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Change is guaranteed and imminent, and companies must adjust. Andrew Savage, CEO of Siemens Logistics, offers some tips on how business can extract the most benefit from innovation.
SCB: Companies are struggling to cope with innovation and change, but the effort often isn’t supported by the tools at hand. Can you share a story that illustrates that problem?
Savage: At Siemens Logistics, we work in the field of material handling and supply-chain automation. Often we’re presented with challenges from customers. One such challenge was around automating a heavily manual process for de-stacking containers, to allow operators to become more efficient in their day-to-day operations. At the time we were approached by this particular customer, there was no readily available solution on the market, and it was a very specific problem that dealt with a specific container.
SCB: So what did you do?
Savage: We had to approach it in a very innovative way. We looked at which parts of solutions were readily available, while at the same time we built an integrated de-stacking unit to meet the throughput requirements that this particular customer needed. When presented with this problem, the way we approached it was to go down a path of research and development and innovation. At the same time, we were working on trusted methods of mechanical, controls and solutions engineering, to create a fully automated tote de-stacker that I'm pleased to say is now being adopted by this particular customer network-wide.
SCB: Yet the process of automation and the process of change can be very painful. Companies can find themselves in a struggle to keep pace. How can they do that?
Savage: The way to keep pace with constant change is to constantly change the way you think. At the same time, companies need to be grounded in fundamentals. Change doesn't necessarily mean you have to disrupt everything. You just have to apply a change mindset to what you can see around you, and to proven solutions — how they can be modified to solve the problems that are in front of you.
SCB: But that change mentality isn’t just about adopting new technology. It’s changing business processes to match the technology, which is harder.
Savage: It is, and that's why I say you have to remain grounded. If you change too much of the fundamentals of the way you do business, you'll lose all cohesion. You have to maintain a path, and a vision that allows for an innovative approach. The processes have to adapt at the pace that the market demands, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can't stay grounded in what is a proven method of engineering, or a proven solutions development.
SCB: A process consists of people, and people can sometimes resist change, even when change is called for.
Savage: Fundamentally, for me, the way that people will adapt to change is to want to change. As leaders in this industry, you have to present that kind of environment. If anybody feels that they have to do anything, that's where you find resistance. We need to paint the vision and benefits of change, and people will want to adapt to it.
SCB: When it comes to enacting change, what can the software industry learn from engineering and vice versa?
Savage: I think that's the crux of a problem that a lot of companies are seeing today. The speed of change with software is almost exponential. The fundamentals are what I would go back to. Again, when we engineer a solution, it's built up of requirements, a plan, and deliverables with an end goal in mind. Software has to do the same thing. Its roots are tied very deeply into manufacturing and engineering, but it's a much more agile, visible, and adaptable application. That’s where engineering and manufacturing can learn from software — the ability to adapt, to have visibility of every step of the process, is greatly beneficial to everyday mechanical and electrical engineering.
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