A Step-by-Step Process for Developing a Data-First Manufacturing Strategy

Are you truly leveraging the benefits of data to improve your manufacturing? Unless you’ve deliberately committed to taking a data-first approach in your organization, you’re likely missing out on informed methods to improve your productivity and better manage your costs. You could uncover important information about the state of your organization, your ability to reach set goals, or how you compare to competitors. 

But a data-first strategy can change all of that. Not only is one of the top benefits of being data-driven the ability to improve business agility. Using data in your manufacturing has the potential to reduce costs by 20%, reduce downtime by 50%, and improve forecasting by 85%. If you’re looking to adopt a data-first strategy in your organization, follow these steps to start implementing that strategy today.

Why Data-First Manufacturing is the Future

Companies today generate so much data that it may seem like it’s just too overwhelming to truly get a handle on. However, once you do so, you’ll find the following reasons why data-first manufacturing is the future.

Reduce waste on materials, time, and money

Do you know where you’re wasting time, money, and materials in your processes? Analyzing the data across your organization can give you insights into what materials are being wasted, what processes aren’t as streamlined as they could be, and how inefficiencies could be costing you time and money.

It was interesting to learn from my company’s recent Voice of the Essential Manufacturing Worker report that six out of ten workers would take a pay cut to go work for a more technology-driven factory, and the same number said they would take a pay cut to go work at a more sustainable factory. 

In other words, if you’re like most manufacturing leaders and looking for ways to retain talent, the organizations of the future will embrace technological and sustainable advances and see the value it can provide to improving operations and everyday work experiences.

Predictive modeling

Data can help you be more prepared for the future and allow for more accurate, comprehensive predictive modeling. Imagine if you could be more prepared for supply chain hiccups or materials shortages, and adjust your operations accordingly? Using data to forecast can help decrease downtime and allow you to continue to hit deadlines, and gives you room for innovation.


Having so many sources of data across a company helps to increase connectivity within that company, and create a kind of ecosystem. A highly-connected organization who is making data-driven decisions can work more closely with suppliers, create better relationships with their customers, and can implement more sustainable innovations.

Five Steps to Develop a Data-First Strategy

If you’re looking to build a data-first strategy that can revolutionize your operations, start with these five steps.

Step 1: Establish a data champion

Once you realize you want to move in a more data-first way, establish a data champion or a small team who will take ownership over the push. They can help kickstart your initiative to be more of an industry leader, accelerate operations, or improve team morale. Shifting to a data-first approach will not only require operational changes, but will require a culture shift as well, which the team can help facilitate.

Step 2: Define your business objectives

The next step isn’t to just start collecting data from every source you can, but to plan out business objectives for your data. What questions do you want your data to answer for you? What stories are you looking for your data to tell? What key performance indicators, like production costs, performance, or downtime, do you want to track over time? Let these questions guide what data you’ll start to collect.

Of course, start small with easy objectives so that you can grab a quick win. Don’t try to tackle all the questions at once. You’ll not only get quickly overwhelmed, you’ll lose sight of the data’s benefits. A data-first approach means gathering data across business units, so identify decision makers and influencers across your organization to get them involved as well.

Step 3: Understand what kind of data you have and what may be missing

Next, look at the data you have and what data you’ll need to answer the questions and objectives you’ve created. Are you tracking that data already? And is the data reliable? Do you have multiple sources of truth for the data as well?

For example, if you want to better understand your throughput time, do you have ways to collect data on the number of items produced, as well as the time it takes to produce them? How do your calculations change over time, during certain shifts, or with certain materials? How does your data stand up to industry benchmarks? Once you know what data you’ll need to answer your questions, you can set up systems to collect that data and analyze it.

Step 4: Expand the team

Next, further empower your data champion by expanding your team of data experts who will oversee gathering the data and analyzing it for insights you can use to improve your operations. Start by looking at internal talent, specifically within the IT team, as they generally have the greatest insight into how data is used across the organization. A report by The Economist found that 41% of organizations want stronger collaboration between IT and non-IT teams, and the fact that technology “is now a major factor in success or failure when it comes to meeting business goals…raises a clear argument for more effective collaboration between IT and non-IT teams.”

Also, look to external talent with experience in solving your specific data concerns as well. There may be common traps and pitfalls that seasoned veterans can help you navigate. As you begin building your team, avoid believing that you have to have the answers, so find internal and external partners familiar with your objectives and lean into them.

Step 5: Understand it’s a journey

Finally, understand that implementing a data-first strategy will take time and practice. You won’t be an expert on setting objectives, gathering data, analyzing that data, and implementing the insights on the first try.

As part of this ongoing journey, focus on upskilling your team. 80% of respondents from our report, say their company is making upskilling a priority, according to our report, and that their companies are offering it in a number of different ways.

Set milestones and continue to keep your team aligned with the desired outcome, celebrating success along the way. Continue to iterate on strategy as you go, as well as account for resources and investments.

Start the Journey Today

All transformations take time, and implementing new tools and processes for better data utilization is no exception. But by following these steps, you can begin transforming your manufacturing organization for the better today, and create a foundation of data to build on for tomorrow.

About the author

Kerrie Jordan is Vice President, Product Management, Data Platform, at Epicor Software. In her role, Kerrie leads the strategic direction of Epicor’s cloud-enabled solutions to ensure they continue to deliver high-value innovation, security, and performance for Epicor customers. Based in Richmond, Virginia, she brings over a decade of experience in ERP, supply chain, eCommerce, cloud computing, and product development business solutions.

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/kerriejordan