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Operation heartbeat

How Industrial Operations are transforming the way we live and work

In a recent interview Bruno Machiels & Luca Lecchi, co-CEOs of EFESO Management Consultants discussed how industrial operations and human ingenuity are totally transforming the world we live in.

Can you give us an example of this transformation?

Bruno Machiels: Just look at the global response to Covid 19. How are we tackling one of the biggest crises to hit humanity in decades? Vaccines. That’s a great example of human ingenuity and human collaboration working at record speed. Then how are we getting those vaccines into the arms of people around the world? Through industrial operations. Making sure that billions of doses are produced and delivered via efficient supply chains. This kind of transformative action is happening right across Industrial Operations and it’s driving huge beneficial changes for society.

So Industrial Operations are crucial to the world’s well-being?

Luca Lecchi: Absolutely. Think about this, right now because of Covid-19 there’s a lot of talk about hybrid working, or working from home. In the media everyone seems to be talking about it, but they forget that people in Industrial Operations cannot work from home. They have to be at the plant, the retail network or the transport hub. They provide the drugs we need, the food we consume, the clothes we wear, the means we have for transportation, the energy for our homes, schools, hospitals. We can’t exist without them. So it’s surprising that the people who play such a vital role in our well-being are almost forgotten. We believe they’re just not getting the recognition they deserve.

We love Operations because we understand how much they bring to the world, how complex they are, and how beautiful the challenges can be.

You obviously have a lot of respect for people who work in Industrial Operations?

BM: We love Operations because we understand how much they bring to the world, how complex they are and how beautiful the challenges can be. But as Luca said, in today’s world a lot of people have forgotten that. They have forgotten all the amazing contributions that Industrial Operations bring to society. They just see the negative parts. They have outdated views about industrial pollution, accidents in factories and so on. Industrial Operations have made huge efforts to streamline and improve and we have immense respect for the people who work there. It’s an amazing, forward-thinking environment. We believe that being able to explain to people the beauty of Industrial Operations, the career it can give you and the meaningfulness in what you do, is extremely important. Not just for industry itself, but also for society.

We believe that being able to explain to people the beauty of Industrial Operations, the career it can give you and the meaningfulness in what you do, is extremely important. Not just for industry itself, but also for society.

What’s happening in Industrial Operations at the moment?

LL: Right now, there’s a shortage of talent in the market and if you don’t have the right talent, particularly in certain geographies, industry will not stay there for long. For young engineers like myself coming out of the best schools in the 90s, joining the automotive industry, the energy industry or the aeronautical industry was the thing to do. These were exciting industries and people wanted to work there. Now we feel that the younger generation believes that the place to be is in finance or the new technologies, not so much joining Industrial Operations.

BM: This is not new. It’s been happening for a few years now. The new generation of talent thinks that start-ups are more interesting. Industrial Operations might seem a bit old fashioned to them, but we passionately believe that they have everything you need for a brilliant career. You have the new technologies, the data, the processes. Companies have spent the last 40 years learning how to improve and how to make better things. They are only missing people, the right level of talent to help them succeed even further. If we want Industrial Operations to play the role it is destined to play in the future of the world, they will need to attract more talent than they are at the moment.

What effect is this having on Industrial Operations?

LL: Put simply, they are developing at a slower pace than they were before. What we saw from the 90s to say 5 or 10 years ago was a huge take up in adopting new technologies, but a slowdown in the hiring of talent that could take care of this technology. I believe that if we had the right KPIs to measure the speed of improvement in Industrial Operations, it would now be much lower than it was before, while opportunities from new technologies are appearing faster and faster. Obviously, it's still progressing, but not at the right speed.

Industrial Operations need to create value with a big V. Value for the company, the customer and society as a whole. To maintain sustainability we need to increase the speed of improvement, but it’s now more complex than it used to be. It was much easier to improve 10 years ago because it was a much simpler recipe. Now you have to integrate so many factors to achieve a real performance breakthrough. In the old days you could just implement programs like TPM, LEAN or 6 sigma and you’d automatically get improvements. Now it’s a more complex challenge because you need to combine those programs with digital, new technologies, human dynamics, sustainability. That’s why you need the smartest people.

BM: If I can give you an image that sums this up, it would be a car. In the beginning it just had to move. Then it had to move a bit faster. Then it had to be beautiful. Then it had to be safe. Then it had to consume less energy. Then it had to have music, phone connectivity, smart parking and so on. Industrial Operations are the same. In the beginning you just produced something. Then you had to be able to produce a lot of it. Then at a higher quality. And a lower cost. Then with lots of differences to your product, and lots of product variants. And on top of this you now have to consume less resources because you want to be sustainable. So the challenges continue to pile up and it’s always more difficult to solve a new challenge on top of existing challenges because the old ones don’t disappear. On the other hand, you have more ways to solve your problems now because technology has developed a lot, but to master all those things and use them together, the intellectual means, the physical means, the human means, you need the best and brightest people.

How would you sum up the impact of Industrial Operations?

BM: It’s an environment where you can have a really positive effect on making the world a better place. Ensuring companies are sustainable and still profitable. It really is an exciting arena and a recent experience I had demonstrates this. We have some very bright, very experienced software people on the shop floor in plants and a while back I showed some of their technologies to a Banking client, because they were also having problems with performance management. You know what the person in the bank said? “This is much too complex for our people.” Imagine that. Most of the time the people working at the top levels of a bank have a Masters Degree, but in many cases today, people working in Industrial Operations are managing just as many complex elements and taking just as much responsibility. Executives should always remember this. Don’t think of Operations solely from a cost point of view. Don’t engage with them only when there’s a problem. The people working there have a great store of knowledge, so use them to improve your processes and profits.

LL: I think the absolutely crucial role that Industrial Operations plays in all our lives was best summed up in the UN’s 1977 Lima Declaration on sustainable development which states, and I’m quoting here: “Industry increases productivity, job creation and generates income, thereby contributing to poverty eradication and addressing other development goals, as well as providing opportunities for social inclusion, including gender equality, empowering women and girls and creating decent employment for the youth. As industry develops, it drives an increase of value addition and enhances the application of science, technology and innovation.” When you hear those words, I can’t think of a better place to work as a young graduate.

Do you think Industrial Operations are doing enough around sustainability?

LL: There’s always more that can be done, but industrial development is an absolutely key element in sustainability because it doesn’t just bring jobs, it brings what people need to live. The switch we have to make is that whereas at the moment many people see Industrial Operations as a problem for sustainability, they are actually part of the solution. Industry can change itself and so it can change the world. We will not feed the earth if it is not done in an industrial way. We will not clothe the earth if it is not done in an industrial way. When you look at the sustainable goals of the UN you will see that there’s a really interesting place for Industrial Operations in there. They’re a lever to address all sorts of problems, like climate change for example, and should be seen as part of the solution.

It all comes back to people, doesn’t it?

BM: It does. At EFESO we have an acronym that we call PHDS. This is the importance of looking at Industrial Operations not just from a Process point of view, a Human point of view, a Digital or a Sustainable point of view. You have to integrate them all. That is the core of what the European Commission has now designated as Industry 5.0. For us, Industry 5.0 is a very positive element because it shows that industry is not something cold like Industry 4.0 could be perceived. The core of Industry 5.0 may be about technology and productivity, but it’s also about the place of human beings within Industrial Operations and their core contribution to sustainability.

LL: Industry 5.0 is very close to our hearts and we are investing heavily in helping clients grasp all the opportunities that it offers. Our future depends on people who work in innovative, globalized, attractive and fully sustainable Industrial Operations.

Our future depends on people who work in innovative, globalized, attractive and fully sustainable Industrial Operations.

About the authors

Bruno Machiels

Bruno Machiels is co-CEO of the EFESO Group. Over the last 20 years Bruno has been helping chief executives and other senior leaders of both the world's leading companies and SMEs to define, implement and accelerate complex transformations.

Luca Lecchi

Luca Lecchi is co-CEO of the EFESO Group. Luca has over 20 years of consulting experience supporting C-suite executives across a set of industries. He has been working in tandem with clients on topics spanning operations strategy, global business performance improvement, operations excellence.