By the end of the 20th century, lean-management techniques had migrated from their birthplace in Japan to remake the operations of manufacturing and process industries across the world. In heavy industries, such as mining, pulp and paper, and oil and gas, today’s leaders can point to decades of operational improvement thanks to lean practices and principles. But a lot has changed since lean was conceived. The next phase of operational excellence has arrived: Industry 4.0 technologies such as advanced analytics, AI, and connected equipment help heavy-industry leaders to increase the productivity, flexibility, resilience, and sustainability of their operations.

The trouble for many organizations, however, is that so far results from these technologies have been mixed. While many companies have run successful pilots or local deployments, only a few managed to scale up their initiatives to take full advantage of the new technologies across the enterprise. The experiences of those few point the way to a new kind of technology-informed operational excellence.