A while back, I spent an afternoon with some folks at the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center (DVIRC - one of the MEP Centers in Pennsylvania) becoming enlightened on a topic known as "Digital Intensity." The phrase, coined by Professor Irene Petrick of Penn State and Managing Director of the Trendscape Innovation Group, refers to the idea of how firms apply the forms of information technology to support their businesses (or not, as the case may be). The "DI" can range from essentially zero (where the company has no IT use, capability or capacity; a rare but not unheard of condition) to a lot (has many uses and an infrastructure to support those uses). The reason that the latter is "a lot" and not a specific number is because the scale hasn't been determined yet. All we know is that it's a continuum of some sort - the more you have, the more digitally intense you are.To be, or not to be, that is the question— Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? - William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II
I'm intrigued by it because it has the potential to help us and the companies: sort out what uses they should make of IT; how it supports their business' needs, both current and future; and equally as important, what investments is the business going to have to make in the application, the workforce needed to use that application, the equipment needed to use that application and the supporting infrastructure needed for all that to happen.
Let's posit the following example - a company that's a lower level supplier in an aerospace supply chain.
The company is high enough up in the chain that they've had to develop some design capability in support of what they do. That means they've likely got e-mail, reasonable Internet access, in-house CAD/CAM capability with people who know how to use it (the specific package has likely been specified for them by the OEM), a reasonable Enterprise Resource Planning system, logistics support to track shipments in and out, sales/marketing/Customer Relationship Management support, accounting packages, office functions (word processing, spreadsheet, presentations) and the like. They've also got a reasonable Internet presence to show off their capabilities but don't yet have (or see a need for) on-line ordering, social media, and the like. For lack of a better scale, I'd probably call them a mid-level company on the scale of digital intensity.
They also see a new technology coming their way that will either change their business or put them out of business. Let's call it additive manufacturing. Their initial reaction is that "Well, we'll just buy a couple 3D printers and add them right into our existing manufacturing operations. No big deal." But, can you really do that?
Oh, by the way – They're at the end of their Internet provider’s run and have speed/bandwidth issues already. Upgrading will cost money. They’ll need to connect more to the Internet. They’ll need to connect the new machines to the design capability to make the most of it. They’ll also need to add modeling and simulation capability since they've been told by the customer that going forward, they’ll be responsible for the success of any new designs. So yes, it can be done, BUT they’re going to have to step up a couple notches on the digital intensity scale.
Can we, and if so, how do we help them do that? At the moment, I don’t know the answers to those questions. What I do know is that as more and more things “go digital” the risk of ignoring it is ginormous. The risk of making a wrong decision about what to invest in and when is likewise huge (which is less than ginormous, but still significant). Getting it right changes the business in profound ways. The path forward suggests there’s a lot more learning to do before we engage with manufacturers in this digital space to provide services. If the DVIRC meeting was any indication, the learning process should be fun.
"Monitor, engage, and be transparent; these have always been the keys to success in the digital space." – Dallas Lawrence