• External Contributor

4 Key Ways to Make Manufacturing Data Actionable

When I was a student, I had the terrible habit of borrowing books that I would never read.

I guess it showed that I had good intentions — I knew that I should read up on a topic, so I would diligently go to the university library, borrow enough books to make my backpack burst at the seams, take them home and … never open them. Not even once.

Perhaps I thought I was going to learn through osmosis and somehow absorb the knowledge contained in those books straight through their covers. Three weeks later the books would be pushed guiltily through the library return chute, having given me no benefit whatsoever.

A similar story is playing out with manufacturers all over the world. Data streams are pouring in at an increasing rate, but there’s little point in sitting on an ever-deepening lake of data if it isn’t turned into actionable information.

Here are four ways to turn data into actionable insights to guide your manufacturing operations and business practices.

1. Consider the “Why” of Data Acquisition

Don’t collect data for data’s sake. Having a data strategy involves considering what kind of data should be acquired. Think about:

  • Do you really need it?

  • What do you want to achieve by gathering this data?

  • What are the enterprise-level business outcomes that this data will help you support?

  • What will be the ROI in acquiring and enriching this information?

Keep in mind that not all of the data can supply you with useful insights. Katalin Bódi of Actifyestimates that 33% of all data collected by manufacturing organizations is actionable, yet only 0.5% is currently processed and converted into valuable insights that will drive operational improvements and support decision-making.

Some of the common “whys” for collecting data in manufacturing include:

2. Invest in a User Interface (UI)

How is your data presented? If the information from IIoT devices flows into a cluttered spreadsheet, this will mean the specific data point you need to support a decision will always be difficult and time-consuming to locate.

The best user interfaces are extremely simple — think of the colorful, basic icons on your smartphone screen. A simple dashboard with your top KPIs will help you immediately make sense of the data and see the big picture at a glance rather than getting lost down a rabbit hole of numbers. 

Keep in mind that augmented reality (AR) will be a part of every manufacturing operation in the near future. Having a clear and simple user interface will be vital for employees using this technology on the manufacturing floor.

3. Align Data to Strategic KPIs

Forbes contributor Brent Dykes writes that “when insight is closely tied to your key business goals and strategic initiatives, it’s more likely to drive action.” Dykes explains that data insights that are strategically aligned with KPIs:

  • Have context and are more easily understood across the wider organization

  • Create “a sense of urgency” rather than simply be seen as an interesting point of data or vanity metric

  • Frequently correspond to the parts of your business that you control or influence

4. Make It Easy for Anyone to Be a Data Analyst

Does your team have the skills to turn raw data into actionable insights? Do you need to hire experienced data analysts to make sense of the numbers?

One of the key reasons data analysts are in such high demand is because organizations have historically been unable to make data fit-for-purpose. With the advent of better data enrichment, smarter technology, and more intuitive user interfaces, everyone in your team can turn data into valuable insights — but only if the information is presented in an intelligent way.

Like the piles of unopened library books sitting on my desk in my student days, unactionable data does little more than take up space. Extracting maximum ROI from your data acquisition takes some planning, preparation, and investment but will ultimately be worth every minute and dollar spent.