The virtual panel discussions series – ‘Analytics enabling resilience in Manufacturing’ – saw industry experts dissecting the importance of technology to better manage manpower.
Ever since the pandemic hit India and the world, there have been growing conversations around the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning and analytics. The manufacturing industry has largely relied on manual labour, and although automation is not a concept that has been unheard of, the industry has clearly fast-forwarded by a few years, to keep things up and running.
“Looking at ways to improve productivity in isolation is a passe. Optimizing the workforce that ensures maximum productivity and while keeping human (workforce) well-being in constant balance is the right way forward - This is a perfect area for where AI to play its true role i.e., accentuate human performance." - Arun Chearie, Director - SAS
To discuss the pertinent subject of ‘Optimizing Manpower through Analytics and Digitisation,’ we were joined by a panel of esteemed thought-leaders — Nabuath Ulla Khan (Practice Head Manufacturing and IoT Analytics, SAS), Ajoy Lall (VP - Manufacturing, Commercial Vehicle Business Unit, Tata Motors), R Siddharthan (Executive Director (HR), Dalmia Cement (Bharat) Ltd), and Amarnath SKP (Group Head, R & D Asia, Apollo Tyres Ltd) – in our latest virtual panel discussion.
Following are the highlights from the discussion:
Significance of Workforce Analytics
This is a time that has never been witnessed before. Although work from home did exist in the pre-pandemic times, it was never adopted the way it is now! There are some positives, but WFH is also blurring the boundaries between personal and professional lives, and that is a huge challenge for most people today.
“It is imperative to manage this better. Burnouts are bound to happen. But how can we as organisation leaders help manage our workforce in a better way to ensure that we not only help our employees, but also make a good amount of benefits for the organisation," said Mr. Khan.
IoT as an area is divided into five major segment for manufacturing organisations: Material, Manpower, Machinery, Method, and Measurement, added Mr. Khan.
“If we or our organisation is dealing with massive workforce impact due to the unexpected and unprecedented environment, how do we manage that? The three key areas that were discussed were: As social distancing hampers manufacturing processes, what digital tools and infrastructure should organisations adopt in their operating model? The second thing is, how can companies identify cross-skilling and upskilling opportunities leveraging analytics, to be future-ready in the era of the new normal? And lastly, how can organisations make a seamless virtual shift utilising real-time data and AI-based insights?"
Mr Khan advised that for all this to be a success, the right planning mechanism needs to be in place to better manage the recruitment and have the right amount of risk scoring. Also, importance must be laid on ensuring workforce retention and how to better model the cost dynamics.
Effective utilisation of technology for better resource management
Mr Lall highlighted the importance of health and safety during these times and following the best practices that other countries had followed to get the supply chain back on track.
“The first task was to get the right people, people who had no infection, people who had no background of having the infection, or even their families, how to fetch them in the right way. We looked at policy guidelines that came from the government of India; we also looked at what happened in China, we picked up some best practices. So first, we started a health app, which made employees share their health conditions. Eventually we had a database of which people were eligible to come. Our safety and health department also made some norms in the interest of other people. All the elderly people were asked to work from home," he added.
Mr Siddharthan had similar views, and went on to add that their company, too, felt it was important to protect and support talent. They have a sizable population of migrant workers, most of whom hail from the interiors of Assam. Once the lockdown was lifted, they made sure that these workers were put in buses, and brought to the plant, with all safety measures in place.
“Once they reached, we maintained social distancing, in the plants we installed high-efficiency air filters were installed. We increased the ventilation in the plant and office. We instituted physical barriers. I feel continuity of the business is more critical. Sometimes the cement bags were imported from Sri Lanka. For engaging with customers, when you are using cement, you want minimum workers in your area. We have shifted to readymade products, and have made sure to inform about the strategic steps and financial decisions," he added.
Making remote work feasible
Mr Khan shared that it is important to effectively use the generated data to ensure we are prepared for the new normal.
“The focus here is to keep our facilities running. We have a mixed balance of workforce there, a few of them are blue collar workers, and the second set is white collar workers. Steps can be given via Google classes, even if a worker is not skilled, he can follow the steps," he added.
On the other hand, Mr Sidhharthan said how they invested in state-of-the-art machinery from various countries through virtual commissioning in these challenging times. “We used all kinds of people, and saved a lot of months. We virtually inaugurated the plant, suppliers and customers, and did virtual conferences with dealers.The response was much higher than before."
But what really needs to be taken care of at this point is to keep the motivation levels of employees high, added Mr Siddharthan.
“We had a virtual clinic 24 x 7, psychologists to counsel them, and since R & D works from home, they sometimes have a lot of troubles. Mental and emotional wellbeing issues are being experienced by white collar people to quite an extent. That’s why we had our Vice Chairman available every 15 days to engage with them virtually," he shared.
Mr Lall refuted the point that work from home is only feasible for those who are in R & D in the manufacturing industry. He said that although that was the case in pre-pandemic times, it isn’t so now.
“It is possible to manage working from home. Some blue collar people need to be there for production work, we have a rotation system. Automation is critical and there are two things required. Consistency is required. At Tata Motors, we have chosen the areas we want to automate for these reasons. And we have also worked closely with automation providers at an effective cost.
The role of creative leadership
Lastly, Mr Lall shared that these times are such when employees are more worried about their families, and vice-versa. That’s why they used Facebook to communicate with families of the workers, and relay to them the precautions that are being taken when their family member is going out of the house.
“This way the family is also confident that the person will be taken care of. There were helplines too to reach out to. We took care of their emotional well-being as well, a consultant was set up who was available for all employees. We also had a health steward, making sure that all protocols are being followed. They could stop the supply line if they were not followed," he concluded.
In case you missed the session, you can log in here and watch the full episode.
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