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Covid has been a key driver for manufacturers to embrace digital transformation more quickly than ever – an impetus for them to adopt new technologies and put them in a better position to deal with future challenges, according to a study from Vodafone Business.
Building on research conducted in 2020 when it identified the key characteristics of businesses that were “fit for the future”, Vodafone’s latest survey was conducted using qualitative research involving 2,526 decision-makers from businesses of all shapes and sizes, across 11 different markets. In its Fit for the future research, businesses were identified by using a regression model to show what behaviours and attitudes were most closely linked with confidence in future financial performance and being well prepared for what the future holds.
Twelve criteria were identified, which make up six characteristics: has a positive attitude to change; is open to new technology; takes clear steps towards business transformation; sets a detailed strategy; keeps up to date with relevant trends and uncertainties; is adaptable.
The survey showed that almost one-third (31%) of manufacturers globally are considered fit for the future (FFTF) and better prepared to deal with future challenges, such as increased competition, changing employee expectations and rising customer demand.
An overwhelming majority (94%) of FFTF businesses across all sectors believed they were well prepared for the risks facing them, compared with only 58% of respondents overall. On top of this, 82% of FFTF businesses believed their business continuity plan worked well during the pandemic.
The research also found that the manufacturing sector is embracing the digital transformation that was accelerated during the pandemic. Two-thirds of manufacturers now have a roadmap for digital transformation in place, while just under half (49%) are already implementing their digital transformation strategy.
The pandemic was a large driver of digital transformation within the industry, with 63% saying they had accelerated plans and 48% had increased their digital transformation budget in response.
As a result of embracing digital transformation, manufacturers were acting quickly to adopt new technologies. More than half (55%) said they liked to be the first to try out new technology, with just 19% waiting for a technology to become mainstream before investing. Manufacturers also believed they were ahead of their competition in digitising processes, products and services (68%), while 71% believed they were better than their competition at being focused on innovation.
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In terms of using specific technologies, the manufacturing sector is ahead of most other sectors surveyed. The industry is using a range of modern technologies, including the internet of things (59%), artificial intelligence (47%), robotics (53%), mobile private networks (28%) and mobile-access edge computing (24%). The research also found that manufacturers are embracing automation, with 44% automating mundane tasks and 39% automating tasks they consider dangerous. On the other hand, just 16% are not currently automating any tasks.
These manufacturers were also taking several steps to prepare and ensure that future automation has a positive impact on their business. Just over two-fifths (43%) were already training employees to build skillsets that cannot be replaced by automation, to ensure employees’ jobs are future-proofed.
Further analysis of the research conducted by the London School of Economics found a link between FFTF companies and business performance. Organisations that registered a 10-point increase in their FFTF score were more likely to outperform their competitors by 36%.
Vodafone said that, ultimately, FFTF manufacturers are more confident and well prepared for emerging challenges and are better placed to respond quickly to evolving employee and customer demands.
“This research shows that the manufacturing industry understands the benefits of digital transformation and technology,” said Marc Sauter, head of IoT product management at Vodafone Business. “The pandemic clearly caused many manufacturers to accelerate their digital transformation plans and invest in modern technologies that will put them in a good place for the future.
“Technologies such as IoT, 5G and mobile private networks will be absolutely vital in securely connecting assets in a factory, enabling innovative and new use cases like automated guided vehicles, augmented and virtual reality on the shop floor, and connected robots. This is helping manufacturers deal with future challenges, increase productivity and flexibility, as well as providing them with the tools they need to grow.”