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Digitalization for the Coatings Industry

Occasionally, it can be easy to identify seemingly wasted time in coating projects. This may include activities such as filling out compliance paperwork, emailing PDFs, assembling product data sheets, and trying to keep track of certifications and standards. These tasks may not impact the real work of applying a coating, but they are essential to remaining safe and compliant on the project site. Eliminating as much busywork — or non-value-added activity — within these essential tasks has long been a goal across the coatings industry.

Digitalization offers something new by considering an entire process, in particular the workflow and data needs across the many roles involved. It is not just software, but a solution that eliminates the waste related to the collection and sharing of data through easy-to-use, permission-based interfaces that interact with a standardized cloud storage platform.

Implementing a digitalization solution is made easier by basing it on your current process. Today’s requirements include ensuring you have the right documentation on the jobsite and gathering compliance data. Digitalization integrates these activities into your workflow to become an easier, more natural part of your process. You can spend more time coating and less time on clipboards and screens. Let’s explore the opportunities and benefits of digitalization in more detail.

Why Digitalization Matters

Digitalization provides immediate benefits for nearly every role in the coatings industry, going beyond just taking you from pen and paper to a digital file. Digitalization leverages digital technologies to transform processes entirely — spanning departments, sites, and workflows. Further, it addresses challenges faced across the coatings industry, such as increasing compliance requirements, fewer skilled resources, expanded reliance on third parties, and the demand for real-time, efficient data sharing.

Compliance in the realm of contractor certifications continues to be important to coatings professionals because it ensures that the jobsite is safe and that hard-earned certifications are maintained. But the associated non-value-added work, such as redundant data entry, reformatting of documents, and sending reports from the field to the office, is time consuming and can make compliance a headache. Digitalization makes these tasks more efficient so that users, managers, and administrators can reallocate their time elsewhere. For example, with a centralized digital library of reports, certifications, and other documentation, you can reduce the time spent preparing for audits from weeks to just a few hours.

As many businesses move to digital, the “report” is not the only work product anymore. Customers are also demanding data. Data is the foundation for a digitalization solution. Field users can enter report data in an easy-to-use digital interface just once. This data can be accessed in a digital report format, but any data point can be pulled to analyze trends, thereby drawing insights to drive informed business decisions based on data. If you are an asset owner, this feeds a typically data-starved back office system to provide new insight. If you are a coatings contractor, it provides a distinct competitive advantage when bidding jobs and seeking to keep clients.

Ensuring a Successful Initiative

With so many solutions available on the market, it can be overwhelming as you look for what best fits your needs. And trying to differentiate between simple software and full digitalization can be confusing. Bottom line: It needs to be easy to use, be configurable, and evolve as your needs change and your business grows. This means you’re going to need a solution that fits with all levels of your company, from field users to management to your customer. The following are three things any successful solution must address.

1. Field Adoption: Finding a solution that takes into account how your field users collect data and get their work done is necessary for success. If field users do not want to use the solution you implement, digitalization is stopped in its tracks. Field users are many times not resistant to technology, but they seek a solution that does not disrupt their current data collection processes and does not require additional effort on their part, i.e., time, training, logins, etc. Successful integration of any technology must fit the way the users work.

2. Configurable Solution With a Focus on Standardization: Previously, digital solutions fell into basically two categories: “out of the box” software and custom-developed. “Out of the box” solutions fail to cover the breadth of the processes needed for full digitalization. These attempts involve pieced-together apps that can interrupt the flow of data and information, creating more work on all levels of the business. Alternatively, custom-developed solutions can be rigid, costly, and time consuming. And in many cases, neither option is able to keep up with changes in the industry or, specifically, your business.

Configurable solutions differ in that they are built around a basic framework that can be rapidly adjusted based on each customer’s specific needs. And because these frameworks utilize your current reporting, processes, and workflows, they are not only intuitive, but they inherently standardize your data.

3. Expanding With Your Business: To ensure that success continues beyond implementation, you need a digitalization partner who provides ongoing support. In an ever-transforming industry, the solution you choose must be not only configurable, but also capable of growth, including to new customers or sites that may have different processes or workflows. Plug-and-play solutions offer little support after the initial setup, and custom-developed products’ inflexibility means they cannot easily or cheaply be adjusted for new, unique sites or facilities. Investing with a partner who provides service beyond implementation is key.

How to Begin and What to Expect

Look for a digitalization partner who wants to understand your process, concentrating on the data and workflows. The key to gaining efficiency is assessing your current processes to understand how the data is collected, who needs to review and approve that data, and how that data is used to influence future business decisions. Only then can you begin reducing and streamlining non-value-added work so you can spend more time inspecting, coating, winning new projects, and, ultimately, getting paid.

The foundation of a successful digitalization initiative is an agile, easily adaptable software framework that is configured by location, role, task, or function to satisfy data and workflow needs without reinventing your process. An intuitive interface lets field users collect standardized data in a centralized system that is easily accessible to every part of your business. Using a flexible framework design means that the software can evolve as your business changes, so you will never outgrow it. And because it is based on efficiency, whether your company is large or small, you can benefit from digitalization.

About the Author

Ross Boyd is the founder and chief executive officer of TruQC, LLC, a process digitalization and compliance software company based in St. Louis, Mo. Boyd is a graduate of the University of Missouri (Columbia). He has been an active member of the Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC) for more than 10 years, serving as a member of the board of governors for the past four years, and he remains on the Association for Materials Protection and Performance (AMPP) board. He has held NACE CIP Level II certification. For more information, contact: Ross Boyd, (314) 457-3920, ross@truqc.com

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