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How Manufacturers Can Build “Growth Rings” For Digital Transformation Roadmap Blog

Jeff Miller, Director of Smart Manufacturing and Innovation | December 20, 2021
General Blog

Start small and build out layer by layer over time

A tree in my backyard, a White Oak, stands 102 feet tall (at least as measured by my Golf Rangefinder) and spans 80 feet wide.  This tree had stood there long before a house was on the property.  It was not placed in a pre-defined landscaping plan but has grown naturally in a forest setting for over 100 years.  My property is surrounded by tall oaks, poplars, maples, elms, and pines, all growing dense enough to force each other to grow tall and straight.  These trees have unique stories, influenced by the seasons, their competition for light, and other outside forces like disease and infestations.  The only way to gain knowledge of what the trees have experienced, the hardships, the growth, and health is to cut into them and study their tree ring history.  There is a science dedicated to this called dendrochronology.  However, the only way to understand the tree’s rings is to have access to it from the inside, and once inside, a trained scientist can yield a wealth of information.  You may not know that dendrochronologists can get tree ring data using a Swedish increment borer without killing the tree. I contend that there are similarities between how trees grow and manufacturers grow utilizing a digital transformation roadmap. They start small and build out layer by layer over time, with outside competition helping to steer their growth. Some grow straight and tall, while others fail to survive amongst the shadows of the competition. A company’s growth rings are manifested through its culture and system of processes, which have evolved through times of plenty and times of hardship. 


If you read public company annual reports, you will notice a recent trend from the executive teams to name digital transformation roadmap as a primary driver for company growth, margin improvement and/or sustainability.  In support of these initiatives, some companies develop these strategies internally.  This approach is commonly justified by leaders who believe they already know their own culture, history, competition, strengths, and weaknesses, and therefore why wouldn’t they be the best to create their own roadmap?  However, we have found in many cases that their close proximity to their own business becomes an impedance to them creating an objective, modern technology roadmap that wraps the art of the possible around their people, processes, existing technology, and new technologies.  Internal champions can be biased by past historical defeats or have lost the energy necessary to tackle some of the more challenging aspects of their business.  This can be caused by existing culture (good and bad), the mentality of “we have always done it this way”, or just a lack of awareness of new technologies or approaches that now easily solve past challenges.  Much like it takes someone from the outside to study the growth of a tree and come to conclusions, we have seen that the most successful manufacturers welcome outside opinions and experts to study their growth rings and help them build for the future.

Ironically, companies who do a really good job at retaining their top talent may suffer from insular thinking.  In other words, there is a negative side-effect to having great retention.  Current staff may have had very minimal recent experience outside of their own company, making it harder to accumulate fresh new ideas and concepts. Bringing outside experts in allows for best-in-class approaches to be learned from other industries and cultures. other than your own.

And then there is the technology.  Technology is changing fast.  Best in class manufacturers realize that it would be very difficult for their team members to have an expert grasp of the ever-evolving technology landscape and how to successfully apply it.  Having good digital transformation roadmap partners to help navigate the complex technology landscape is crucial.  These digital transformation roadmaps (plans) also need to allow for today’s technology as well as easily adapt to tomorrow’s technology because the implementation of the roadmap can take a year, or it could be a five-year plan.


Another challenge for companies is that politics may starve innovation.  Let’s face it, outside experts can say things that those working in the company may be thinking but cannot say.  This untethered voice may be the catalyst for the change you have been wanting for a decade.  Let me give an example, I was working with the executive leadership at a manufacturer and one of the issues that they were struggling with was team members not willing to share their knowledge with other team members.  Any time there was an issue with quality on a production line, only one person could be called to address the issue even though there were several people who should be capable of addressing the problem without assistance.  These individuals would carry laptops to the beach so that they could be available.  This wasn’t just isolated to one individual; this was across facilities where individuals accumulated knowledge but weren’t willing to train others on what they know and definitely not willing to write it down.  After several days of interviews across facilities, it was obvious that there was culture issue here and not an individual personality issue.  The problem was that the workers felt they had job security by holding on to the knowledge.  Ultimately, the issue was job security.  So, the feedback to the executive team was that in some way, they have instilled this culture.  It was incumbent upon them to build a culture where people feel safe in their positions, that they don’t need a bargaining chip to feel valued.  So, yes, a technology solution to capture tribal knowledge was necessary but also the culture had to be addressed to ensure their people would feel safe adopting the technology.

Trees communicate to one another by emitting chemicals.  These airborne chemical systems act as an early warning to other trees that leaf-eating insects are nearby.  Studies have shown that other trees become more resistant to insects after receiving these signals.  These chemicals also have the benefit of attracting predators and parasites that kill the insects, basically calling for outside help.  Even trees need outside assistance from time to time and our business are no different.


InSource Solutions has a clear, defined, and well-executed approach to creating digital transformation roadmaps that can be tuned to investment schedules and calibrated based on existing technology footprints.  It considers not only your technology but the people and process.  Our approach evaluates the existing culture and process against best practices identifying opportunities for efficiency gains.  We leverage industry standards like ISA-95 to measure your organizations digital footprint against its ten functional areas and the 244 attributes associated with those ten functional areas.  Once we have a picture of where we are starting and we define your destination, we then built turn by turn roadmaps that get your organization operating at peak efficiency getting more from your existing assets.  What separates us from any other organization is that even though we are a technology company we know that technology alone is not enough.  What further separates us, is that when we evaluate your digital footprint for what is and isn’t digitized, we don’t just give you a plan to digitize all areas where you are not currently digitized.  We evaluate the business value for your organization leveraging data based on our experience and published KPIs from MESA.  The end result is not some document that sits in a desk drawer but an actionable plan ready for implementation and worthy of investment.

In summary,

  • InSource can be an outside voice for change
  • InSource is not bound by current cultural thinking
  • InSource has a broad knowledgebase
  • InSource is not bound by internal politics
  • InSource leverages industry standards
  • InSource is committed to bring value from your digital transformation roadmap

If you would like to learn more about InSource Solutions tigital transformation roadmap process, please contact us.  We would love to share more details about our approach and get your started on your transformation journey.