Picture this: a fully connected, fully automated, fully intelligent factory that operates as a living organism, responding in real time to drive continuous improvement. This is the Industry 4.0 vision of the intelligent enterprise, a vision that is already riding its way to reality on the waves of a perfect storm of technology and innovation.

Everybody’s talking about the intelligent enterprise. Buzzwords are flying. But very few people truly understand what the intelligent enterprise is or how to get there. That’s because the first step has nothing to do with technology at all. The first step is to completely transform how you think about the entire operation – from your view of the supply chain to your interactions with your customers. The future isn’t what it used to be.

Understanding the intelligent enterprise and how to get there

With an intelligent enterprise, you can deliver the best possible product faster and more cost-effectively – and that product can be customized to your customers’ wants and needs. Because the intelligent enterprise can sense and respond in real time to what’s taking place, both on the factory floor and with your customers, it represents a complete transformation in how you do business. Once you’ve embraced that concept and can see the vision, it’s time to get tactical.

There is no predefined pathway for this journey. We often see two types of strategies:

1)  Companies seeking to optimize performance of their operations look for opportunities to streamline processes by embracing automation that brings connectivity and intelligence into the supply chain and production assets. 

2) Companies seeking to disrupt their operating model, business model or product innovation to challenge the status quo of the market leaders do so with agile and flexible innovations to overtake the competition.

Regardless of which path you take, you’ll be tapping into the same suite of next-generation capabilities to transform your business, including:

  • Hyperconnected operations
  • Process automation
  • Robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence
  • Interactive bots and digital assistants
  • 3D printing
  • Digital collaboration
  • Data sharing and compliance

After you’ve done your homework and know the optimal route to your factory of the future, you’ll also understand which of these technologies apply to you and how to scale to make your intelligent factory a reality.

 The quick wins

There’s both a cost side and a revenue side to becoming an intelligent enterprise, and there are opportunities for quick wins in both cases. Increasing automation can be an immediate cost-saver because it can be enabled quickly, allowing you to reduce your inventory, labor costs and more. On the revenue side, the focus is on how to use technology to get the right goods to the right customer at the right time and for the right price.

Which areas you address first will depend on your enterprise’s go-to-market strategy and needs, and what you can act on right away. This involves assessing whether you have the right team, enough financing and even the right motivation to transform your factory. You don’t need to do everything all at once. You can start small and go big – but you absolutely have no choice but to start now to stay ahead of your competition.

Here are the three high-level steps to take to begin your transformation:

  • Define your business case and value levers in partnership with key stakeholders.
  • Align your business with technology through “discovery sessions” with operations and by initiating a culture of innovation.
  • Identify your starting place – that is, are you optimizing or innovating?

The importance of having the right solutions partner

Vision refers to more than picturing your intelligent factory of the future. It means being able to honestly see the complete picture from inside your operation. Your ideal Industry 4.0 partner will have both the experience and the objectivity to make an accurate assessment of your current state and then help you determine the best way to get to your future state as an intelligent enterprise.

At Hitachi Consulting, we’ve been successfully delivering these types of transformations for more than 10 years. And we don’t do them based on theory or experiments. As a high-tech and industrial manufacturing company, we’ve been implementing these technologies ourselves in our own factories. This experience, combined with our technical consulting expertise, makes us one of very few solution providers that can put it all together and help make your vision a reality.

Whoever you choose to assist you with your journey, ensure that they offer the full breadth of capabilities and relationships you need, along with the right insights to make your journey a success.

See how Hitachi is transforming enterprises into factories of the future:

Blog  co-authored by Carlos Pinheiro Guimaraes, Head of SAP Technology and Innovation at Hitachi Consulting and Nick Lagen, Vice President, SAP Solutions at Hitachi Consulting