Finally, An Actionable Guide to Get Started With Digital Transformation
Published on: May 18, 2023

Ok, let me make one thing clear from the very beginning: this isn’t an abstract, hype-y post about digital transformation. Is change needed? Sure, but we’re practical people. If you’re even remotely interested in breaking down this digital transformation thing into something actually useful for your company, then this article will help you. 

The digital transformation journey can seem both frustrating and hard to grasp. 

If a problem is both complex and non-urgent at the same time, you tend to postpone it, especially if your operation has been working apparently well. Why fix what’s not broken, right?

However, if you’re not taking steps toward a more digital future, you will be looking at harder times ahead. Not only will your company be less competitive, but you will have missed opportunities for significant improvement in productivity, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. 

After guiding industrial companies through digital transformation for 6+ years, we’ve poured our best lessons into this comprehensive guide to getting started with it.

What is digital transformation?

Digital transformation is first and foremost a new approach, a new way of thinking. Digital transformation is about rethinking how a business operates by implementing new digital processes and tools. 

For a successful digital transformation you need to address all 3: 

  1. The specific business needs of your organisation 
  2. The necessary technical solutions to address the needs  
  3. The internal red tape hindering the change

Ok, let’s get rid of the abstract stuff. 

Tell me if any of these things sound familiar to you: 

  • You and/or your operators have to do lots of manual work on the plant floor and it involves frequent human errors, 
  • Everyone keeps pressuring you to get data out of your systems, but your sources are scattered and it’s incredibly tedious to get data out of them because they’re proprietary and limited, 
  • You have no infrastructure that allows you to connect systems and devices and automate data flow throughout the entire company.

That last point is especially frustrating. 

There are reasons why companies want an infrastructure, automated processes, and smart solutions that take the workload off of the operators’ shoulders: 

Quickly assess what’s happening on the plant floor and stay ahead of production issues using data from one single source of truth – a platform that acts like the hub where all your systems and devices meet and talk to each other. 

Essentially, you want to turn data into knowledge so you can make better, faster decisions.

That can happen only if you go from the automation stack to a Hub & Spoke model, a situation where all data comes to one platform and is accessible to everyone that needs it, across the entire organisation, at all times. 

The main problem with “The Old Way” is the lack of standardisation. You have to deal with different and proprietary protocols. It’s expensive to bridge from one system to the other. And the maintenance cost of it all is skyrocketing.

What’s the current situation? 

Here’s the main problem people come to us with: we don’t have any data! 

Not only are the machines not connected, but getting data out of individual machines is a hassle in and of itself because they’re proprietary and limited. One client used to have to go with a USB stick to each machine and get data in spreadsheets. Another one logged data on a whiteboard, handwritten, in a closed room far away from any machines on the plant floor… 

In a nutshell, the current situation is frustrating: tedious, manual work, incomplete data that doesn’t help with anything, lots of human errors, confusion, and more. 

Obstacles to getting started

  • You’re too busy putting out fires every day 

Who the heck has time to think about idealistic fluffy scenarios when all you do every day is manage crisis after crisis? 

Bosses breathing down your neck, pressure from the market to deliver high-quality products, evolving customer requirements, a whole plant floor full of processes and devices that either need improvement or troubleshooting, paperwork, political games… It’s a lot. 

The good news is that digital transformation aims to solve (parts of) exactly that. You either keep doing this until it blows up in your face or you start small now and make incremental improvements that slowly take things off your plate. 

What to do: 

1. Commit to doing something. Similar to any other change, committing to get moving is the hardest part. It is much easier to postpone the initiative. It is so easy to convince yourself to wait until next week. Thus, start small and commit to that.

2. Don’t do this alone. In the early days, dealing with everything above AND overseeing a tech project, as small as it is, may be too much. Get other people on board, like tech advisors – our clients have automation engineers, solution architects etc. The job title doesn’t matter, what matters is to have someone to share the initiative’s duties with.

  • Difficulty getting people on board 

Whether that’s to risk-aversed top-management or conservative operators, explaining the business and practical implications of digital transformation is a challenge. Different stakeholders have different goals and challenges. 

1. Top management wants as much business ROI for as little money as possible, as fast as possible, and without much downtime and hassle. Convincing them is an uphill battle and it takes so long for them to reach a decision.

What to do: 

The best solution we’ve found to this is the good ol’ “show and tell”. Get a small budget for a proof of concept that solves an immediate problem on the plant floor that can be tied to a business benefit. 


A manufacturing company had quality problems on one of their lines. They decided on a temporary solution with manual inspection. But they also needed feedback from the examination for data analysis of what was wrong. We created an Ignition-based solution that was easy for the people on the shop floor. And it provides the necessary data input for the management to analyse the deeper causes behind the quality problem.

2. The operators want their work to be easier, but they may be reluctant to change, so even if you do start to implement some cool tech stuff, they are slow to adopt it.

What to do:

– Involve them from the very beginning. Explain what you’re trying to do, why you’re doing it, and how it’ll benefit them. Ask for input and demonstrate small improvements along the way. 

– Ensure training. Learning new things is fun, but not easy. Help the operators navigate the new changes. 

  • Why change what’s not broken?

Some of us are more open to change than others, but it’s in our nature to not want to rock the boat, especially if the boat is floating decently well.

“Broken”, however, can look in several more ways than just “not working”. If it’s making you and your operators work harder, it’s broken. If it’s leaving money on the table for your business, it’s broken. If it’s making you less competitive, it’s broken. If it’s limiting your performance AND possibility to innovate, it’s broken. 

What to do: 

Identify the reasons different stakeholders may think like this. It’ll be different for your boss, the financial department, the IT department, the operators. You won’t be able to make everyone happy, but you do have to listen. 

Don’t try to find a common goal, you’ll waste more time on that than you could ever imagine. 

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
– Buckminster Fuller

Instead, build something in parallel that people will love over time. Show, don’t tell. 

Let people have their current perception and tasks, and slowly but surely nudge them into new ones by showcasing practical, beneficial changes (and do so for each stakeholder). 

  • Don’t know exactly what’s needed. 

Often, we hear statements like “we need better access to data”, which, on the surface, sounds like a reasonable thing to say. But what does that really mean? Which data? And from where?

What to do:

Look for things (problems and needs) that are actionable. 

Mistakes to avoid 

  • The top-down approach

Just don’t. Please. It NEVER works. There are horrifying stories about large industrial companies that lost millions on digital transformation projects that started from the top of the organisation not once, not twice, but three times. 

It sounds reasonable to have your IT people or business analysts find tech solutions, but don’t forget that what creates real value in your market is your production. If you don’t work with the daily operations, it’s difficult to understand the daily work on the plant floor. 

Start from the bottom towards the enterprise level. 

The plant floor is where the action happens. The operators and managers out there in the trenches of the daily operations are the true custodians of the insights you need to solve problems that lead to business benefits: better performance, less downtime, higher quality products etc. 

Last but not least, the plant floor people know the metadata for all the data you need. They know the validity, the origin, and the limitations of the data. That input is essential to build better digital processes and tools.

What to do:
Go out on the plant floor, ask what they’re dealing with, and listen carefully. 

  • Ignoring the lack of infrastructure 

One of the biggest obstacles to getting started is connecting things for seamless data flow. You may have ideas on analysing data to improve business processes and reap benefits from introducing digital tools. But without reliable access to near real-time data, most manufacturing companies are excluded from pursuing those opportunities. 

What to do:

Get things connected first to gain access to reliable data
. You can start with a simple architecture (here’s how) and then move towards a more standardised organisation of data into a Unified Namespace (here’s how). 

  • Analysis paralysis 

Once you decide to take the initiative, you don’t want to look stupid or fail. Thus, it’s tempting to specify things to death, trying to foresee and control everything. It’s an honourable pursuit, but simply ineffective. It’ll only stall the project

Use the ETTO Principle (Efficiency – Thoroughness Trade-Off principle).

Let’s put it like this: focus on efficiency (meaning getting something done fast) vs. being far more thorough and engrossed in the details. 

Try something and see how it works. Test some ideas and get feedback from the users, and use 

that to improve the solution. 

What to do:

Identify a small area in the organisation where people experience something annoying related to their daily work, and then use digital technology to fix that. 

If I were you, I’d start like this

Step 1. Decide to take initiative 

I know, seems like an unnecessary thing to point out, but trust me, raising your hand and taking responsibility for a project, no matter how small, ain’t a small thing. 

You’re choosing it either because a problem has become so frustrating that finding a solution is unavoidable or because there’s pressure from somewhere inside or outside the company to implement more digital tools. Either way, set the intention that you’re going to see this through as best as you can. 

Step 2. Find a small problem to get you started

Spend a day or more on the plant floor. Get a sense of what’s going on, talk to people, and see what small problem you can solve as a proof of concept. 

Step 3. Find an industrial software platform that can solve the problem 

This is an overwhelming challenge in and of itself, there are many solutions out there. I’m going to make it easy for you and recommend the one and only solution we’ve used from day 1: Ignition by Inductive Automation. It’s affordable and powerful—all we need to build smart solutions. But hey, do your own research and choose one that floats your boat. 

Step 4. Get buy-in 

Sell it to the stakeholders—from operators to your boss. Explain what triggered the initiative, the problem, the benefits, and how you’re planning to get there. Ensure communication and training along the way. 

Step 4.1. Seek expert help

Now, there’s a discussion to be had here. You can always try to learn the ropes enough to build your own small solution with your team to deliver the proof of concept. It’d be cool, but you have to be ok with the time and resources spent on that. 

The alternative is to get expert help. I know, shocking—an Ignition integrator is suggesting that you get the help of an integrator. Look, I’m not trying to sell you anything through an article. I’m genuinely stating facts that I’ve observed in real-life in my experience in Enuda. 

And the truth is that people need help at first. Sure, we train you to build in-house knowledge, you won’t be locked into anything – both on Ignition’s side and on ours as integrators (if you choose either) – but you’re probably going to need specialised knowledge to accelerate the building and implementation of the solution.

Step 5. Start the proof of concept project

Dive into the specifications, connect things, build the functionality, test, and implement. Evaluate and decide on the next steps. 

Principles and guidelines to help you 

  • Some people play to win, most people play not to lose

You need to acknowledge the insecurity surrounding new technology. 

Often, these projects or initiatives push old and established lines of responsibility, and thus create some tension. Some people might experience a real loss, either in the shape of responsibility or maybe influence. The person who used to be in charge of extracting valuable data from the SCADA system might be less enthusiastic about a digital transformation project aiming at “making data available automatically for everybody”. 

This experience of loss of influence, power, or simply insight is real and has to be addressed. 

As the catalyst for digital transformation, you may struggle to understand why not everybody finds these initiatives something positive. You might be super enthusiastic about all the opportunities and fail to understand the underlying currents of insecurity. 

What to do:

Be transparent and empathetic about what’s going on.
 Explain the why, what, when, and how of the initiative. And avoid “Frankenspeak” at any cost. Be clear in the communication and lay out the facts.

  • Build in parallel

I’ve mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. 

What to do:

Don’t change anything in the working systems. Let people use their existing systems and processes. Let them do things the way they have done for a long time. In parallel, add new technology that offers unique chances for improvement.

Add new opportunities without removing or replacing the old, and show people the created value. 

  • The aim is to decouple applications from devices

Most things are still connected the old way in the industrial environment – devices depend on specific applications. That locks you into that particular type of device or application. 

What to do:

A better solution is when any kind of device is connected to a general-purpose platform like 
Ignition. You get way more flexibility in all directions, as well as enhanced connectivity that opens a whole new world of opportunities.

  • Decisions don’t have to be irreversible 

We often consider introducing new technology a huge step. Therefore, we should investigate the risks, right? Over and over again, we analyse what could go wrong. We want to be absolutely certain before doing anything. 

There are plenty of reasons for that. For example:

  • Nobody wants to look bad introducing something that doesn’t work
  • An organisational culture fixated on not making mistakes
  • The fear of doing more damage than good and not being able to go back

Either way, we freeze and hesitate to take initiative, which only leads to stagnation. 

What to do:

Think about decisions like doors you go through.
 In my experience, very few doors are one-way doors representing irreversible decisions. Instead, most doors are two-way doors representing reversible decisions. 

Try to ponder a bit: which decisions are easily reversible? And which decisions might be tough to reverse?

You can’t predict exactly what’s going to happen once you decide to make a change. You can plan it all out, research the best practices, ask the stakeholders about it, do risk assessment… 

You can make sure you’re doing everything you can to get positive outcomes. And you definitely should. But anything more than that is simply out of your control. Your next best moves are to learn, adjust, and adapt. As long as you work with “two-way door” decisions, you can allow yourself to do just that.

  • What gets measured, gets done 

The origin of this statement is unclear, but the meaning is crystal-clear: unless you measure things in detail, don’t expect things to get done. 

The overall objective is not to connect things and collect more data. 

The aim has to be to gain insight into processes or systems to change behaviour. And we usually do that by using KPIs – Key Performance Indicators. 

The whole idea of KPIs is to focus on relevant indicators and measure them. 

Are we effectively accomplishing our key business objectives? 

Are we performing as we should? 

What’s the impact of a particular decision? 

We want to change behaviours because we want to change outcomes – improved performance, better quality, more efficient processes, cost-effectiveness etc. 

Don’t measure something for the sake of collecting more data. More numbers on a screen aren’t interesting. Sure, connecting individual systems is a great initiative, but only if it leads to changes in behaviour that take your company to the next level.

What to do:

Ask yourself what you want to change and how to measure that.

  • Change is deeper and wider than you think

Data for data’s sake ain’t gonna cut it. You want data because you want to change behaviours for the better. 

Here’s a story that can paint a clearer picture for you: 

You get rid of your old, limited SCADA, and you implement Ignition SCADA, or, the way Inductive Automation calls it, “The New SCADA”. 

What does New SCADA mean? SCADA (Supervisory, Control, and Data Acquisition) is a cornerstone in many organisations, and Ignition ups the game by moving towards open standards and architecture, along with an attractive licensing model.

The daily users of a SCADA system will love the openness of Ignition along with the technical opportunities. They’ll be super happy with their new toy – it has an intuitive front-end, it shows them the exact data they want, they can create reports, everything is automated, and their life and work are just easier. 

The folks responsible for budgets will appreciate the different and attractive licensing model. 

But that’s not where it stops. When you integrate Ignition and access the plethora of technical opportunities, other things will also change. 

Once you’ve given these people new technology, you’ve changed the way they were doing their job, the way they were EXPECTED to do it, the way they were thinking about it, and the focus of their daily tasks. You eliminated a lot of tedious, complicated stuff, and you empowered them to be more open, creative, and data-driven. 

They’ll probably talk to their colleagues about their new fun way of doing their job because it’s so much more efficient. Their colleagues will then want something similar to work smarter and make their life easier.

And this chain reaction will gradually change your organisation’s behaviour, culture, and politics. If you handle it well, you’ll unlock a whole new operational and organisational excellence.

To circle back to the introduction and the definition of digital transformation – rethinking how your business operates by implementing new digital processes and tools – you have successfully contributed to that journey. Congratulations!

If you get anything out of this article, let it be this

I can’t know what’s holding you back from getting started with digital transformation – costs (and/or the efforts to justify them), reluctance to change, getting buy-in… Whatever it is, we’ve probably dealt with it in the last 7 years. I’m not saying that to brag, I’m saying that so you know that not only are you not the only one that’s navigating all these challenges, but we’ve also proved that there’s always a solution to them. 

This article should help build a foundation for your initiative. If anything, at least allow it to plant the seed in your mind that it is, in fact, possible to move forward with digital transformation, and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming and expensive. I’ve given you guidelines you can follow to ensure a fruitful start to your initiative. 

Start small. Involve the operators. Build along the way.

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