BlueScope Steel is starting to assemble the technology platforms that will underpin its efforts to scale up digital transformation initiatives across the group.
Chief strategy and transformation officer Andrew Garey provided the first in-depth look at BlueScope’s digital transformation at an investor day briefing on Tuesday, almost two years after the program of work began.
Garey said that BlueScope had a purposeful strategy of piloting digital projects in different parts of the business, both to prove out the individual use case, but also to inform its thinking on what core systems would be helpful to support broader deployment.
“Our approach has three elements: targeted use cases in priority areas, strengthening our people and technology capabilities - the foundations, and finally transferring solutions and learnings across the enterprise,” Garey said.
“I think it’s really important to emphasise the order of these.
“We specifically started with solving real-life problems to help inform the way we think about the foundations.
“We could’ve started with designing the foundations [and] what types of skills and platforms we thought we needed, but I think our learning by doing has been invaluable to shaping where we will head.”
Pilots were initiated in areas of the business that “had better data and where the organisational capability could support the digital effort”.
“Very early on, we knew the challenge was going to be one of prioritising scarce resources,” Garey said.
The first pilots occurred in BlueScope’s manufacturing operations.
The company piloted smart wireless sensors and artificial intelligence at its Port Kembla steelworks, monitoring - for example - cooling fan vibrations and alerting a maintainer if vibration levels exceed certain tolerances.
Garey said the “asset intelligence work is one of the most significant projects in terms of the scope and benefits to the organisation.”
“We’re preparing to transfer the solutions to other regions like the United States and ASEAN,” he said.
Another pilot deployed scheduling technology to paint lines, first in New Zealand and then in the US, to optimise when different paint jobs are performed, such as due to delivery timeframes or labour costs.
Garey also briefly described a pilot of machine learning models to improve supply chain operations “in one of [BlueScope’s] Australian businesses”, and a pilot of robotic process automation (RPA) in its finance division.
“We now have use cases going on in most countries within the BlueScope footprint across all four focus areas,” he said.
“Delivering use cases and driving a short term EBIT return is a core part of this approach, but so is building the capabilities and platforms to scale our efforts.
“Over time it is the foundations that will allow us to really ramp up our efforts efficiently across the group.”
Garey said that the pilots had helped inform forthcoming work around the company’s core IT platforms.
“We’ve had a couple of fundamental learnings around data and platforms so far through the use case development,” he said.
“Firstly, if you have immature digital technology platforms, you’ll be slow moving from pilot to embedded use cases. Secondly, if you have inconsistent technology platforms, it’ll be more difficult to leverage solutions across different businesses.
“We have a dedicated team to look at how we can achieve this through building data and platform capabilities.
“This includes creating common standards and principles for how we manage our data, where common technology platforms make sense, what investments need to be made to modernise parts of our existing technology landscape, and then which partners are the right partners to work with to accelerate our efforts, and we can already see large opportunities in areas such as machine learning and automation.”
With some of these systems and processes in place, it will become easier to embed piloted technologies into production, both in their original trial location but also more broadly across the group.
BlueScope has also set up “dedicated digital hubs” in Australia, New Zealand and the ASEAN region as well as a central team, to help different parts of the business take the next step in embedding new digital capabilities.
The digital hubs “contain a mix of skills - business and domain knowledge, technology knowledge and new skills like data science”, Garey said.
“This has led to a substantial shift in the development of the pipeline and implementation of projects in the last 12 months.
“A number of formal networks have been created to improve alignment and transfer skills, knowledge and experience across the group.
“We’ve also built out a strong central team to support our businesses on their journey. The central team will continue to grow in the short term.
“We’ve committed to further roles currently, but it is likely that the larger growth will occur closer to the opportunities within our business units.”