Collaboration: Unlocking the Power of Working Together

Written By: David Immerman
  • 6/9/2020
  • Read Time : 8 min


Editor's Note: This blog post was updated from its original version in March 2021. 

While disruption is nothing new in the world of commerce, there’s no denying we now live and work in an accelerated state of disruption.

In order to remain competitive, businesses need to not only survive but figure out ways to thrive in a shifting landscape. Digital transformation is a path to contend with disruption – and businesses that embraced digital before the pandemic have been among the most successful in responding to it.

One of the most critical factors to overcome disruption and unlock agility, efficiency, and productivity is the ability to collaborate effectively. Collaboration for modern-day global enterprises has dozens of facets, both within the company (i.e. across segments, locations, roles) and outside of the company (i.e. supply chain, vendors, contractors).

With technologies, connected together through a digital thread, companies can unlock the potential of physical ingenuity with digital capabilities. When people, processes, products, and places are woven together, it ensures data and business continuity, promotes improved workforce collaboration, and inspires breakthrough innovation.

In this blog, which draws from PTC president and CEO Jim Heppelmann’s keynote at LiveWorx in 2020, we’ll discuss the different ways businesses and people need to work in a post-Covid world – and the technologies that are enabling enterprise-wide and seamless collaboration. Companies need to have the following capabilities:

  • A workforce that’s mobile, agile, and resilient in the face of disruption.
  • A supply chain that’s flexible and innovative.
  • A frontline workforce that’s connected and empowered.
  • Remote monitoring to maintain service and uptime.

1. Workforce Mobility & Resiliency

Many organizations’ IT infrastructure were under prepared for the massive workforce shift to remote work caused from the COVID-19 crisis. In response to the pandemic, 75 percent of organizations immediately shifted to work-from-home policies and 41 percent reported a strain on internal IT resources as a result.

After nearly a year of remote work, businesses are taking the lessons learned and considering long-term strategies for a resilient and mobile workforce. One clear winner in this movement is cloud and SaaS-based tools.

Many cloud and SaaS-based tools have allowed for a seamless transition to remote work for certain functions. For example, SaaS tools already dominant in enterprise software, such as CRM, HCM, and ERP, have enabled workers in those functions to work from home with little or no difficulty.

However, professionals in product development were challenged; critical software tools, like CAD and PLM, were primarily on-premises in offices or factories closed for health and safety.

This is poised to quickly change; IDC predicts by 2022, 70% of manufacturers will use cloud-based innovation platforms and marketplaces for cross-industry and customer co-development.
SaaS solutions enable a global, collaborative workforce that can adapt to changing conditions in real-time. Product development professionals using Onshape were able to log on from home from different devices, just as they would in the office, and still be able to access their files, iterate, and collaborate with colleagues.

2. Flexible and Innovative Supply Chains

Supply chains are remarkably complex, which challenges manufacturing production flexibility, especially in times of crisis or disruption. Global manufacturers, like automakers, have on average 500 tier-one suppliers, who each have 250 tier-two suppliers, creating a supply chain network of 1.25 million suppliers.

In order to facilitate the exchange of data up and down the supply chain, traditionally the same version of the same software tools at each supplier has to be installed and updated. Any upgrades must be coordinated simultaneously up and down the supply chain.

This becomes troublesome when a manufacturer that services two major automakers may need to maintain two different, specific versions of CAD software, in order to coordinate with each automaker. And on the other hand, it’s challenging for the automaker instituting a single software system across a supplier network.

What if companies were able to easily join forces with partners and suppliers to blend their ideas as they work together to design and manufacture new products? That’s the goal with flexible and innovative supply chains.

Quickly cross-exchanging design information to engineer, update, and manufacture products is burdened by this lack of interoperability and points to the need for a seamless digital thread to maintain continuity of information across the supply chain.

With SaaS solutions, like Onshape and Arena Solutions, all users are on the latest software version and able to access the most up-to-date information.

For example, as Covid-19 cases ramped up, one of the most immediate needs was ventilators to treat the most dire patients. Using Onshape, Francisco Gavidia University was able to collaborate with multiple companies to design and build a COVID-19 response ventilator in a matter of days, not weeks or months. With SaaS product development tools, the University and its industrial partners quickly iterated on designs and used 3D printing to bring the ventilator to market.

3. Connectivity and Workforce Collaboration for Frontline Workers

Around 75% or 2.7 billion of the global workforce is considered frontline or deskless workers. However, digital technologies have not been tailored to their type of work. Video conferencing software like Microsoft Teams and Zoom allows desk workers to collaborate on desktops, but frontline workers do their work in the physical world. This is quickly changing with augmented reality (AR).

AR presents digital information in the context of the physical environment – it connects employees and improve business outcomes. The pandemic put the need for digital for the frontline into hyper-focus as companies responded to new health and safety regulations, social distancing, and remote work.

There are several prevalent collaboration-focused use cases. With AR for remote assistance, frontline workers connect with remote experts for over-the-shoulder support to collaborate in real-time and quickly solve complex problems. AR can publish content such as training manuals or work instructions onto real-world objects and places for the worker to absorb in-context to their work environment and task at hand. AR can capture how-to information, such as service procedures, and map it to the real world.

Augmented reality is connecting the frontline to more effective ways of collaboration that save time, effort, and money.

4. Remote Monitoring Products and Factories

Downtime costs industrial companies thousands per hour. However, COVID-19 restricted access to an array of industrial assets, whether in a factory or hospital, with 81% of companies implementing travel bans and 46% issuing mandatory restrictions on employee contact in the workspace.

Remote monitoring of products and factories allows companies to continue operations despite work from home, travel bans, quarantined areas, and limited staff. Remote capabilities were critical in the wake of the crisis for improving uptime in critical environments, but they also save massive labor and asset costs from technician travel and downtime, and they transform the relationship with customers.

Elekta’s customers are hospitals and the radiation therapy equipment they sell is mission critical to the care hospital’s deliver. They started on their digital transformation well before the pandemic by enabling remote monitoring and IIoT. With these technologies, Elekta is able to better predict equipment downtime and service interventions, dramatically reducing downtime and enabling the ability to remotely service about half of issues without requiring a service technician visit, further improving the quality of care hospitals can provide to their patients.

Final Thoughts

By thinking differently about how we are collaborating – and seeking out the digital tools to enable it – industrial companies can thrive in the face of disruption, no matter what form that disruption takes.

As we look to what business looks like post-Covid, it’s clear that fundamentally the way we work has changed and our workforce must adapt.

Digital Transformation Insights

Learn more about the power and purpose of DX for the industrial enterprise.

  • Industrial Internet of Things
  • Augmented Reality
  • SaaS

About the Author

David Immerman

David Immerman is as a Consulting Analyst for the TMT Consulting team based in Boston, MA. Prior to S&P Market Intelligence, David ran competitive intelligence for a supply chain risk management software startup and provided thought leadership and market research for an industrial software provider. Previously, David was an industry analyst in 451 Research’s Internet of Things channel primarily covering the smart transportation and automotive technology markets.