The global skills shortage, combined with an aging workforce and more workers retiring, is accelerating the digitization of plant operations in the industrial sector, a new report from Verdantix shows.

For the report, Verdantix interviewed 301 senior executives in North America, Europe, South America, South Africa, India, Australia, China, and the Gulf States responsible for operational excellence initiatives at firms with revenues of at least $250 million. 

Some 86% of survey respondents say a shortage of skilled workers is a “significant” or “very significant” factor driving increased digitization, while 85% point to an aging workforce as an important factor.

More than four out of five (83%) say they plan to increase spending on operational excellence initiatives during 2023 with around half (42%) expecting to increase spending by 10% or more during the year.

The report, Global Corporate Survey 2022: Operational Excellence Budgets, Priorities & Tech Preferences, says macroeconomic factors are having an impact on spending — 89% of respondents said cost-cutting is a “significant” or “very significant” influence on digitization. Mobile apps, enterprise asset management, and asset performance management software help boost efficiency and downtime on machinery.

The sector is benefiting from new technology, such as AI and machine learning — 87% of respondents say new technologies are enhancing data management at industrial firms particularly from devices such as wearable technology. They can also upload real-time locations data, detect toxic gases or high temperatures, and sense abnormal behavior.

Key environmental, social, and governance (ESG) priorities in the operational excellence sector include sourcing green electricity — 50% rate it as a high priority ahead of replacing aging equipment and cutting emissions and energy consumption.

Labor shortages have gripped industrial firms worldwide since the COVID-19 pandemic subsided and put even greater pressure on heavy industry to explore digital solutions,” said Joe Lamming, industry analyst at Verdantix. “Expanding data acquisition, establishing robust data management processes, and driving advanced analytics will help get the best hands, eyes, and ears on-site at the right time. Successful industrial software vendors will offer scalable, self-service solutions to key pain points where data management and integration with existing systems is prioritized.”