guidance to help make your investments in AI and other Industry 4.0 technologies integral components of a sustainable growth strategy.

Our team is adept at assisting you to ask the right questions, refine your strategies, and manage the necessary changes to stay competitive and realize your desired future state. For inquiries or support in enhancing your Industry 4.0 maturity, reach out to our team today.

Written by Val Laufenberg, Maurice Liddell, and Jessica Wadd. Copyright © 2024 BDO USA, P.C. All rights reserved.

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