The Data Revolution Is Transforming Manufacturing—Don't Fall Behind

For many manufacturing companies today, the promise of fully optimized, data-driven production looms continually out of reach. Managers might know, on some level, that data—properly synthesized and harnessed—can generate massive change. They know, certainly, that they're producing reams of it every second of every day. And yet, the data revolution in manufacturing continues to be distributed unevenly. Some companies have managed to make the most of it, boosting productivity and profits in the process, while others have lagged behind, wondering, all the while, what the secret is.


Well, here's the secret: there isn't one. Transformative, data-driven decision-making is, in fact, very much in reach of every interested company today. Is it a simple process? Not exactly. But getting a robust, firing-on-all-cylinders data operation is a far less labor-intensive process than many seem to suspect, and the dividends it yields invariably outpace whatever effort is expended on getting it off the ground. All it takes is keeping in mind a few key principles.


1) Your Data Platform Should Be Usable by Everyone In The Company

Too often, in manufacturing contexts, the exploitation of data is delegated to a few experts. These companies assume—wrongly—that handling data is a task strictly suited to those with the relevant background and skill set. When a problem arises at a company like this, these experts must be sought out, like oracles, and sent to solve whatever the issue at hand is. Of course, these oracles also must deal with their own responsibilities, as well as every other data-related concern that might arise in a given day (and a manufacturing company of any substantial size, there can be dozens). And so, inevitably, you end up with the kind of informational backlog that hinders decision-making, clogs up the process, and keeps crucial stakeholders in the dark.


This is why it's so crucial that any data analysis platform your company uses be accessible by everyone at the company. That means looking beyond the experts to empower the entire organizational structure, from corporate management and central technical experts down to site managers, supervisors, engineers, and those working on the plant floor. When everyone can use your company's data to answer important questions, your daily workflow speeds up significantly; bottlenecks evaporate, head-scratching issues are swiftly solved, and people are able to get on with the job without bothering already overburdened IT staff for help.


2) Your Data Platform Should Be Easy

Among manufacturing company owners and managers hesitant to invest too heavily in data-driven decision-making, one concern is voiced more frequently than any other: namely, isn't this going to be a lot of work?


However, interested a given manufacturing company is in data-driven decision-making, they also have a million other things on their mind, and the day-to-day challenges of keeping a factory (or multiple factories) running can often backburner discussions on data transformation.


This is unfortunate, because—as it happens—data transformation can be a relatively simple affair. Interested companies don't necessarily have to "rip and replace" their pre-existing tools—with the right platform, they can leverage the investments they've made already, and simply route their outputs into a centralized location, filling any gaps that emerge on an as-needed basis. Data from Manufacturing Execution Systems, Enterprise Management Software, Laboratory Information Management Systems, Shift Logs, Data Historians, not to mention machine learning and advanced analytics, can all be fed into the same data environment.


3) Your Data Platform Should Be Pervasive

If a data platform isn't central to your business' day-to-day operations—if most of your employees can successfully go days or weeks without even looking at it—then that data platform is not doing its job. 


Think, for a moment, about your smartphone. You depend on it daily for various tasks—checking email or the weather, listening to music, getting yourself to an unfamiliar restaurant, paying for your groceries, on and on and on. If your phone were to suddenly vanish—if someone rushed up and swiped it away from you in the center of an unfamiliar city—you'd notice its absence instantly. It is a non-negotiable part of daily life: you cannot function without it.


That, in a nutshell, is what you should be asking out of your data platform. Your data platform should be so versatile, so accessible, and so embedded in the minute-to-minute functioning of your company that a world without it should be literally inconceivable. 


If your company is still mulling a top-to-bottom data overhaul, the above might sound like a lot to ask of a data platform. If your company has already instituted that overhaul, then the above almost certainly sounds self-evident. Going forward, the only businesses that are going to thrive are those who know—on a tangible, day-impacting level—that data-driven decisions are the only decisions a company can afford to make.


Kevin Jones serves as the Director of Sales and Marketing for dataPARC. Kevin has been with the company since 2001 and has over 22 years of experience in process industries and using data to drive decisions. Kevin holds an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from University of Idaho.  dataPARC is a leading provider of industrial analytics and data visualization tools for process optimization and decision support.


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