MÁQUINA HERRAMIENTA - BIEMH 2024

A Path Of No Return

Experts form Lantek, Sisteplant, Ayesa, LKS Next and Semantic Systems agree that investing in digitization is a key factor for companies to survive

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Empresa XXI
Bilbao
4/1/2024

The heads of Lantek, Sisteplant, Ayesa, LKS Next and Semantic Systems stress the importance of investing in digitalization to ensure the competitiveness and survival of companies, always, of course, within the limits of each company’s possibilities. These experts emphasize that a comprehensive and consistent strategy must be developed over time to manage these processes.

> In general, is investment in digitalization commensurate with its importance for the future?

Juan José Colás / Chief of Sales and Marketing Officer Lantek

It is really very difficult to make generalizations about investments. Each company faces very different problems, situations and circumstances. I would say that companies are starting to understand the competitive advantages that digitalization and technological transformation bring to the business, so in that sense the scenario is different from what it was years ago.

Juan José Colás / Lantek
Juan José Colás, Lantek.

Ana Santiago / CEO Sisteplant

The last few years have marked a paradigm shift, companies are aware of the need, although there are still differences between sectors. Investments are being made, but there is still a need for a disruptive leap and a clear horizon for transformation. If we think about industry, there is still a long way to go in terms of implementing demand forecasting tools, real-time process monitoring and control of process variables, and asset lifecycle management, to name a few.

José Manuel Barrutia / Senior Chief Strategy Officer Ayesa

The level of investment varies and is usually related to the size of the company, the sector in which it operates, and the strategic vision that the organization has in this regard. In any case, there is a clear trend: companies are inevitably interacting more intensively with their customers, suppliers and/or allies through the so-called digital ecosystems. In this sense, companies have already understood the significance (opportunities and risks) that digitalization brings to their market and business model. When it comes to allocating budgets and investments to digitalization, companies are at different stages of maturity depending on when they started to address the challenge of digitalization. For example, some companies are investing in cloud migration projects, data analytics and cybersecurity, while others are more advanced, with targeted investments in process automation and artificial intelligence. In all cases, it is essential to have suppliers with the experience, solvency and quality of service recognized in the market to help and accompany them in their digital transformation projects.

Ana Santiago, Sisteplant.
Ana Santiago, Sisteplant.

Jesús Dorronsoro / Technological and Consultancy Director LKS Next

In general, companies invest in digitalization based on the expected return on that investment. Sometimes, they invest in digitization because of a market need or to facilitate compliance with regulatory requirements. More often than not, they invest out of a need to improve their own internal productivity by digitizing processes and freeing up their people to focus on more value-added tasks. It is the different operational areas that are increasingly demanding more digitization to improve their productivity and results.

José Ramón Valle / Marketing Director Semantic Systems

Obviously, the answer varies depending on the company, its sector and its size. In general, however, we see that many companies recognize the importance of digitization and are making significant investments in it. Getting the digitization process right is critical to the future of any business. More than simply optimizing costs or increasing sales, it is the difference between survival and extinction. If investment in technology is viewed as an expense, and the company does not allocate sufficient resources to digitization, whether due to a lack of understanding of its relevance, a lack of available resources, or resistance to change, it runs the risk of being left behind in an increasingly digitized business environment. Conversely, an organization may over-invest in digitization without a clear strategy, failing to digitize what really matters and irrevocably wasting money. At Semantic Systems, we believe it is critical that companies carefully assess their needs and capabilities before making significant investments in digitization, develop a solid digitization strategy that is aligned with their business objectives, and work with a digitization expert partner to provide the methodology and support for their digitization processes.

José Manuel Barrutia, Ayesa
José Manuel Barrutia, Ayesa

> Are companies taking a comprehensive approach to IT and digitalization, or are they taking a piecemeal approach? Do you see this as a deficit?

Juan José Colás / Lantek

It is not easy to make long-term plans with a global scope, the evolution of most companies is usually given by projects. Progressing piecemeal can be an effective strategy for companies that do not have the resources for a comprehensive strategy, or for those that need to adapt quickly to changes with specific solutions. However, one of the maxims we always share with our customers is the fundamental importance of how data is organized and related. Respecting the data model will keep it consistent, which is critical to ensuring that it is accurate and useful. Therefore, regardless of the digitization project we are carrying out, it is essential to pay attention to the integration, traceability and quality of the information, which will avoid errors, help solve problems and allow us to make informed and accurate decisions.

Ana Santiago / Sisteplant

Often, partial implementations are made with digital improvements that are not connected and therefore have less impact, as they are not necessarily optimal to achieve the final goal. A global vision of the value chain is essential, starting from the heart of the factory, where things happen, strengthening the processes in a practical way to be able to adapt en masse, efficiently and without losing sight of how the market is behaving.

José Manuel Barrutia / Ayesa

There are companies (usually large organizations) that take a comprehensive approach, with a holistic view of how to transfer their strategic vision through digitalization. This is undoubtedly the most effective way to approach it, as it is a process that affects the entire organization, and not only the IT area, but also the organizational culture, employee training, business processes, etc. However, and often due to budgetary constraints, it is common to find fragmented approaches, which are sometimes ineffective as they make cohesion between systems and leveraging new capabilities more complex. From a strategic point of view, not having a medium-term vision of the impact of digitalization on the business environment in which the organization operates would be considered a deficit, regardless of whether this strategy is translated into projects that are staggered over time depending on budget availability.

Jesús Dorronsoro / LKS Next

Companies, like everything else, have limited resources, and it is normal that in most cases they face digitization processes in a fractional or piecemeal manner. There are very few cases in which it is faced globally in a short period of time. We must not forget that a digitization process, in addition to an economic disbursement, involves a more or less profound change, but a change in the organization, in the processes, in the training of people and even in the relationship with suppliers or customers, as the case may be. What is a mistake is not to have a comprehensive strategy that allows to have already traced a path to face the different phases of digitalization. A digitization strategy designed to be implemented in a specific time frame, whose actions in one area take into account the implications in the others, which prioritizes actions based on different factors... All this will allow us to face a more effective digitization process with lower costs. In short, it will avoid mistakes along the way and allow us to face the following phases in a more orderly manner. Of course, the implementation of this strategy requires an initial investment, and many companies do not see it as an investment, but as an expense, because the first result of this part is not the effective digitization of any process, but the design of this digitization. This is where the mistake lies, in not carrying out this strategy and prior planning.

Jesús Dorronsoro, LKS Next.
Jesús Dorronsoro, LKS Next.

José Ramón Valle / Semantic Systems

We always make a mistake when we generalize and, as in everything, there will be companies that carry out their digitization processes in a comprehensive manner and others that do it in a more fragmented way, more “by leaps and bounds”, influenced by specific needs within their company or by passing fads. At Semantic Systems, we always approach a digitization project in a comprehensive manner, keeping in mind that you need to digitize what really matters. Every company is unique and knows what it is that adds value to the market that needs to be digitized. At Semantic, we understand that digitization is not just about digitizing this or that process in a fractional way, or implementing an existing tool without further ado, but that digitization is a key integral process for the growth of a company. That is why we carry out every digitization project based on our methodology, which includes 6 fundamental points: Consulting (what to do and why); Engineering (how to do it and who does what); Planning (when to do it); Execution (project implementation); Validation (project validation); Managed Service (maintenance and indicators).

> Have companies exhausted the possibilities of public support in this area, or do you think the programs are not enough?

Juan José Colás / Lantek

For many companies, the public aid programs may have been an incentive to start their digitization plans, but it is not advisable to stop there. Although we have been hearing for months that a new public aid package could be approved in the future - which we hope will happen - we cannot rest on this possibility. It is essential that companies continue to take steps towards digitization in order to remain viable and achieve their business goals. The ultimate goal is to improve the efficiency of the business and the return on investment, so that the project is self-financing; the worst thing that can happen is to abandon the project halfway through.

Ana Santiago/ Sisteplant

The good news is that there are still many opportunities to be seized. It is true that aid has not always arrived as quickly as we would like, but this is changing. In any case, we cannot rely on public aid to carry out digitization projects. Each company must carry out its digitization plan independently. The projects must be good in themselves. If there is aid, all the better.

José Manuel Barrutia / Ayesa

Many companies have taken advantage of aid and subsidy programs aimed at digitalization and innovation. Part of the NG-EU funds have been earmarked for this purpose, both for large companies and SMEs. In some cases, the aid is mainly for technical advice to help companies that are still in the early stages of digitalization. It is true that in some cases there have been delays in terms of allocation and implementation, which is particularly relevant when we are talking about highly changing and dynamic technologies. Be that as it may, in order to have a competitive business environment that incorporates the latest technological trends, it is essential to have effective public-private cooperation programs that are aligned with the demands of the digital age. In short, it is not that they have fallen behind, but that a continued commitment is needed to avoid being left behind by other economies or regions that are investing decisively and sustainably in emerging technologies.

Jesús Dorronsoro / LKS Next

In my opinion, neither. The digitalization process of a company is not something that has a beginning and an end. It is a constant evolution: as technology evolves, so do companies’ digitalization needs and opportunities. This means that digitization support programs also evolve. These programs always focus on two aspects: support for SMEs, which usually have the greatest financial needs for their development, and the adoption of emerging digital technologies, which provide a great increase in competitiveness in driving companies in the territory. Therefore, companies will always welcome support for the digitalization project to be developed, and administrations will always allocate resources for it. However, given that public resources are limited, it is logical that they also prioritize on the basis of the stimulating effect of this aid. But a digitization process should not be undertaken because there is aid. A digitization process should be undertaken because it is profitable in itself. Linked to the previous question, the design of a digitization strategy helps to improve this profitability.

José Ramón Valle / Semantic Systems

We are aware of the importance of public support as a vital resource, especially for SMEs, as it allows them to access technologies that might otherwise be inaccessible due to the cost of implementing these technologies. These programs also have the potential to foster innovation and facilitate companies’ access to new technologies, which is essential in an increasingly competitive and digitized business environment.

José Ramón Valle, Semantic Systems.
José Ramón Valle, Semantic Systems.

> Digitalization seems to be entering a new revolution. Are companies aware enough of AI, connectivity or cybersecurity?

Juan José Colás / Lantek

We are talking about technologies that are multifaceted and, above all, constantly evolving, which brings with it an infinite number of new opportunities, but also numerous challenges. At Lantek, we are convinced that our customers are in good hands and that their management teams are aware of the opportunities and challenges that these new technologies bring. In order to move forward with confidence and make the most of digitalization, it is essential to have the most reliable technological allies who can help provide a holistic view of the various aspects of each of these technologies. In this way, you will be able to discover what they can bring to your business and what risks they may entail, in order to make decisions accordingly and with the maximum knowledge available.

Ana Santiago / Sisteplant

The revolution started years ago, especially when we talk about connectivity and cybersecurity, although there is still a long way to go to reach the cyberfactory of the future. The level of implementation of AI in industry is just beginning. In the coming years, we will see a bigger progress in this area. Sisteplant has been developing machine learning applications for industry for years and they are already a reality.

José Manuel Barrutia / Ayesa

They are increasingly aware of the impact of these technologies and how other companies are using them. Again, the level of maturity varies. This is logical because the path and, above all, the degree of adoption of each technology is different. In connectivity, for example, the importance of connectivity and accessibility is already fully recognized and understood. However, it is true that everything related to the Internet of Things (IoT) and next-generation networks (5G) does not have the same relevance for some sectors as for others; and perhaps their adaptation is slower than expected. In the area of cybersecurity, the growing threat of cyberattacks is raising awareness among companies, and we are seeing an increase in investment in this area. In addition, everything related to industrial cybersecurity is particularly relevant. Once again, it is necessary to have specialized and recognized suppliers that take a holistic approach to cybersecurity, both IT (systems, infrastructure) and OT (plant, operations). When it comes to AI, companies are generally at an early stage of adoption. If 2023 was the year to understand and explore the opportunities this technology can bring, 2024 will be the year to clearly define how each organization wants to position itself in this regard and take steps in terms of adoption. What we are seeing is that the speed at which everything related to AI (tools, investments, capabilities, etc.) is happening is much faster than with other technologies, so it is easy to be displaced by competitors.

Jesús Dorronsoro / LKS Next

In fact, we are at the beginning of a new revolution. AI was already here, but generative AI has arrived to disrupt everything, along with process robotization, big data, and IOT. And quantum computing has yet to explode. As with any revolution, embracing these changes in a short period of time is complicated. Only the most capable companies, I insist, capable, which is not the same as big, can embrace it and not just embrace it but turn it into an opportunity. The rest, the vast majority, will adopt the various disruptive technologies to the extent that either their non-adoption is a problem for them or their adoption is an obvious opportunity. The most obvious example is cybersecurity. Five years ago, talking about cybersecurity in industry was almost preaching in the wilderness. As machines have been connected to each other and as these connections have been extended to customers, suppliers or activities in the field, it has gained some importance, and when a cyber attack has stopped the factory, whether its own or that of the competition, it has been when the convenience of implementing quality cybersecurity has really been assumed.

José Ramón Valle / Semantic Systems

There is a growing awareness that ICTs have become key. They are no longer perceived as isolated elements of the business, but as fundamental pillars for business survival, and therefore all companies invest in technology to a greater or lesser extent. However, each company advances in its digitalization process at its own pace, after a thorough analysis of its specific needs, and without being influenced by emerging trends or technologies. For example, it would not make sense to adopt AI if key processes have not yet been digitized or if cybersecurity is neglected within the company.

> Even though you are still in the early stages, which disruptive technologies do you think should make their first steps as a strategic factor in the medium term?

Juan José Colás / Lantek

Technology applied to data processing is the key to a company’s digitalization strategy, since the differentiating strategic factor that a company can count on will always be the value extracted from the data. On the other hand, I would like to highlight AI as an element that can improve efficiency and open up new business opportunities. It is not for nothing that it is already present in production optimization processes, in patterns, or in the detection and correction of errors. Its integration with other technologies, such as IoT and robotics, opens up even more opportunities for innovation, from information gathering to autonomous execution of complex processes.

Ana Santiago/ Sisteplant

Clearly, all those that help to control the process to improve an agile and efficient response. We are talking about hyper-connected MES systems, advanced CMMS with predictive and other functions, machine learning systems and other AI applications with an impact at different points of the industrial value chain (planning, traceability, maintenance, agile adaptation of processes...).

José Manuel Barrutia / Ayesa

Cloud projects, data analytics, process automation, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and robotics are the most prominent. Augmented reality and virtual reality are also making progress, although they’ve had different phases of greater and lesser popularity or, let’s put it this way, traction and interest. We cannot forget quantum computing, where there are already sectors and companies taking advantage of its benefits. Advanced connectivity (5G, edge computing) is particularly relevant in some sectors, as it reduces latency and improves the efficiency of data processing. There are also key technologies in everything related to digital identity, blockchain, advanced biometrics, etc.

Jesús Dorronsoro /LKS Next

As I said, size is not necessarily synonymous with advanced digitization. It’s curious because we can also see that large companies have highly digitized areas and others that, on the contrary, have not gone beyond the Excel sheet. In my opinion, anything that involves process automation, whether management or operational, is where we should invest. But where all companies really need to invest immediately is in data quality and data protection. If we are going to automate processes, if we are going to use AI or generative AI, if we are going to connect our teams and share information, we have to make sure that the data that is being captured, stored and transmitted is good. Otherwise, all the automation will fail, because decisions are made based on the data, and the automation, the AI in your case, takes that data as the basis for a decision and action. If the data is bad, the decision and the action will be bad. If that data is exposed, in the best case, our competitors or our customers will be able to take it and use it, and in the worst case, a cybercriminal will be able to hijack it, manipulate it, and even put us out of business. So the first thing to do is to work on the quality and protection of the data.

José Ramón Valle / Semantic Systems

It will depend on the needs of each company, not because it is a very disruptive technology or because it is “fashionable” it is necessarily positive to implement it in our company. Any digitization process in a company needs a methodology that starts from an analysis, from a consulting phase in which it is necessary to assess what is really important to digitize, from there each company has to assess what contribution of improvement one or another technology will provide.

> A complicated question, given the avalanche of new developments and capabilities: How many years before a company becomes obsolete in terms of digitalization?

Juan José Colás / Lantek

I would not talk about time periods, the evolution is permanent and rapid, so either you have a solid technological base and a clear awareness of the issue, or you are already outdated. As I said, technology alone does not change sectors, and the industrial world is a good example of this. The recent technological advances alone (Internet, 3G/4G, cloud computing, IIoT, AI, Big Data...) have not caused real disruption in an overarching way, but rather by combining them with others that came years ago, such as automation and robotics. The impact of the new technologies is in the air, waiting for new catalysts to make their benefits clearly visible in the P&L. In order not to miss the opportunity when it comes, it is essential that companies have the appropriate technological structures and systems in place for the rapid implementation of the application best suited to that effect or catalyst.

Ana Santiago / Sisteplant

The key is to think through the roadmap and the specific applications to be implemented. This requires a deep reflection on why and how to incorporate new applications and the impact on our business. The second recommendation is the scalability of the solutions; the roadmap must be reliable and allow for consolidation and improvement to make leaps in the future.

José Manuel Barrutia / Ayesa

It depends a lot on the size and the sector in which you operate. For example, we have seen the transformation of the banking sector, the media and entertainment sector, etc. In these cases, in a few years, many companies could have become obsolete, not so much in terms of their internal systems, but in terms of their interaction with their customers, who increasingly demanded new channels and forms of relationship. In other cases, such as industry, companies (especially small ones) may have a little more time, but we must not forget that in a globalized world, you can be displaced quickly. Sometimes it is as basic as having efficient ERP and CRM systems that are adapted to new technological trends; and this is not always the case, there are still many companies that maintain systems that are partially obsolete or soon will be. In short, the key to avoiding obsolescence is to analyze the market and competitors; and to make a strategic and sustained investment over time. This is more effective than investing at a given moment and then not doing so for a few years.

Jesús Dorronsoro / LKS Next

As I said before, digitization is not a start-and-stop process, but a continuous process. This applies to the company and to any type of organization. It is a progressive and ongoing process. In my opinion, it is like the training of people: the training and evolution must be continuous throughout the professional career. Digitization in the enterprise must be a continuous process with a strategy defined from the beginning.

José Ramón Valle / Semantic Systems

The digitalization process of a company is characterized by its continuous nature. It is necessary to move away from temporary updates and adopt an approach of continuous improvement. This process requires methodical planning that identifies and prioritizes the critical elements of the value chain for effective digitization. It is necessary to digitize what really matters, what helps to sell more, to reduce costs or to be more sustainable, which requires a deep reflection on which aspects of the value chain really need to be digitized. This deep reflection allows for a gradual and strategic implementation, tackling increasingly complex projects. The company is thus engaged in a spiral of continuous digitization, constantly adapting to the demands of the environment and optimizing its operations in line with the latest technological trends.

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