The phrase “data is the new oil” may be more than a decade ago old, but it’s only in more recent years that the ability to collect, combine and analyse vast amounts of data has been within arm’s reach of every business.
Manufacturers have arguably been more sluggish than other industries in appreciating the vital role data plays in future-proofing organisations, offering substantial optimisation, competitive advantage and growth opportunities.
There are still widespread instances of leadership teams relying on gut instincts and ‘feelings’ in making their decisions, which in a modern, technology-reliant production environment is concerning.
Too many businesses currently employ data predominantly in a reactive sense, only interrogating it once an issue had presented itself. As a whole, manufacturers need to become much better at enabling the data to inform them prior to something actually happening, allowing them to conduct a pre-emptive fix prior to it becoming a failure or affects quality.
This isn’t to say that businesses should succumb to “analysis paralysis”, however. Collecting data for collection sake is only going to create more issues than it solves as data on its own, most people would agree, is relatively worthless. The true value of data can only be unlocked once actionable insight is teased from it and shared with relevant teams or individuals.
It’s a situation many manufacturers currently find themselves in, diligently gathering and storing data with no agreed strategy as to what to do with it. The challenge, therefore, lies in helping businesses well-versed in making widgets to become data analysts, something which historically hasn’t been a necessary skillset.
Irrespective of individual scenarios, many manufacturers agree that data quality is of paramount importance. It’s also widely agreed that the responsibility of ensuring data quality is maintained shouldn’t fall solely to IT departments. A business must create a culture where every member of staff comprehends the importance of data and is able to track it from creation, gathering, visualisation and actionable insight.
A business’ data may hold the answer, but you first need to ask the right question. The solution lies in not only having a clearly defined digital strategy internally, but linking your objectives to those of your customers. What capability are customers searching for, and what information would be useful to them to achieve their goals?
Answering those questions will help define what data your business should be collecting and analysing, the insights from which can then be fed forward into your service provision or backwards to support new product development.
In turn, as a business becomes more interconnected, the data it generates will become increasingly more valuable and will drive digital transformation in a constant feedback loop of improvement and innovation.
The next step will be to extend this level of insight and connectivity out into the supply chain and broader customer base. Failure to do so will only ever unlock a small proportion of the total value a true digital transformation offers.
Microsoft summed it up eruditely within its Digital Transformation: The Age of Innocence, Inertia or Innovation? report, “Perhaps the term ‘digital’ itself is the cause for confusion, with people attaching the term to the IT department and therefore focusing on internal practices. In reality, organisations should be viewing this as business transformation in a digital world.
“In this context, the need to bring suppliers, customers and end-consumers much more into focus is much more apparent.”
This article is taken from the recent white paper, Enabling a Connected Ecosystem, based on research conducted by both The Manufacturer and Microsoft, and the insights gained from two exclusive roundtable events which brought together senior leaders from across UK manufacturing.
What the past 18 months have clearly demonstrated is that those most likely to succeed in the modern connected business environment are those eager to engage customers, empower employees, and successfully leverage these new digital technologies.
The full white paper – co-created by The Manufacturer and Microsoft – explores digital transformation and connectivity in the most practical sense.
If your business has already made the first step towards a connected ecosystem, or is considering taking one, this is vital reading for you and your business’ decision-makers to question your existing processes and get the most out of your connectivity journey.