The term “digital transformation” can be a somewhat nebulous idea, but to Cisco Systems there are three key reasons businesses undergo such IT makeovers: to deliver new customer experiences, transform processes and business models, and empower workforce innovations.
Inbar Lasser-Raab, vice president of product marketing for Cisco Enterprises Solutions, who moderated a panel on this topic at the Cisco Live 2016 conference in Las Vegas, said that companies can sometimes start off trying to accomplish one of those goals and consequently wind up doing all three.
Such transformations are often very complex and may require new infrastructure —physical and digital — as well as new training for employees, Lasser-Raab said. Representatives from Cisco’s customers (who were panelists at the forum) said that they partnered with the vendor to not only enhance their network technology and take advantage of collaboration solutions, but also to reshape how they do business.
Blaine Hurst, executive vice president and chief transformation and growth officer at Panera Bread, said that before the company embarked several years ago on what it calls “Panera 2.0” it was so technologically backward that no one from Apple would take his calls — he said Panera used to have “one of the worst performing IT teams in the restaurant industry.”
What changed? In addition to hiring former MasterCard executive John Meister as CIO, Hurst said that Panera realized that innovation was not about flashy technology, but changing the experience for associates and customers — and that nothing else mattered.
Panera focused on enabling customers to order online in advance and enjoy rapid-service pickup. The restaurant chain also deployed Apple iPad-based kiosks to let customers order in stores and connect to the company’s rewards program. Those innovations have been rolled out at about 700 locations so far.
Hurst said that after 12 months of using rapid pickup, customers frequented Panera 30 percent more; and after a year of using the kiosk system, customers frequented the chain 15 percent more.
Panera partnered with Cisco on multiple levels, include its data center. The company also deployed Cisco UCS blade servers in its cafes, and uses Cisco switches and Cisco Meraki routers to deliver high-speed wireless service to both customers and its back-office systems.
In addition, Panera is beginning to experiment with beacon technology built into the Meraki routers.
All of the innovations seem to be paying off for Panera. Fast Company named the chain the world’s most innovative company in 2015 in food.
Chris Wagner, chief of police in Denville, N.J., and the immediate past president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP), noted that police departments are frequently on the “trailing end” of technology enhancements.
Wagner said that as president of NJSACOP, he often had to travel long distances for meetings and lost much time commuting. The association was also looking for an affordable, common collaboration platform that all state safety agencies could use to collaborate on issues that included emergency response, training, and interagency drug and gang interdiction.
Cisco approached the association with collaboration tools that could be used in a secure cloud environment, and Wagner said such tools presented immediate administrative benefits. The video conferencing allowed for meetings to be held in remote locations and cut down on commute times, freeing up Wagner and others to take on different tasks. The video conferencing tools also fostered more productive discussions and led to the resolution of issues that would have been left unresolved if they had been discussed over email, he said.
The NJSACOP used Cisco DX/SD/MX Series endpoints, its Jabber platform, WebEx and CMR, and Cisco Spark messaging and collaboration platform, according to Wagner. As a result, he said, officers can now transmit video from the scene of incidents securely on mobile devices, and send video and images over Spark at the push of a button.
Wagner said that such tools have fostered collaboration with other police jurisdictions, and that the New Jersey deployment has since led to similar ones in Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, New York and Virginia, as well with the National Sheriffs’ Association, which serves 3,800 sheriffs nationwide.
Dan Janka, president of Mazak, said he is thankful for the company’s partnership with Cisco, because it has made the machine tool builder even more precise and effective. Mazak produces high-precision components that go inside all manner of products, from artificial hips and knees, to smartphones and airplanes.
Mazak partnered with Cisco several years ago, Janka said, after it realized that in manufacturing information tended to flow in one direction: from production control and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems down to factory floors, but not the other way around. “If you wanted continuous improvement, you had a bunch of industrial engineers with clipboards and stop watches” on the factory floor.
To remedy the problem, the Association for Manufacturing Technology helped create a standard known as MTConnect, an open communication standard that allows machine tools to pass data on to higher level systems for further processing, using the XML-based standard. Getting access to that data helps manufacturers improve productivity and responsiveness to customer or market changes.
In October 2015 Mazak partnered with Cisco to develop the Mazak SmartBox, which uses MTConnect technology as the foundation, and allows for enhanced monitoring and analytical capabilities, including advanced cybersecurity protection.
The SmartBox uses a fog computing model, which enables analytics and other functions to be performed at a network’s edge, right at the data source. As Cisco noted in a blog post, manufacturing data is gathered via the MTConnect protocol, and the software agents run directly on Cisco Industrial Ethernet 4000 switches, offering real-time visibility and insights into data from the factory floor.
Janka said the SmartBox allows Mazak to equip its machines with a multitude of sensors, and then extract and compare performance data against the machine’s digital twin.
Mazak now has 2,000 machines in the field that are MTConnect-enabled, but Janka said the firm has “just scratched the surface” in terms of what it’s capable of doing with the protocol — and its partnership with Cisco.
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