To Follow Is Good, to Lead Is Better
The average Belgian SME does not recognize itself in widespread depictions of innovation leaders such as Tesla. They feel more comfortable adopting a 'smart follower' strategy, especially in these uncertain times. Though this decision may seem logical and down to earth, studies and simulations (including McKinsey Global Institute) reveal the opposite is true. 'Smart followers' won't see a positive impact on cash flow until ten years on, while 'front runners' do so after only three years.
Anyone can, may and even must strive to become a front runner. However, both small and large companies should not treat Smart Industry as an abstract concept. Instead, they must exhibit a clear understanding of when and how to use these new technologies to achieve their business goals. This implies the development of a well-supported strategy that includes short- and long-term objectives, a roadmap and an implementation plan.
That's starting to sound like a lot of work again and as such, reserved for the big boys. Fortunately, nothing is further from the truth. With a well-thought-out, pragmatic approach, you can achieve very tangible results quite rapidly, step by step and without excessive investment.
Use This Approach to Accelerate Step by Step
A good guide is the Acatech Industry 4.0 Maturity Model (Schu et al., 2017, update 2020). This model adheres to the motto 'learn to walk first.'
A prerequisite for Industry 4.0 is actually Industry 3.0; companies must first be sufficiently digitized (Computerization) and connected (Connectivity). At the Computerization stage, both Operational Technology (OT) and business applications (such as ERP) are generally present, but not necessarily fully integrated and connected as yet. At the Connectivity stage, these are fully operational, possibly with a Manufacturing Execution System (MES). By fitting older equipment with new sensor technology, this too can generate production data.