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The challenge of measuring digital maturity: the new DRL Tool

Posted 21 Oct 2018

The adoption of digital technology into what is still a largely analogue sector has the potential to transform manufacturing. The industry gathers huge quantities of data on a daily basis, so with enough data, and of the right sort, manufacturers now have an opportunity to reduce waste and increase productivity and the value they offer to their customers.

Many manufacturers remain either unconvinced or uncertain about the positive impact digital transformation could have on their businesses. As data is set to become one of the most important factors of production – along with materials, human labour, skills and the availability of capital – how do companies make the most of the range of digital tools that are available to them, and how do they assess how prepared they are to adopt and integrate these tools into their everyday operations?

In the background, the cost of collecting, transporting, storing and analysing data in vast quantities has fallen dramatically. The challenge companies in the manufacturing sector now face is understanding how digitally mature they really are.

The birth of Digital Readiness Level Tool

In the late 1960s, other organisations faced a similar question. Hype surrounded new technological developments and in 1974 NASA conceived the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) using a simple scale from one to seven, with common criteria set for each level. By 1989, NASA had fully defined the TRL and increased it to nine levels, and by the mid 1990s this approach had been adopted by wider US government programmes. The power of the system is that it is open and free to use, making it easy to develop a standard and allowing benchmarking of different technologies from different sources.

In 2017, the High Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute (HSSMI) teamed up with Digital Catapult, the Hennik Group and the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) to create a TRL-like tool to define the concept of “digital maturity”. The concept of the Digital Readiness Level (DRL) was born. Whilst several similar tools were already under development, none had all the required properties of being open, free to use, comprehensive and sufficiently detailed. With the added support of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and The Digital Engineering and Test Centre (DETC), the DRL Tool was defined, tested, refined and piloted with selected companies, and in June 2018 the beta version was launched.

How does it work?

The tool is structured around ten themes, encompassing the overall vision of the organisation in relation to digital adoption; the culture of innovation; technology deployed; processes; the systems in place; the inclusion of external networks of partners and suppliers; skills; workforce performance; operations; and the performance of external networks.

Each theme carries a number of questions and the measurement is done through self-assessment. The online tool rates the company’s overall digital maturity, on a 1-9 scale, just like the TRL. It also creates a map showing the current areas of strength and weakness giving an indication of where corrective action might be needed.

Self-assessment requires companies to be introspective and objective about their capabilities across the ten themes. The more detailed and accurate the data used to answer each question, the more representative and valuable the outcome.

Why is it important?

In the age of digital disruption, the biggest challenge for companies is to respond to this rapid change. The ability to take on and deploy digital technology will help deliver competitive advantage in increasingly competitive markets – something that will define the success of the business. DRL is aimed to help organisations on this journey by focusing on achieving their goals with digital transformation.

The approach is similar to the Investors in People (IiP) standard that looks at how people are managed and developed to maximise value in the organisation. The IiP self-assessment is completed in a couple of hours and many organisations across the UK have undertaken it. The IiP standard assessment process encouraged companies to start gathering data to gain insights into what needed to be done to turn their biggest cost (people) into an agent for positive change. The DRL is its data equivalent.

With the DRL, and similarly with the IiP standard, the more effort put into gathering and analysing data used in the assessment process, the more companies can learn about potential value within their organisation. The full assessment can take as little as 90 minutes for a small manufacturing company and will benchmark readiness to make the most of digital technologies. Answers will also change as new practices and technologies are deployed, making regular re-assessment an important part of the process.

We expect that, like similar tools, the DRL will evolve and be updated with time in the full spirit of continuous improvement. The DRL has been designed to act as a standard-setter for digital readiness – “digital maturity” – within the manufacturing industry. The top level of achievement – a DRL9 company – has been defined by the tool as a ‘Digital Champion’. Imagine the value that such a rating could bestow in a future, fully digital manufacturing world.

Version 2.0 of the DRL tool was launched on 1st October 2018. Find out more at drl-tool.org