Matt Griffiths can see the edges of the future. From his position as vice president and CIO of Stanley Black & Decker Inc., he can see that the world is in the early stages of the fourth industrial revolution, and that revolution is powered by data analytics.
Griffiths explains that applying big data to manufacturing will produce many benefits for industries: more efficient factories, higher quality products, and new product capabilities and features. Manufacturing companies that have the most success in this period will be able to extract expertise from IT staff to upgrade processes, products, and business practices. For many, this may mean a kind of existential readjustment of IT departments.
Such is the case at Stanley Black & Decker’s industrial division. Although best known for its hand and power tool businesses, the global corporation has a large division that provides parts and tools for pipeline, automotive, aerospace, and other heavy industries. The division had grown significantly by acquisitions around the world, and in the recent past, IT was mostly still aligned to support individual business units rather than the entire organization holistically. IT also tended to be a support service lurking in the background rather than fully participating in developing business strategy.
“IT was an order-taking team,” Griffiths says. As digital transformation of the company’s businesses took off, that model became outmoded. “With technology so ingrained in every aspect of the business, we needed to become proactive,” he says. It was time for a big change.
The industrial unit was geographically dispersed and fragmented in its processes and practices. “That fragmentation also existed among IT,” Griffiths says. IT was aligned according to the pre-merged entities and was organized along functions.
Griffiths reorganized IT into three main groups: automotive, commercial excellence, and industrial—which includes aerospace and military markets. These groups now have a global view and responsibility. The new organizational structure is driving cross-functional collaboration, business process alignment, reuse of IT tools, and standardization of technology. “There’s more cross-pollination of ideas among groups that wasn’t happening previously,” Griffiths says.
There’s also a cultural change in how IT views itself and how its business colleagues perceive the group, particularly when it comes to hashing out strategy and innovation of products and services. “There was reluctance in the past among IT people to inject themselves into those conversations even though they had good ideas,” Griffiths says. “When new products were conceived, there wasn’t enough thought about how to mine and analyze market data or how to leverage technology with manufacturing to drive better efficiency.”
Today, IT is poised to brainstorm, incubate new ideas, and more readily draw on the full resources within its ranks to help new initiatives take off. Griffiths offers the example of a new CAD platform. In such an undertaking, IT staff participating on the project team would not only facilitate software development, but it would also reach out to infrastructure colleagues to help the team choose appropriate back-end infrastructure—both functionally and from a cost standpoint. This is closer collaboration than typically occurred in the past, and it speeds up planning and budgeting and increases the chances for project success.
“Now, we don’t think of the IT organization in the matrix in which it exists,” Griffiths says. “We are one team, one company.”
The new approach will help the company advance projects that meld digital capabilities with industrial products and processes. Internally, this includes real-time tracking and analysis of manufacturing performance. “Dashboard analytics provide insight to operational efficiency and health and safety,” Griffiths says.
For example, production-line workers are outfitted with gloves embossed with bar codes. Scanners enable plant managers to follow activity in real time and quickly identify where production processes have stalled. They can also pinpoint where injuries occur in the plant by linking injury reports with employees’ locations when the incidents took place. Analytics also help to optimize production scheduling, materials purchasing, and distribution logistics.
The ongoing digital transformation is providing numerous opportunities for the division to enhance products and services. For instance, as the second largest provider of oil and gas pipeline welding and inspection equipment, Stanley Black & Decker aids construction of underwater pipelines. Building these conduits is difficult work, demanding precision welds. The company has developed monitoring equipment that uses machine learning techniques to track progress. By capturing data in real time, these systems make it easier for inspectors to spot welding flaws quickly. In turn, they can direct the welding team to recalibrate equipment to correct the flaws.
It’s a prime example of how data is driving a new industrial revolution—and how IT must step up to be a catalyst. Griffiths is consistently driving this point home to the 150 IT staffers in his division. “We’re encouraging IT groups to be bold and fearless in their thinking,” Griffiths says. That also means accepting the occasional failure, such as a recent quality-management application that didn’t pan out. “It’s okay to try something and fail,” he says, “as long as the exercise is done quickly and you go through a vigorous lessons-learned process.”
When marrying data in new ways to industrial processes, experimentation is essential. It’s a new mind-set that requires constant cultivation, but the message appears to be getting through. Griffiths has his team focused on innovation and converting brainstorming into action.