Features

Tim Harris – ATI

Developing a curriculum where consistency is key

If you’ve flown on an airplane or had an MRI at a hospital, chances are your life’s been touched by the work of Allegheny Technologies Inc.

Since ATI was formed by the merger of Teledyne and Allegheny Ludlum in 1996, the maker of specialty metals has outfitted customers in industries from aerospace and defense to energy and health care, with billions in sales annually. But there’s one thing the Pittsburgh-based company had never faced: a global pandemic.

In May 2019, ATI hired Tim Harris to oversee the company’s first digital transformation. Through him, the company seeks to use technology—such as artificial intelligence for machine learning—to not only streamline operations in four business units but support its employees during COVID-19.

“ATI’s always focused on innovation in process and product, but very little focus was placed in the digital space,” says Harris. “When ATI CEO Bob Wetherbee took over in 2018, he recognized the need, and by bringing processes together we could drive innovation. We’re just starting the digital effort but are fortunate that we laid a foundation in late 2019 that’s pulled us through.”

Let’s get digital

After joining ATI as its chief digital and information officer, Harris spent his first five months reviewing operations and developing a reorganization strategy that affects more than 50 manufacturing plants. As he explains, “there was no doubt that we were going to create enterprise capabilities and platforms, but we wanted to serve each unit with customized digital capability.”

When the pandemic arrived, the new capabilities gave the business “a lifeline to serve its diversified markets,” he says. In particular, ATI’s first cloud initiative, done through Microsoft’s Government Cloud, allowed ATI’s workforce to operate remotely without any lead time or capital investments.

Likewise, through its cloud capabilities, each of ATI’s business units could now access the legacy business applications remotely. The new system replaced outdated virtual private networks, ensuring compliance with new U.S. Department of Defense’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification standards for supply chain cybersecurity.

“We originally started the cloud migration by establishing a data hub to integrate information generated in the various business systems,” Harris says. “Leveraging our technology and data-centric platform helped us operate as one ATI.”

Pilot program

The modifications presented ATI with new questions of how to do more without increasing expenditures.

To that end, Harris used the newly developed centralized data hub for a pilot program to evaluate operations in manufacturing, procurement and supply chain. The aim was to test the limits of the system in real time. Carried out in the second half of 2020, he says his team could evaluate the flow and integration of information in its centralized depository.

By developing the model, ATI could produce a snapshot of the company’s operations—everything from time series IoT data to enterprise resource management and customer relationship management records across disparate systems and master data sets. The idea, he says, is to gain analytic capabilities of an ERP system, without the challenge of business process standardization work being done up front.

Harris expects further improvements in data flow later in 2021, adding that “our test run validated our vision and will pave the way for what comes next.”

Work in progress

“Digital at ATI has always been synonymous with Industry 4.0 that remains the primary focus. In parallel, we are taking the same mindset to automate the front and back-office activities, driving a vision for a fully digitized shared service,” Harris says. “We see that as a platform for integration.”

As part of those efforts, he says his team revamped the cybersecurity function in 2020 to meet CMMC standards. Still, he adds, ATI is sober about current market conditions. Harris notes the impact of COVID-19 on travel will result in a prolonged recovery for ATI’s key customers, especially in the aerospace industry.

“While there may be an appetite to develop digital now more than ever, we have to transform at a pace we can afford that’s respectful of what our business can tolerate,” Harris says.

As he explains, digital technology operations cut its budget by 25 percent while also being asked to deliver more. Upgrades and overhauls spearheaded by Harris and his staff mean the company is in much better shape than it was a year ago. The development of the digitized hub will process information more quickly with less disruption to the business, he says.

“Without the digital transformation, we would’ve struggled to get through COVID-19,” Harris adds. “A lot of the story has yet to unfold, but we’re betting on the promise of what’s to come.”

Harris says his work at ATI is unique because it’s still in progress. But by drawing from a long career—one where technological transformation has been front and center—Harris hopes to usher in even more changes at ATI. All with the aim of ensuring the company’s future is as successful as its past.

“Given our culture and our aspirations, I don’t think one ERP is the first step on our path and that’s a big departure from what I’ve done historically,” says Harris. “But no matter—data is what makes digital work.”

Published on: May 14, 2021

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