The Manufacturer's Henry Anson recently sat down with a selection of manufacturing decision makers to discuss where they are on their connected data journeys. Here's what he learned...
Ahead of our Manufacturing Digitalisation Summit in Manchester, I had the pleasure of hosting a The Manufacturer Directors’ Forum dinner for an exclusive selection of very senior manufacturers. These handpicked individuals, from a deliberately diverse range of sectors, came together to discuss where they currently are on their connected data journeys. The evening, held in a private dining room at the sumptuous King Street Townhouse, was very kindly sponsored by three sterling partners: Snowflake, Tableau and Mastek.
The three main themes under discussion on the night were: a modern data platform, a necessity for today’s manufacturers; how Big Data, AI/Machine Learning and analytics are driving manufacturing performance; and leveraging data to create an agile supply chain and overcome disruption.
The open and honest conversation — gently stimulated by the selection of aperitifs on offer — revealed a common theme: manufacturers are at very different levels of data maturity. Moreover, data maturity levels even differ within organisations, from department to department. While there are pockets of data and analytics expertise, the lack of maturity in some areas leads to poor data quality and conflict.
Many of the manufacturers in attendance are still in the early stages of their data and analytics journeys. Excel spreadsheets and pivot tables are seemingly the norm for the majority. But challenges often arise in terms of integrity, with several versions of the same file being worked on simultaneously offline and then subsequently uploaded. Furthermore, the lack of digitisation acts as a barrier between where companies are now and the next step of their journeys. That’s because digital and data are two sides of the same coin, and a lack of digital processes makes data collection difficult and often inconsistent. The situation is further complicated by different definitions of data and multiple versions of analytic models, making the task of delivering quality information to decision makers even harder.
We also learned how supply chain visibility (or lack thereof) can lead to significant time being lost. One guest gave an example of designing products only to find out later that designed-in components were not readily available. Whether the issue was stock shortages or parts becoming obsolete, a more observable supply chain can cut down occurrences like this and, in turn, reduce time lost.
Our three sponsors were all in agreement that data teams must work from ‘shop floor to top floor’. There needs to be a focus on education and creating a data culture which encourages collaboration and communicates the value of data. One decision maker at a leading manufacturer explained how their organisation had created personal connections with a “go, look, see” strategy to understand what different stakeholders’ pain points are.
Jennifer Belissent, Principal Data Strategist at Snowflake, argued that there is actually an opportunity for manufacturers to leapfrog earlier eras of data and analytics and focus on cloud data platforms that provide the right governance and access to the data. Jennifer also went on to say provocatively: “I don’t believe in democracy…”. Her reasoning was that just giving access to data is not enough. You need to ensure that the right policies or governance are in place, as well as the education to ensure everyone understands what data is, how it is used, the value that it delivers and what their role is in either the capture, protection or use of said data. In other words, to be “data-driven”, you need appropriate rules of the road and good driver education.
My thanks to the sponsors and all who took part in a truly fascinating and engaged evening. I hope to see all of you at Digital Manufacturing Week in November to continue the discussion.
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