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Want to boost operational efficiency? Take a page from IT.

Copia Automation
November 8, 2023

What manufacturing can learn from IT DevOps success

Manufacturing Automation Leaders and Controls Engineering teams are under constant pressure to keep operations lean and to respond faster to market changes as they navigate a critical transformation period. Many face productivity challenges during a time when labor is scarce, budgets are tight, and manual processes continue to create risks of human error and unintended down time.

As it turns out, IT organizations are confronting similar hurdles, yet the sector is faring better when it comes to boosting its productivity levels. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor productivity in the manufacturing industry was up 2.9% in the second quarter of 2023. Compare that to software development circles, which are hitting new benchmarks when it comes to productivity and the ability to produce product at scale--in this case, the agile delivery of new code releases. While code development is just one piece of the overall manufacturing automation puzzle, it can have a significant impact on agility, quality, efficiency, and other critical KPIs. Getting coding right on the operational side, therefore, is important for unlocking productivity.

What is the secret to IT developers’ more prolific and efficient work? Some of the progress can be tied to the rise of DevOps, a methodology that closely aligns development, quality assurance, and operations teams to ensure faster innovation and delivery of applications and services. While software organizations are still evolving their DevOps practices, the benefits are clear: improvements to time to market, customer experience, operational efficiency, even business growth—the latter by as much as 63%, according to one study conducted by Coleman Parkes Research for CA Technologies. 

Atlassian 2020 DevOps report
from Atlassian DevOps Trends report, 2020

A Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey found that organizations leveraging DevOps saw such benefits as enhanced productivity (67%), innovation (66%), and product service quality (64%). Respondents to the 2020 Atlassian DevOps Trends Survey confirmed DevOps practices are elevating IT’s game, helping to produce better deliverables (61%) much faster—nearly half of those participating in the research cited DevOps as essential for pushing code to market faster and for improving deployment frequency. With DevOps practices unlocking such productivity advantages for IT, it only makes sense that tying the approach to Operational Technology (OT) code development can deliver similar benefits.

Optimizing coding practices won’t address large-scale productivity gaps in areas like supply chain, for example, but a focus on OT code development can move the needle. 

There isn’t a 1:1 mapping between IT and OT processes, and manufacturing and controls engineers do face more logistical obstacles when it comes to software development and maintenance. Yet manufacturers, which have been slower to transform coding practices compared to IT, can draw on certain DevOps principles to drive productivity advances that go beyond more efficient code. Among key takeaways:

  • Increased collaboration. Automation initiatives are notorious for silos—pockets of systems focused on a specific task or manufacturing role, yet lacking visibility into other systems and data. By borrowing DevOps practices such as systems thinking and shared goals along with modern tools such as Git-based source control, automation and controls engineers can break down barriers and drive seamless collaboration across disparate teams. This facilitates more timely system updates and can help optimize production cycles.

  • Mitigate downtime. Applying the DevOps focus on end-to-end visibility to OT functions can help organizations identify and respond to issues earlier in the cycle. By mitigating problems before they metastasize, OT organizations lower the risk of both downtime and quality issues, both critical for keeping costs in check. Having visibility into the when and why of code changes also ensures organizations can recover more quickly in the event of operational disruptions.

  • Organize for output. With DevOps, culture is critical to delivering technical capabilities and reaching optimal performance. Building a culture that formalizes processes so employees can easily distribute tasks, creates flexibility, and promotes user-centricity as well as knowledge sharing can lead to increased output. According to the DevOps Research and Assessment LLC (DORA) Accelerate State of DevOps Report 2023, teams with generative cultures achieve 30% higher organizational performance leveraging DevOps. 

It's still early on in the DevOps journey, but it’s increasingly clear that key concepts are boosting software developer productivity. There’s no reason why manufacturers and automation specialists can’t adopt similar Industrial DevOps practices to see an increase in productivity.


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