With so many definitions being offered for “the factory of the future,” and so many components at work in a digital enterprise, how does a manager know if his organization is on the right track, or close to the goals, or already operating as a fully integrated digital enterprise? Do you know if your operation can claim the title of Smart Factory?

Characteristics of manufacturers successfully deploying digital technologies vary greatly, indicating there is room for individual operations to put a "personal" spin on their strategies and tailor applications to their market.

A common characteristic, though, is the fully integrated, holistic approach that seems to be prevalent in success digital enterprises or smart factories. "Think big" seems to be a common strategy, as manufacturers apply digital strategies across the entire value chain, and with internal and external stakeholders.

In Seven Traits of an Effective Digital Enterprise, three McKinsey analysts noted that a customer-center strategy is frequently the heart of digital initiatives: “A healthy obsession with improving the customer experience is the foundation of any digital transformation," they explained.

“No enterprise is perfect, but leadership teams should aspire to fix every error or bad experience," Olanrewaju, Smaje, and Willmott continued. “Processes that enable companies to capture and learn from every customer interaction—positive or negative—help them regularly to test assumptions about how customers are using digital and constantly fine-tune the experience.”

Although there are no governing mandates or official checklists to define the Factory of the Future, there are some common characteristics of these companies on the forefront of modernization. After months of gleaning industry case studies, the following summations have been developed.

Manufacturers who are engaging in modern best practices tend to be:
Collaborative: Engaging partners and customers to participate in product development and problem solving.
Highly innovative: The company supports a culture of out-of-the-box thinking and encourages personnel, at all levels in the organization, to contribute ideas. This applies to new product introductions as well as internal processes and facility management.
Agile: The company makes decisions quickly and reacts in a timely manner to new opportunities or changes in market status.
Cloud enabled: The company likely uses cloud solutions to take advantage of the many benefits such always-modern capabilities, agility, and speed of implementation.
Customer-centric: Today’s consumer, no matter the country or type of industry, is highly demanding and expects products and buying experiences that are highly personalized and tailored to individual needs.
Vertically specialized: The trend to specialize in narrow niche markets and focus on a few core products continues to be a tactic for success.

Pressures to modernize — To remain competitive and profitable in a global economy, manufacturers must meet the heightened pressures to continually introduce new products, fulfill orders quickly, and provide extra value — such as aftermarket service or personalized products. To meet these challenges, manufacturers naturally turn to IT solutions to streamline and automate processes. Unfortunately, that is no longer enough.