Blog >
Thinking of Adding Digital Capabilities to Your Operations? Read this first


Thinking of Adding Digital Capabilities to Your Operations? Read this first

In this article from John Sturdivant, he identifies common problems with a digital upgrade and explains why and when you should not add digital capabilities to your frontline operations. 

I was asked an interesting question today, one that I had never thought about before. However, my experience in digital innovation in industrial settings with WorkforceAlpha over the last ~2 years, plus my prior consulting career working at the largest industrial facilities all over the world, came together to give me the surprising answer about when you should NOT try to undertake a digital upgrade to your frontline operation.

By ‘digital upgrade’, I mean implement new tools, change processes, or add capabilities that will significantly alter the way your frontline team members do their jobs. This could be a new documentation process, new control systems, new work management tools, new production systems, etc.

There are three key things you must remember about this problem:

Frontline team members often have the best of intentions but are rightfully reluctant to accept anything they don’t trust or understand – especially if they feel these changes are being forced upon them.

They also have ultimate veto power, since their actions and behaviors will ultimately make or break the change.

Any digital transformation, change, or improvement will significantly upend the way any blue collar or industrial worker does their job

If there is a failure just one time for new digital capabilities…you’ll lose the chance for a long time

This means you must NEVER attempt to add digital capabilities to your industrial frontline team unless you have first secured their trust and understanding. If there isn’t trust between leadership and the frontline, there won’t be understanding and acceptance. If there isn’t understanding and acceptance, there WILL be resistance, revolt, and failure. If there is a failure just one time for new digital capabilities, you’ll lose what little trust you already had with the team and the chance to introduce new changes or to try this change again for a long time, if not forever. This is why it’s imperative to not try a digital improvement when the timing isn’t right.

A simple case example: we tried to implement some new frontline tools with an oilfield services company that required their mechanics and operators to carry Android phones while they did their jobs. We tried this at two facilities; one in Texas and one in Louisiana. The relationship between the frontline and management in Texas was strong and leadership was very involved and visible. However, Louisiana wasn’t as healthy of an operating environment, and thus, the frontline team members were skeptical of the new tools from day 1. As a result, 80% of the phones we handed out to the team in Louisiana were broken ‘by accident’ within 2 weeks. We had no such problem in Texas, where the attitude amongst the frontline was more open.


Key points include:

  • Communication with team members
  • Case study on oilfield services company
  • Right timing

Read the full article, When you should NEVER add digital capabilities to your frontline, on LinkedIn.